This was originally a letter to Goldfinch…
Have you and I ever discussed which is a better pet? I only wonder because I feel as if I have had discussions with scores of friends and workmates. It is not a topic I raise, but I am happy to throw my pennies worth of opinion in… not that I have a strong opinion really. I can only relate my past experiences. You might not want to bother reading all about the cats and dogs in my life….but I have added my conclusion to the end of this e-mail….which you may or may not agree, but I would be grateful if you would glance over my conclusion when you have a couple of minutes to humour me.
When I was a kiddo living under the care and protection of my very lovely parents, of course we would have loved to have numerous pets running around the house. But with seven hungry children to provide for, mum and dad could not oblige our repeated pleas. Before my living memory apparently there were some birds*, in a cage in my brother’s room. Apparently, our pet cat got in my brother’s room and although she could not get into the cage, she terrorised the birds so much that they dropped off their perches and were found lifeless on the floor of the cage. But that was way before my conscious memories.
I remember being very fond of the first cat we have within my living memory. Our next-door neighbours moved and left their cat behind, so we took her in. She was a very tiny tabby named Tamara. I adored her. One of my younger sisters used to dress her in dolls clothes…which I am sure Tamara did not particularly enjoy. She was a naughty cat…she has eaten sandwiches left on the kitchen side and jumped onto the dinner table and started to tuck in to as much roast chicken as she could before my parents would react. I was always horrified when Tamara had killed a bird… she killed a lot of birds*. She was tiny but clearly a very successful hunter. I was devastated when Tamara died. I did not want another cat because I thought it was like trying to replace Tamara. But my sister said she could not live without a cat.
So, we ended up with two tiny kittens, which we thought were both toms… we named them Tiggles and Giggles. Giggles turned out to be a female. After a few weeks she disappeared. We never found her. Dad said she might have found another home because cats sometimes just go wherever they are fed. One of my sisters became rather obsessive with Tiggles. She liked to keep him in her room. She went through a stage of saying he was her best friend and the only one who understand her, the only one she liked. The first time Tiggles caught a bird* and brought it into the house my dad and I were horrified, and we chased Tiggles out of the house. That seemed to be enough discouragement. We never saw Tiggles catching birds again.
Tiggles ended up becoming a big lollopy cat. He was not fat, but he was a magnificent tom who seemed to enjoy being adored. He would bathe in the sunshine. I remember whenever we had guests, he liked to parade in front of them as if he was to be worshipped. We had some rather important dignitaries at our house once, they came to interview me when I was a teenager about something apparently remarkable I had done and later had me up in front of thousands of people as an example for other teenagers. Tiggles jumped up on their knees and started waving his behind in their faces. Goodness…he was one arrogant kitty. I also remember a friend of my mum’s (a very Welsh lady) gave Tiggles some cat-nip. How embarrassing to watch Tiggles under the influence of some cat-mind altering substance…it was so bizarre to see his behaviour. One night our next-door neighbours knocked on the door to say they saw a cat by the side of the road and they thought it might be Tiggles….it was! Now… don’t tell my sister but my Dad and I strongly suspected that it was our next-door neighbour that hit Tiggles. His driving was furious, and we often saw him tearing around the corner at very high speeds… plus they were not the type to be concerned unless they were in the car that hit Tiggles.
I remember the homes of friends who had cats. Jan had eight cats and had turned her entire back yard into a giant cat cage. It was the same size as the ground floor of her house but surrounded by wooden posts and chicken wire. Some of her cats were gigantic, Jan was tiny, so frankly, it was odd to see her pick one of her massive cats up and see that she was most definitely the boss lady. They all loved Jan….and she was an expert on cats. They were all beautifully kept and she used to give out a lot of advice to other cat owners when she was unsatisfied about their condition. She only stopped collecting when she married Paul who was allergic to cats!
My good friend Lauren lived in the countryside with her husband and the two youngest of her five children. She had two cats. One a ginger tom who seemed generally was the one who preferred to be made a fuss of. Both cats were pretty hot hunters, but the female the better. One time I had just arrived after a three-and-a-half-hour drive. Lauren would always insist on my sitting down and having a cuppa and some of the cake she had baked before I took my things up to their guest room. But on this occasion Lauren and her daughter Patricia seemed a bit uneasy when I sat on the sofa on my arrival. They seemed to want me to go and talk to Pete who never desired anyone else’s company. I obeyed. Later they confessed, their female cat had just dragged in a rabbit and was sitting behind the sofa I had first sat on tearing it to pieces. Yuck!
Mary and her husband, the older couple I lodged with when I first left home had a cat….it was 17 years old. Jan had a 17 year old cat. Ethel who was 93 had a 17 year old cat. Louisa who was 96 had a 17 year old cat. Ruth who was 94 had a 17 year old cat. Donna had 4 cats…one of her cars was 17 years old. I wondered if there was something in the water in West Berkshire for there to be so many ancient cats (and amazing women in their nineties).
We never had a dog at home. We wanted one, but Mum and Dad told us it would be too much hard work and it would not be fair to a dog. The cats we had were so independent and not much trouble at all. We fed them, they would come when they wanted and leave when they wanted. They liked affection from us, but they also seemed to have a secret life of their own and a gang of playmates and enemy cats that occupied most of their time. But when they saw we were home, they appeared pawing at the door wanting to come in for some warmth, or food or affection. Mum and Dad told us how dogs need to be walked regularly and how much mess they can make and how lonely they can get when we were all out at school or work. I think we all accepted that it would be cruel to have a dog in our household, and we didn’t want to be cruel.
So, my experience with dogs is limited to looking after other people’s dogs when they were on holiday. Usually I also had to move into the home of the dog-owners, so I would be there to feed, walk and provide company for their beloved canines. I remember a lovely sheepdog named Jess… what a joy she was. Then there was Queenie. The house that Queenie lived in was extended. They built a huge kitchen and a pool house with an indoor swimming pool. During the time the work was done there was a lot of noise and disturbance and it completely spooked Queenie. Queenie would howl all night when she was alone, so the owners had to move her basket upstairs to their bedroom for her to sleep near them. So, when they went away and I moved in, I had to have the dog basket with me in the guest room for Queenie to sleep. Only would she sleep? I remember finding any time a part of me was too near to the edge of the bed, a foot, a hand, my face…Queenie would find it and a moment later she would have bestowed a heap of dog slobber all over me. She snored, she would march around the bed tirelessly breathing heavily. Every now and then she would heave herself on to the bed beside me and wake me up by licking my face. She was very smelly, ate enormous quantities of food which resulted in enormous steaming heaps which we had to scoop up when we were out taking her for a walk. Her owners always told me that whenever the front door rang I must shut Queenie in the kitchen otherwise she might bolt out of the front door and into the road. Well one day, she managed to run out of the front door and galloped down the road. I telephoned home and Dad and two of my sisters came down and we all searched the surrounding area until eventually we found Queenie.
Then there was Toby… I really liked Toby. He was very handsome miniature schnauzer who did not slobber and was very well behaved. His owner loved him as did the whole family. I remember going for walks with Toby in stunning parts of the Berkshire countryside. Toby was the perfect dog to walk…he seemed to think he had won Crufts the way he paraded when we were out walking. He never reacted to other dogs, he had an air of superiority about him. Toby was probably the best behaved canine I ever spent time with. He had a regal air about him.
Sparticus and China were both springer spaniels… I loved them both. I knew Sparticus as an elderly dog….Sparticus seemed very fond of me. China I knew as a puppy… I saw him destroy everything he could reach… I had a fright when he escaped somehow and went running up the lane…which was notoriously dangerous… just why a narrow windy lane had a 60mph speed limit I never understood. Then there was the time he managed to get into the cellar and chewed threw a tub of rat poison… poor China would have died if not for the vet coming out so quickly with an anti-dote. But he did suffer!
There are many other dogs I have walked and cared for while their owners were not around… too many to mention. One smoky grey Great Dane I remember was a joy and a bundle of energy and slobber….but one day I left a book on the table which his teeth destroyed including two post cards which were well over 100 years old which an older man I care for had given me as a momento. I loved had been treasuring them. That brute chomped them with his teeth!!!
I have always loved going for walks in the countryside with the dogs I cared for and I kind of like the constant companionship dogs seem to want and to offer in return… but Mum and Dad were right… dogs seem to be a bigger responsibility. They seem to need more than cats. The seem to be more dependant on their owners. However, they seem to give a lot too. It is nice to see a dog’s reaction when you walk in the door because they have missed you. No matter what else a dog finds entertaining, the highlight of a dog’s life seems to be stimulation and affection from their owner. Dogs are renowned for their loyalty to their owners. Whereas a cat seems to come and go enjoy food wherever it feels it is best quality. A cat seems to choose if and when it wants company and affection and although seeming to enjoy it, is equally capable of being very cool and secretive about where it disappears to when it leaves the house. You cannot ask a cat “just where have you been?”
Dadda often rescued birds that Tamara was trying to get her claws into. He also rescued birds that had flown into our patio door and fallen to the ground stunned. He has massaged the chest until their hearts seemed to start beating again and they could flutter away. I think maybe my Dad had a love of birds more than cats or dogs… but Dad especially liked them to be free, out in the wild, not at all in a cage.
I am starting to think that with regards to the connection you and I have… you resemble the feline and I the canine!!! And I have to admit, I don’t think I have ever been involved with a cat before!
I feel like a puppy who is so excited to see her master and wants to be pleasing…rather disappointed when I feel I might not have been pleasing. I long for a little reassuring pat and to hear “good girl!” I only have eyes for one. When you leave me, I am a little sulky and forlorn while you are absent. If you threw a ball or a stick I would play with you with loving adoration. I reap so much inner joy from all the contact and playtimes I have with you. And am hopelessly loyal to you. I have scores of close friends I am finding it hard to keep up with, but you have become the highlight of each day.
Whereas…you my lovely rogue… are more like the independent kitty…who comes and goes with an air of mysteriousness and I am left to wonder what you have been up to… but I have a feeling that is what you want. I long for moments snuggling up close to you. When you do come…and I feed you (and I enjoy doing so) you are wonderfully tactile and seductive, and I feel as intimate with you as any other man I have had a relationship with after years of prior friendship. I just have to live with the idea that there is a good chance you are being fed equally well elsewhere and there are others who like to curl up with you and enjoy your cool confident touch. And that it suits you to come and enjoy being the object of affection and infatuation and then go and retain your independence… leaving your lover bewildered as to who else is making a fuss of you elsewhere. Maybe I should start buying smoked salmon or something more alluring?
But ultimately… the way I am going to regard you is as a magnificent and beautiful bird who I do not want to in anyway restrict or encage… I want you to be able to feel free to fly but hope you will return to someone who is inspired and elated by you. One day you will fly away… and I will remember you as a man who made my spirits soar.
It’s strange for me though Goldfinch…
…still I can tell I am falling for you.