If November was the month of writing, December was the month of the c word. Cats.
I never had pets when I was a child, never really liked animals at all. Then the offspring came along and so did pester power. First off, it was guinea pigs. Eventually, I caved in for the elder one’s ninth birthday. She was overwhelmed. I think I had convinced her I was never giving in and when I did, it threw her. Needless to say, I found myself with extra mouths to feed and chores to do, cleaning out cages whatever the weather. Remarkable the amount of poo a Cavia porcellus can produce, let alone two.
Some years later, the hardy creatures were still going strong, when the younger of my offspring began a determined campaign for a dwarf hamster. I Googled, as you do, saw the words “life span 12 to 18 months” and thought, why not? I elicited promises, indeed a signed contract, that I would not be involved in cleaning out etc. Off we went to the pet shop where a nice young man persuaded us that one tiny hamster would be lonely in its psychedelic plastic cage all by itself. So, Offspring number two ended up with a pair called Salt and Pepper. Offspring number one, took custody of Pebble, deciding against a room mate for her as the only remaining dwarf hamster at the pet shop had the red red eyes of the devil.
They settled in. The kids could keep them in their rooms. Salt was minute, half the size of Pepper but madly active. In retrospect, I think she was channelling Sarah Connor. She trained vigorously all hours of the night and day; doing pull-ups and monkey barring her away across the ceiling of the cage.
One night I was awoken by the most dreadful screaming. Rushing to my daughter’s bedroom I found Pepper with her paws in the air, defending herself in alarmingly human fashion against a vicious attack by the diminutive Salt.
I duly Googled again and found contrary to the advice given, it is not a good idea to keep dwarf hamsters in a cage together. Apparently, if they don’t get on, they will, and I quote, “fight to the death.”
What has all this to do with December being the month of Cats? Just trying to show that I really am not an animal person. I honestly am not a mad old cat woman. But living as we do in the countryside we are surrounded by rodents – and not just the ones we have spent good money on. Yes, I do see the irony. Mice inhabit the loft and scamper about in the spaces between good old stone and modern plaster board. Someone mentioned getting a cat – just a whiff of it, they hinted, would keep the mice away. The Offspring latched straight on to this idea – drawing up a contract of their own, listing how good they were going to be and all the helpful things they would be doing if only, if only, we got a kitten.
After a sleepless night listening to what sounded like a pirate dragging his peg leg round the roof space but was, in fact, a poor mouse with its leg cruelly trapped by an inefficient “little nipper”, the I.T. director uttered the words: We’ll have to get a cat.
This, in earshot of the offspring. Well, they were two rooms away but the little bleeders have excellent hearing when it comes to things they want and not when it comes to me “reminding” them about piano practice etc. So, the deal was done and a little ginger kitten, which we named Bob Marley for no particular reason, came to live with us.
And it turned out I did like animals after all, or cats anyway, because they’re sweet to you. When you enter the room, they come up and rub their heads on your ankles and miaow and they look at you like they love you, even if really it’s just that you have thumbs and can open a packet of food. The Guinea Pigs ran away from me every single day when I brought them their food or pulled the rain cover over them. Ungrateful little…
Cats sleep a lot. They purr so you know they are happy. They’re very private about their toilette, unlike guinea pigs who on occasion eat their own and/or others’ droppings.
Resistance was fairly non-existent, then, when pressure for another cat began, and so we decided to get a kitten for Christmas, which meant week one of December was taken up with finding one. Talk about procrastination… just looking at kitten pics online is distracting for one thing, but then actually trying to get to see one – it was impossible. As soon as an ad appeared, I’d contact the seller, but the kittens would all have new homes already and prices were going up and up as December went on. I finally found one who had been let down by someone else.
I thought I’d better get Bob checked out by the vet. He’d been a bit lethargic, even by a cat’s standards and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t harbouring anything infectious. He was severely anaemic and no one really knew what was going on so the rest of the month involved endless vet visits, hospitalisations, conversations and brain meanderings about whether treatment was the right thing to do given he was just a cat. Very hard. He rallied, he faded, he rallied again, still with us, but not sure for how long, and in the meantime he has had to contend with the madness of Winnie, the crazy tortoiseshell whirlwind who bites and scratches indiscriminately and rarely seems to sleep. She adores Bob, and will run up to kiss him before swatting him round the head. I could watch them for hours and not get a thing done…