Silver is sleeping in the sun on his driveway. He’s a big beautiful old grey cat, and dozing on the warm asphalt in the late afternoon sun is one of his favourite things to do. We see him there most days as we go past on our walk. Mabel will ignore him, Maudie will rumble menacingly at him (only under her breath though—I think she is a bit scared of him), and Molly—well Molly will puff herself up to twice her usual size (which is still only about half the size of this cat) and frantically hurl doggie-insults about cats and their mothers until she is well out of earshot. Silver will occasionally open an eye to see what all the noise is about, but usually he will just yawn, flex his paws, stretch out full length, smile and go back to sleep. So not bothered. Silver is one cool dude.
I miss my cats. I think people often assume that if you only have dogs that you probably just don’t like cats. That may well be true for some people, but not for me. I love cats. Cats owned me long before I owned dogs.
A couple of weeks after I first came back to Australia after an extended period living overseas I found myself living in a city where I didn’t know a soul. One day I went into town to buy groceries—and came home with two tiny six-week old kittens and a bag full of cat food, cat litter and cat paraphernalia (I can’t remember whether I actually bought any groceries). It was impulsive, yes, but I never once regretted it. And I never felt lonely again. I loved those two little cats. I loved their big yellow eyes, their soft shiny fur, their insatiable curiosity, deep rumbling purrs and their tiny kitty-cat feet. I would sit and watch them for hours—playing or sleeping, or eating, or chasing dust motes or just sitting blissed-out in the sun.
The girl, Cleo, grew up to be a lovely, gentle, even-tempered little girl who loved to be stroked and fussed and cuddled. Her brother, Jess, on the other hand, turned into a huge beast of a cat who liked to spend his time stalking the neighbours through their gardens, creeping quietly up on them and then suddenly exploding out of the bushes and frightening the crap out of them. I always pretended to be cross with him (for the neighbour’s sake) but, just quietly, it was pretty hilarious.
(Less hilarious was his penchant for knocking things off my dressing-room table when he wanted his breakfast and I wanted a bit of a lie-in. In my sleepy stupor I would hear him gently tap, tap, slide, slide, tap and slide the bottles and jars around, and when I continued to ignore him it would get all too much and—wham—off the table one of the bottles would go. I would be out of bed in a flash and he would be off and running (and laughing) all the way into the kitchen—where I would find him ready and waiting for breakfast with a big smug smile on his face. Used to make me crazy.)
When the cats were about 10 years old I decided it was time to add a dog to our little family. The cats would be fine, I thought. They were fat and happy and well-adjusted, I thought. It wouldn’t be a drama, I thought. Who was I trying to kid? I can still see the look of abject disgust on Jessie’s face the day I bought that six week old pup (Harry) into the house. Jess was 19 years old when he died and I don’t think he ever really changed that initial opinion of Harry one iota over the next 9 years of his life.
And it wasn’t one sided either. Harry didn’t like Jess, right back at him. Harry, my lovely, adorable, feisty little Harry came out of the womb hating cats. Sigh. There was constant hissing and spitting and growling and snapping, and I would cajole and plea and bribe and even get cranky with them, all to no avail. I would see pictures of other people’s cats and dogs, all cuddled happily up together on the sofa, or piled up in a doggie bed together, and conclude that either one or the other of the animals in these pictures just had to be stuffed. It was never going to happen in my house.
But, over time (and when it eventually became obvious to them that I wasn’t going to give anyone away) they did manage to work out their own set of rules. As long as nobody sat too close to anybody else—or went near anybody else’s food dish—or pushed in for a cuddle while someone else was already having one—or inadvertently came around a corner unexpectedly and gave someone a fright—things eventually settled into a nice routine, and we all bimbled along fairly harmoniously.
So I got another dog.
Frankie and Harry were polar opposites. In his whole life Harry only ever really loved me and Frankie (and thank God he loved Frankie too, it would have been awful if he hadn’t). He couldn’t really have cared less about anyone else.
Frankie loved me and Harry—and everybody else he ever met. And that included the cats. From the very first day he was enamoured of them. He would sidle up to them, wriggling from his nose to his tail, desperate to get close to them. They, naturally, were mortally offended (how dare he?) and poor Frankie got his ears boxed more than once for his trouble. He would then spend the next couple of hours doing his utmost to apologise to them for his crass behaviour, which only exasperated them even more. Bless. But he never gave up, and in the end I think he just wore them down. He had so much love to give and those cats were going to get some of it—whether they liked it or not.
Cleo and Frank became snugglebuddies and would often cuddle together in the doggie bed in front of the heater (miracles can happen—if you wait long enough). Jess, although less inclined to snuggle, stopped hissing and spitting and ear boxing and even occasionally let Frankie lick his ears (while also trying really really hard not to purr).
Even Harry’s hatred of cats eventually mellowed under the onslaught of Frankie’s love. Well, ‘mellowed’ is perhaps too strong a word. Harry became more ‘tolerant’ of the cats. He would even allow them to sit next to Frank as long as they didn’t also touch him in the process. And he would also protect ‘his’ cats from other visiting dogs—he was allowed to be mean to them, but no-one else was. Earlier grievances between Harry and Jess were mostly forgotten on those freezing cold Armidale winter nights when they would all pile into bed with me, with only the smallest amount of grumbling if someone had to get up during the night and came back to bed with cold feet.
It is many years now since I have had cats in the house. Jess and Cleo both lived to ripe old age, as did Harry and Frank, but somehow it was dogs that started to take over my life and now when I need a cat ‘fix’ I have to make do with the occasional smooch from a neighbouring feline. And, although I am perfectly happy with my three doggie-girls, occasionally I will see a sign at the local pet shop ‘Kittens Available’, and I will remember my lovely cats and have to put my head down and walk away really, really fast so as not to be tempted—because it would be so easy to be tempted.
Instead I will keep telling myself that when Molly has had her summer clip it almost feels like I am stroking a cat. And, if you pat her in just the right way, she stretches out full length and flexs her little feet like a cat too.
Sadly, she doesn’t purr. She does, however, snore—and loudly.
It’s not quite the same . . .