About two weeks ago I bought ‘Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man’ by Tom Cox. It was available at a reduced price via Amazon for Kindle and, while it is outside of my usual reading tastes, I thought I would take a risk. I was no displeased. It is a semi-memoir about cat ownership, primarily of the unique character that is “The Bear.” Under the Paw is a pleasant read, comfort food rather than challenging, though the inclusion of Buzzfeed style lists felt a bit like filler. The relationship between the author and his many cats, and their many personalities, is artfully captured for the reader to enjoy. While the aforementioned The Bear is the star of the book, I also felt some fondness for the briefly appearing Raffles, a cat of heroic proportions. As with anyone who owns or has owned pets, Under the Paw’s evocation of empathy prompted me to consider my own pet ownership. I have somewhat stern opinions on pets, in terms of care for them and in terms of what is a suitable pet. I am not going to come along and steal anyone’s snake or rat, but equally I would not consider them pets. Cats are pets, and dogs are pets. Tortoises are a special case, as they are more like a room-mate. Tortoises receive adverts saying ‘A Human is for life, not just for Cabbagefast’ or whatever appropriate festival a tortoise might celebrate.
The most recent pet that I owned, or part owned, was a rescue cat who came to us as Onyx and is now simply Cat. Before Cat I wasn’t a big fan of cats; they’re sneaky animals, duplicitous and would cut you as soon as look at you. Cat was an animal apart.
She was still as full of murderous intent as other cats, and very much a bossy boots, but could be genuinely affectionate. I miss Cat. A helpless little dunderhead at times, she would use me as a pillow for nap-time, pushing aside whatever I happened to be reading. I remember collecting her from the cat sanctuary. My ex-partner Suzie was incredibly fond of cats, a little bit maniacal about it really, and had wanted a cat for some time. Cat rescue centres do take donations for cats, so I agreed to go half on one, and we went to the shelter in Radford. It seemed like a good idea to help deal with the stress of her doctorate (and the somewhat crushing poverty of living on my sole income). There were a variety of cats there, including one very friendly and excitable fellow, and a trio of black cats who had been born and were growing up never knowing an owner. Onyx was a rescue who had been abandoned in a box by the roadside, a really sad story. A tiny black cat with a scrunchy blanket and a ball to play with, she kept to herself. She was also very, very nervous and Suzie, being a bit overenthusiastic, frightened her so much she hid from us. Despite not being a cat person, I coaxed the moggy out of hiding and showed Suzie how to approach her in such a way that she didn’t frighten the cat back in to hiding (and also not shock Cat on facial piercings). After that a firm friendship was born and I came to appreciate cats as more than just pest disposal.
My parents have two pets, a cat and a dog. The cat is called Odin and he, like Cat, is an abandonment case.
My parents found him in the street as a kitten and took him in, intending to return him as soon as his owners made an appearance. They never did so Odin became the first Spry cat in over a decade (previous cats involve my spookiest childhood memory). For the first six months of his time with my parents little Odin was an enforced house-cat; my parents lived in an inner-city at that time and my Dad was afraid he might get run over. He used to enjoy nothing so much as shredding my poor Dad’s head. Cats are rambunctious animals; also, evil. When they relocated to Gloucestershire, Odin was gradually introduced to the outside world. And what an outside for an adventurous cat! Odin is something of a murderous brute and, with the black and white next door as an accomplice, he likes nothing so much as to amble about wreaking havoc on the local wildlife. It’s all fun and games until someone gets brought a dead mouse. He is currently outfitted with a dashing red-collar, as he got caught in his old one. Odin and I get on about as well as a hostage and his kidnapper: Odin needs me to get him food (lacking thumbs and not eating mice) and I pick him up for hugs. So far we are up to a minute at a time. Progress!
However, I and my entire family remain a dog family: Candy, Ben, Kizmet, Sable, Sky and Poppy are just the dogs I remember. From when I was a baby there have been dogs about our house, so I’ve met dopey dogs, smart dogs, friendly dogs and grumpy dogs. My brothers keep dogs of varying character and hues: Neb and Pig are the constant companions of the brother I worked with in my last entry. I believe dogs are pets on Hard mode. Cats mostly look after themselves, but a dog requires much and gives far, far more. The towering love and loyalty a dog offers is both reward and responsibility. A dog can never grow up, but Dog is Your Copilot. Dogs can learn a great deal of things, from hunting to counting to how to climb a ladder. They’re mostly stupid but clever in particularly focused ways.
The current Spry dog is Sky. Sky is shy, so it is difficult to get a picture of her.
I think this is a personality quirk rather than a species trait (conversely I’ve never known a cat not be a full-time photobomber). Sky was brought in to the family following the death of our old dog Ben; our other dog at the time, Sable, just wasn’t very friendly and Dad (who loves all animals) grieved for a companion dog. Sky was (and is) that. I first saw Sky as a tiny grey fuzz ball poking a nervous head from around the sofa and she hasn’t really changed except she has grown and grown; the consequences of being one half Alsatian and one half old English sheep dog. Sky is getting on in years now, so mostly likes a belly rub and a biscuit. However, when the neighbouring dogs aren’t being too horrible (there are bad dogs of bad owners) we go for a walk in the forest, and there Sky is in her element. She likes to go off the lead, smell the trees and look at (but never chase) wild pigs and passers-by. Sky is the dog’s dog, even if she is a bit smelly.
So there have always been animals around me as I grow up. The rest of my family isn’t half as picky when it comes to what they call a pet (snakes, rabbits, rats; they’ve had them all). When I find my feet again I’ll probably look in to the local rescue centres. I’m likely city-bound and, all things considered, I’ll need an animal that knows its own head and can look after itself. Much as I do love dogs, that means it’s a Cat man life for me.