Some people say you are either a ‘cat’ or a ‘dog’ person and cannot be both. Well I don’t agree, for I love cats and dogs equally. Although I grew up with cats, I now look after dogs and both give me pleasure in equal measure. I also have several friends who own both cats and dogs, the traditional arch enemies living side by side in harmony.
You don’t get the same outpouring of unconditional love from a cat that you do from a dog. Generally, a dog’s goal in life is to make his owner happy, and they give love in abundance to those who share their home with them. A cat, on the other hand, just about tolerates its owners, and will switch on the charm only when it wants something from them.
In his column from 10th November 1979, Dad explains how as far back as 1767, a writer was bemoaning the mercenary way cats treated their poor owners, describing the creature as an ‘unfaithful domestic’, and said that those who believed that any cat was theirs to keep was sadly deluded: ‘Even the tamest cats are not under any subjection, but may rather be said to enjoy the perfect liberty; for they act only to please themselves, and it is impossible to retain them a moment after they choose to go off.’ I’m sure, 250 years on, today’s cat lovers will recognise that description.
Growing up, we had stray cats in our garden, and my brother named one of the males ‘Jackson’. Dad describes how Jackson used to come to us for food, and would playfully roll on his back whenever dinner was imminent.
But he was totally wild, and we could never get anywhere near to stroke him. Dad talks about the difference between him and Marmalade, who came to us as a stray, but decided it was far more advantageous to adopt us and move into our home, where she stayed until the grand old age of 18.
Dad wonders whether cats have a higher-than-average intelligence, thanks to some shrewd traits that Marmalade displayed. She seemed to know when were were going to put her outside at night time.
During the day, she normally slept in full view on the sofa, or on the warm boiler in the kitchen. But when it was time to put her out for the night, suddenly she was nowhere to be seen. She had a number of hiding spots where she would conceal herself, often in the most difficult places to reach. But over time, we worked out her favourite places to hide.
But in his column, Dad describes how just a few days earlier, Marmalade had finally flummoxed him. I remember the occasion well. We hunted high and low for her, checked all her usual spots, and some new ones, but just couldn’t figure out where she was.
Then, almost on the point of giving up, someone noticed that the door on the antique grandfather clock was slightly ajar. We opened it and there, staring up from the depths of the case, was our cunning little feline. Although we had found her, it was impossible to get her out without tipping the clock up, which meant risking damaging it, or possibly hurting the cat. So we had to leave her there until she decided it was time to come out. She’d finally beaten us!
Marmalade was always very reluctant to go outside at bedtime where her peers would be doing what cats should do, roaming the land keeping nocturnal vermin at bay.
But she couldn’t be bothered with all that. And luckily for her, my bedroom window was just above a plastic lean-to attached to the back of the house.
I would hear Dad putting her out and locking the door downstairs. Then, like the Milk Tray man on a mission, she’d run across the back of the house, leap onto the garden wall, then on to the roof of the lean-to, scurry up the corrugated plastic until she reached my window ledge where she’d perch outside and meeow until I let her in.
She’d spend all night sleeping blissfully on my on cosy warm bed. Then early in the morning, I would put her outside before Dad got up, and he’d let her in again, non the wiser.
Now that’s what I call feline cunning!
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