You may have noticed by now that cat people are unique creatures. They are passionate about their pets (mostly) and will either embrace an ‘expert’ as a kindred spirit, or resist you vehemently if you try to tell them ANYTHING about their cat or cats in general that they don’t already know or believe. The chances are that you will win them over if you leave most of what you ‘know’ unsaid, while making it perfectly clear that you have a bank of knowledge that you have no intention of imposing on them. You will most definitely notice during your journey into the world of cat that cat lovers conform to distinct ‘types’.
THE FUR-BABY HUGGER
The first type you may encounter is the fur-baby hugger, who is always a woman. She can be of any age over 30, often childless or suffering from an ‘empty nest’ once the kids have left home, and she has time on her hands. She may or may not be single. She may have one cat but if that cat doesn’t fulfil her emotional demands, she may have acquired more in an effort to find the exact model that will permit (tolerate) her affectionate embrace. Her cat’s name is usually a human one such as Emma, Lucy, Poppy, George, Sammy or Arthur, rather than Tiddles, Ginger, Sooty, Pickles, Ceefor or Splat. She may work, she may stay at home, but her prevailing thoughts are always geared towards her cat. If her cat is sick, she takes time off work. The prospect of her cat wandering off and failing to return sends her into meltdown, although George doesn’t really go outside unless he is on a harness and lead. When you visit her, you will be unclear whether she is talking to you or her cat. Mostly it will be her cat, but don’t be offended – it’s simply because she finds the beautiful George far more interesting than you. Keep most of what you have learnt to yourself, for fear of feeding her neurosis. The fur-baby hugger always cradles her cat on its back, and invariably rocks it gently while doing so. You will notice your own interest value will increase if you show how much you appreciate George’s aesthetic qualities, but don’t think of approaching him, because this stereotype likes one-woman cats and George may not be appreciative of your advances. Although tempting, you will be well advised to steer clear of using terms such as ‘anthropomorphism’ (the ascription of human characteristics to animals) and ‘theriomorphism’ (the ascription of animal characteristics to humans). It’ll only get confusing.
Some people are not content with being just any old cat owner. Their aim is to be the ULTIMATE cat owner. The perfectionist will have done extensive research before acquiring a cat, using a detailed spreadsheet that cross-references the qualities required with those as advertised on various breeders’ and rehoming charities’ websites. This prospective owner will then approach the whole relationship with meticulous precision to make absolutely sure to be perfect in every respect. She will research the best diets, explore the indoor-versus-outdoor debate with vigour, contemplate the optimum litter-tray size, shape and substrate, and interview veterinary surgeons for suitable medical care. The perfectionist will always have the latest must-have piece of cat kit that is assured to make the cat’s life complete. The medical notes for this cat will be extensively peppered with notes such as, ‘Owner called to say cat sneezed. Gave advice to wait and see and report in 24 hours.’ If you find yourself in the company of the perfectionist, DO NOT be tempted to demonstrate any of your newfound knowledge. She soaks up information and demands details just in case something you know could enhance her cat-owning capabilities. If this happens, you may end up floundering and making stuff up. She will suck you dry. Definitely don’t ever suggest that her cat looks a little peaky or comment on the strong smell of urine in the dining room.
The feeder believes in the philosophy, ‘I love, therefore I feed.’ She loves her cat (or cats) so much that it is imperative she lets them know all the time. But this assurance often seems to fall on deaf ears, so she shows her love with food instead. The cat gets at least four set meals a day, plus a bowl of biscuits for snacking, plus treats (ham, cheese, kitty biccies, and prawns). Don’t forget, of course, cooked white fish on Friday and roast chicken on Sunday, and the little bit of milk from her cereal every morning. The feeder believes that every time her cat makes a sound, it is saying, ‘Feed me.’ Any thought of denying that request would be criminal. After a few years of this, the cat spends most of the time indoors, seemingly because he loves her so much. In reality, he can no longer fit through the cat flap. Still she feeds and feeds, and when he struggles to get off the sofa, she finds a handy way to feed him ‘in bed’. She has changed her vet several times as a few rude ones dared to tell her that her cat was dangerously obese. The feeder is the one who laughs in a loving way and says ‘Aaaaaahhh’ when she sees pictures of paunchy cats on the internet slouched on the sofa with a beer bottle and pizza propped up next to them. There are several words and phrases to avoid with the feeder: ‘fat, overweight, morbidly obese, diabetic, prone to heart disease, and loved to death’. You will never change the feeder, but if you get the opportunity, you might want to at least try to reduce the poor animal’s calorific intake.
THE MUST-HAVE OWNER
This is the person who is a designer-label slave. He has everything branded and is the personification of whatever he has decided is the fashion zeitgeist. A moggy is no match for this individual; he will have a Savannah, a Bengal (F2 of course), a Sphynx (especially if he is follically challenged) or some other brand-new variation, particularly if it is rare and expensive. The must-have owner will import a Teacup (miniature) Persian from the States at great expense, only to find it’s exactly like a normal Persian but has clearly been photographed from very far away. He will buy diamond-encrusted collars for his cat and obviously keep it (and the collar) indoors due to their high value. The cat will enjoy all the fancy mod-cons of urban cat indoor living (courtesy once again of the USA) but absolutely no opportunity to live a normal life. The must-have owner won’t care what you know about cats because that sort of information just isn’t useful or necessary, as his cat has been specially bred to live the way it does. It doesn’t have a natural instinct in its body.
THE BUSY MUM
The busy mum will have several children and possibly several cats, but she’s not absolutely sure whether she still has three or if Pickle has permanently decamped to the couple over the road. She acquired her cat as a kitten when her daughter came home one day demanding a cat and didn’t stop until she got one. Since then of course, mum has been in charge, but she’s busy and didn’t notice the promiscuous behaviour of her six-month-old cat who subsequently had three kittens, two of which she kept and called Branston and Pickle. The cats don’t go to the vet (apart from when the mother was spayed, or ‘spayed-ed’ as the busy mum prefers to call it) as they don’t get sick. They are either outside or inside, depending on whether they are noticed crying at the window outdoors or on the doormat indoors. The cats are invariably blissfully happy if they can get away from the youngest child’s tormenting hands, but are often found dangling upside down as the enthusiastic child has picked them up back to front. Your expertise will not necessarily impress the busy mum, but this might be a good chance to see what cats get up to when they are given a measure of liberty and freedom of choice.
THE MAD CAT WOMAN
This type is part of a broad spectrum that starts with breeders and cat charity volunteers and ends in RSPCA interventions and court cases. You will never see the extreme end of the spectrum as it all happens behind closed doors; leave that to the real experts. However, you will undoubtedly have met ‘types’ from the other end in vast numbers. The mad-cat-lady charity volunteer, for example, is over-50, post-menopausal and largely suspicious of anyone who wants to come and adopt a cat, and positively aggressive to those who want to give them up. The mad cat woman will have at least six cats but possibly considerably more. These cats may or may not have their full quota of eyes, ears, limbs, etc. as they tend to be the ones that nobody else wants. Their owners have a uniform very much like that of the breeder (see ‘Good Breeding’) and all jewellery, handbags, pens, purses, key rings and (God forbid) tattoos will have a cat theme. Her house will be an homage to cat with every conceivable object either in the shape of a cat or adorned with a picture of one.
NORMAN AND NORMA
Norman and Norma are the statistical mean of the cat-owning population. They have had cats all their lives on and off and can always come up with an amusing anecdote of when the cat urinated on the vicar’s lap or ate the Christmas turkey. They love their cats and care for them, but they have busy, independent lives outside their relationship with the cats and only ever occasionally consider buying something with a cat theme on it.
They put their cats out at night, give them milk and Maltesers, and do all the things that current wisdom suggests will kill them. Their cats usually live to 20. They might be briefly enthralled by your expertise, but are more likely to be impressed if you can recognise all 70 cultivated species of fuchsia.
The French philosopher Montaigne once mused: ‘When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?’