Advertisement

Tim Dowling: I like the aloofness of cats. But my cat is not aloof enough

My wife sends me an email with the subject heading “My dream dog”. Attached is a photograph of a puppy with a strangely blunted nose, looking forlorn on some straw bedding. I have to weigh my reply carefully, because her email could mean anything from “This is an example of the type of dog I would like to get one day” to “This dog is in the back of our car right now.”

My reply says: “That’s not a dog, it’s some kind of pig.”

Her reply to my reply says: “It’s only £2K.” This is how I know my wife is in her office idly perusing pet websites, and not driving home with a new puppy.

If you asked me to name the chief quality I would seek in my dream dog, I would probably choose aloofness. I’m after the type of dog of whom people would say: he keeps himself to himself. But I’ve never really known a dog like that. Only cats. And not our cat.

Up until a few months ago the best thing I could say about our cat was that it had no time for me. It made a sport of trying to trip me up on the stairs most mornings, but otherwise it stayed out of my way.

Since the last of our sons moved out, however, things have changed. The cat has suddenly decided I’m an asset worth cultivating. All my trousers now have small tears on the left leg where the cat claws me whenever it wants food, which is always.

“Ow!” I say. “I just fed you!” Then I stand up and refill its bowl.

“That cat is going to explode,” my wife says.

“My feeling is, if that’s the road we’re headed down, let’s get there,” I say.

Later, when I’m alone in front of the TV, the cat comes in and sits at my feet.

“I’m just watching this,” I say.

“Miaow,” the cat says, jumping into my lap.

“It’s The Godfather Part II,” I say.

“Miaow,” the cat says.

“About eight times,” I say. “But I’ve never actually seen the beginning, so this is …”

The cat reaches out and puts a paw over my mouth to stop me talking.

“Miaow,” it says.

“I can’t feed you again,” I say. “It’s unethical.”

The cat throws itself across my chest, rolls on to its back and stares at me with upside down eyes.

“To be honest,” I say, “I sort of preferred it when we were enemies.”

Since the last of our sons moved out the cat has suddenly decided I’m an asset worth cultivating

Because I’m trying to avoid the cat’s attentions, I do not at first react when I hear the beginnings of a cat fight outside my office at 11 the next morning. I think: I’m not interested in your Cat World Problems. But when the noise rises to a level of violence, I feel an obligation to intervene. I step outside and peer over the garden wall.

By the time I get there the confrontation has been downgraded to a standoff between my cat and a bigger cat I’ve seen before: white at one end, fading to beige at the other. They are frozen in defensive postures either side of a large urn in next door’s garden: a territorial dispute over territory neither can claim. Next door has its own cat.

At first it’s unclear who is the aggressor, but the larger cat is emitting a high wavering whine that sounds to me like panicked babbling. When I lean closer it becomes apparent the white cat is actually speaking English.

“Why?” It says. “Why me?” My cat says nothing, and holds its ground.

“Oh man,” says the white cat, looking at the ground. “Oh man oh man oh man.” My cat takes a step in the white cat’s direction.

“Whoa, wait wait wait,” says the white cat. “Now now. No way.”

“This is amazing,” I say. Both cats turn slightly in my direction. My cat gives me a look that says: stay out of this.

“Come on,” says the white cat. “I mean, come oooonnn.”

After a long pause both cats begin to walk – very, very slowly – in opposite directions. I return to my desk. The cat jumps over the wall and sits in my office doorway.

“Do you think you won that?” I say. The cat stares at me, hard.

“You have to admire a cat that can talk its way out of trouble,” I say. The cat stares.

“A cat you can have a conversation with,” I say. “That would actually be my dream pet.”

The cat stares. Actually, I think to myself, I don’t want you for an enemy.