Thursday 11 July 2013

Things That Don't Exist (But Should) - Part I

Here are some simple items that, if someone would only bother to invent them*, would make a cat owner's life a whole lot easier.

*As designer, I take zero responsibility for any act of vengeance your cat may decide to perform after you have used one of these items. Just so we're clear.

(1) A self-adhering towel

Ideal for those pill-giving moments.

As things stand, administering a worming tablet to a cat is a two-person job at a minimum, and at a maximum involves twenty-seven people, two ambulances, a fire engine, haulage equipment and possibly a hearse.

With this simple device (kind of like restraining straps but less scary), your non-compliant feline's limbs can be safely secured in a wriggle-proof sausage while you deal with the business end. It's win-win.

(2) A door-gate that actually has a hope in hell of keeping a cat out of a room

Whoever designs door-gates that are supposedly pet-proof as well as toddler-proof is clearly unfamiliar with the oozing, shape-shifting and generally gravity-defying properties of the average mog. There is nothing on the market that Tail or even Mouth couldn't outfox in two seconds flat.

I guess you might want something a tad more decor-friendly, but you get the idea.

(3) A carrier that you can trick your cat into using

We all know that the main uses of cat carriers are vet trips and house moves, and neither is a particularly persuasive reason for Tiddles to stride cooperatively into the carrier's plasticky depths. Let's face it, no cat is ever going to get in of his own free will.

So we need a way of tricking him.

Maybe it's a carrier that looks nothing like a carrier. (To be truly effective, it would need to change its appearance each time you used it, so some versatility is needed.)

For extra points, make it look as if venturing inside is strictly forbidden.

Or maybe it's cunningly constructed to look like a harmless box. Fluffykins creeps inside, and WHAM! A high-tech lid clamps smoothly over her head at the touch of a remote-control button.

A little extreme, perhaps.

(4) CCTV-operated sofa protection

Covert movement-detecting cameras that guard your sofa's most susceptible parts from errant claws. What's not to love?

(5) A mattress that's the shape you sleep in when you share the bed with a cat

Actually allows two people plus feline enough room to sleep. Brilliant!

Of course, you'd need to introduce a same-sized line in bedding, but I think it would catch on.

Comes with clip-on extensions for those stray arms, legs and tails that still fail to conform.

Friday 31 May 2013

Beware The Bad Chinchilla Bearing A Grudge

As well as cats, my boyfriend and I have two rescue chinchillas called Billy and Arthur.

A little off topic, you might think. But no.

This is the story of the time when Mouth, quite literally, bit the dust.

Now, chinchillas are strange little things. They look like puffballs with squirrel tails. They can't get wet because their fur is so ridiculously dense. Their diet is insanely specific; they bark like dogs when they're angry; and they need regular dust baths to stay floofy.

They are basically just meringues in rodent form.

Anyway, my boyfriend and I agreed to look after Billy and Arthur when their original owner emigrated. For the past two years, they have lived in a big cage in our spare room.

Billy is a thug. There is nothing he wouldn't do for a raisin.

He spends most of his time bulldozing around, gnawing at everything in his path. Raisins, dandelions, furniture, he's not fussy. If he has his eye on a thing, that thing had better watch out.

In the raisin world, Billy is the terror of terrors. Baby raisins see him in their worst nightmares. He is the raisin equivalent of the boogeyman.

Then there's Arthur. Arthur's a bit of a sad case. He has only three legs (an old injury that our vet is convinced doesn't bother him), and we think he's blind in one eye.

He's brown, which is unusual for a chinchilla, and he has these weird mottled ears. He gets ten out of ten for rarity value.

Arthur's life is largely spent being sat on by Billy. Both chins seem happy with this arrangement.

No self-respecting raisin would give Arthur a second glance. We love him, but he is a bit of a dweeb.

Because chinchillas are native to the Andes mountains, my boyfriend and I reasoned that Billy and Arthur would probably like to bounce around a bit. Their cage is pretty big, but we thought they were bound to get bored of it.

So we bought a huge zip-up playpen for them. Seriously, this thing is enormous. It was designed for dogs.

The playpen is great because it collapses and folds up when not in use. It has a waterproof base and a detachable cat-proof net that fits over the top.

Every couple of days, we get Billy and Arthur out of their cage and let them hop about in the playpen for a few hours.

They can't come to any harm in there, so we generally leave them to it.

One day while the chins were in their playpen, Mouth wandered into the room. The cats are usually shut away when Billy and Arthur are out and about, but I was there to supervise and Mouth didn't look particularly threatening. So I let him have a peek.

What I hadn't bargained for was Billy's reaction.

Billy was surveying the room from inside the pen, no doubt having a Pride Rock moment, when Mouth approached.

Mouth's ears loomed over the side of the pen like the shark fin in Jaws.

Billy tensed. He was preparing himself for battle.

Now, whatever self-preservation instinct chinchillas are supposed to have, Billy lacks it. He is a chilla on the edge.

As far as Billy was concerned, there was a Thing that was getting too close for comfort, and that Thing must die.

As the tension mounted unbearably, Mouth - idiot that he is - raised an inquisitive paw.

That was it. Billy finally snapped. He saw red.

He attacked Mouth in the best way he knew how.

With a great war-cry, he kicked a giant torrent of dust from his dust bath into Mouth's unsuspecting tabby face.

Poor Mouth. He didn't know what had hit him. He had only wanted to sniff the overgrown mouse, and it had unleashed such rage!

Mice were supposed to submit feebly, not fight back.

All Mouth had ever known was a lie.

He retreated to a safe distance and licked his paw in a numb, humiliated way.

Ever since then, Mouth has harboured a deep respect for the savage squirrel-mice that inhabit the spare room. They possess powers far exceeding his own.

Billy's ego, on the other hand, has inflated beyond belief.

I just live in eternal hope that he never tries to take on Tail.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Cat Kit Part I

When you get a cat, the internet falls over itself to tell you what you'll need to buy. Litter tray, food bowls, bed, collar, flea comb. Everybody wants you to know how to look after your cat.

Which is good, don't get me wrong. But nobody tells you how to look after yourself once you have a cat.

Here is a list of must-have items for the survival-bent cat owner.

You heard it here first, folks.

(1) Cat-coloured clothes

You think feline aficionados suddenly start wearing leopard- and tiger-print because they want the world to know they love cats? Nope. It's because they've figured out which colours hide cat hair the best.

Fill your wardrobe with items that match your cat of choice and you'll rarely have to use...

(2) Sticky rollers

Buy lots of these. Keep one in the bedroom. Keep one by the front door. Keep another in your car, and keep one at work if possible.

A sticky roller will be your saving grace when you realise it's not professional to go to a meeting/the shops/your friend's wedding/your great-aunt's funeral covered in kitty floof.

(3) Sellotape

For banisters.

'Nuff said.

(4) A room your cat doesn't go in

Think about it. A room where you can keep real plants, store food without the use of padlocks, hang expensive dresses (for the days when (1) isn't happening), direct allergic visitors and so on.

Seriously. You'll thank me later.

(5) The Secret Weapon

The Secret Weapon is your trump card.

You have to discover it for yourself. It can be an irresistible flavour of treat, a noise, a smell, a favourite toy. Basically it's something you can produce and gain instant control over your cat. (Yes, it is possible.)

Great for those awkward situations. Like when your gerbil escapes.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Night of the Living Box

A big parcel arrived for me yesterday.

It was very exciting. Big parcels are the stuff of which dreams are made.

They are on a par with rainbows and sunbeams and chocolate.

For me, at least. For certain felines (naming no names), they are the embodiment of nightmares.

Mouth took one look at the box and was filled with a mix of terror and incomprehension.

His initial reaction was to panic and flee.

I knew better than to go after him. Sympathy would only reinforce his despair.

Sure enough, eventually he slithered back downstairs with a look of forced bravado. He gave the box a tentative sniff.

When this did not result in his immediate demise, he got brave enough to jump on top of it. (This process alone would be a separate post; Mouth believes he is built for climbing rather than leaping. He never really got past the curtain-clambering kitten phase. When he tries to propel himself upwards with his hind legs, like a normal creature, he becomes a flailing mess of limbs and claws and fur.)

For a while, Mouth sat bravely astride the box. He kept giving little show-off grunts in Tail's general direction.

When at last he hunched down like a tabby blancmange, I knew he had conquered the box, and I was proud of him. It was a small step for a cat, but a giant leap for Mouthkind.

I did a few jobs around the house, and when I came back downstairs I noticed how much the box was cluttering up the hallway.

Mouth had abandoned his new cardboard friend and was busily growling at an ant, so I moved the box into the lounge.

Little did I realise how catastrophic this act would prove to be.

In its new surroundings, the box was a greater and more deadly enemy than Mouth had previously imagined. With thuggish conspirators like sofas and tables, the threat multiplied a thousandfold.

You can guess what happened next.

When, some hours later, his pride got the better of him, Mouth slunk back into the lounge.

He sat on the beanbag, a safe distance away, and regarded the box the way a banana might regard a smoothie-maker.

G-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y, he inched closer to it.

When he was about a metre away from the box, an unfamiliar expression crossed his face. It was an expression of vague recognition.

Needless to say, the expression was accompanied by the Sideways Head of Confusion.

Even comprehension confuses poor Mouth. He does not expect to understand things.

I'm pleased to say that Mouth has now come to accept the box. He rubs up against it. He licks it. He uses it as a sunbathing pedestal.

I hardly dare tell him that I need to open it.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

"Lay On, MacFluff"

Sometimes my morning wake-up call can be quite theatrical.

I have to get up quickly in order to avoid a tragedy of an entirely different magnitude.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

What Miaow from Yonder Window Breaks

My house is full of cat noises.

Here are some of them.

The 'play with me (or die)'

Mouth is very good at looking cute when he wants something. He lets out this odd little two-part brrrrrrp, generally while patting my knee or face with his paw. He's like an excited child putting his hand up in class. "Pick me, Miss! Oh, me! Oh, I know the answer! PLEASE Miss!"

Usually when he does this, he wants me to wiggle his aerial about for him.

If he doesn't get what he wants, he can transform instantly into a terrifying hellbeast.

The 'where are you?'

When I'm not around, my boyfriend tells me Mouth wanders around the house listlessly, occasionally emitting  forlorn miaows.

His miaows have never been melodious, but this one is particularly ridiculous. It starts off all waily, but then he seems to remember he is a cat and tries to surreptitiously convert his wail into a cat sound.

Possibly his mother was a banshee.


Like most cats, Mouth and Tail make weird chattery noises when there is a Thing that they want to eat.

Traditionally it's a bird (Tail excels at bird-chattery), but I have caught Mouth chattering at wholly un-chatter-worthy things like woodlice and fluff.

Tail's chatters are superb. I'm convinced she is skilled in ventriloquy and a qualified voice projection instructor. Even through double-glazed glass, they make sparrows at the other end of the garden quake with fear.

Mouth's are rubbish. They sound like a broken power drill. Woodlice flock to my house purely for the entertainment.

The 'NO'

This is the feline equivalent of a toddler stamping its foot and throwing a tantrum.

When Mouth and Tail have a stand-off - usually because Mouth has muscled in on Tail's dinner, although once it happened because he sneezed on her bottom - growling inevitably ensues.

They always make up afterwards. Mouth is a master of the Apologetic Ear Groom.

The 'service announcement'

This is my favourite cat noise, and a peculiarity of Tail's.

Whenever she's about to do something she feels I should know about, like jump onto the bookcase, she gives a little chirrup.

It's very courteous.

Monday 1 April 2013

Why I Feed My Cat in the Toilet

Of my two cats, Mouth is the dominant one.

I have no idea how this happened.

He is far jumpier and wimpier than Tail. When we got them both, he was smaller than her, too. I can only think Tail didn't want to be boss.

Being Top Cat means that Mouth starts eating his dinner first, and he gets to lick out Tail's bowl when she's finished. The bowl lick is strictly symbolic - Tail wouldn't dream of leaving any scraps.

Last week, however, a strange thing happened.

We've always fed both cats in the hallway, which has a nice wipeable laminate floor. Tail's bowl is at the end of the hall near the lounge, and Mouth's bowl goes by the kitchen door, like this.

This has never been a problem.

But last week, at dinnertime, I heard an odd growly noise.

It was no ordinary Oi, Tiddles, get out of my garden growl. It wasn't even the lesser-spotted THERE IS A NOISE AND I DON'T LIKE IT growl. This growl was deafening. There are no windows in my hallway, but I pictured neighbours clutching their children and adjusting their picture frames. Extreme weather warnings would soon start appearing on TV.

I went to investigate.

Mouth was bolting his food and growling. It was the most absurd thing I have ever seen a cat doing, and I have seen cats do some extremely absurd things. (My parents' cat once woke itself up by sleep-miaowing.)

"Oh dear, Mouth," I said. I knew this day would come. Life is a continuous struggle for a creature of Mouth's simplicity, and he had finally broken himself.

I tried picking the bowl up and putting it down again. The growling resumed with renewed vigour.

I tried moving it along the hallway. No change.

Tail had abandoned her portion of whitefish and was watching with interest.

There was nothing I could do but spectate as Mouth inhaled the remainder of his dinner, then moved onto Tail's.

Tail looked up at me, stricken.

"No, Mouth," I said, shooing him away from Tail's bowl, but Tail didn't want it anymore. It was evidently besmirched with boy germs.

Washing up both bowls, I had a think. I'd read a few books on cat psychology, but Mouth was a law unto himself. Perhaps he had spontaneously decided that the hallway was a terrifying place.

To be on the safe side, for their next meal, I shut Mouth in the downstairs loo. It was a warm, quiet room where he could eat undisturbed.

It meant Tail could get on with her dinner in the hallway, uninterrupted by tabby-shaped hoovers.

With painstaking care, I knelt down and peered under the door at Mouth.

The growling continued, but it lacked conviction.

As I'd hoped, it dwindled as the meal progressed.

Eventually, it was replaced by the happy lip-smacking grunts of a feline polishing off his final few mouthfuls of Whiskas.

When the grunts had given way to a noise that could only mean Mouth was cleaning his bottom, and Tail had devoured every last morsel of her rabbit-flavoured supper, I opened the door to the downstairs loo.

A newly refreshed, confident Mouth strolled out, fully recovered from his growly episode and ready to take on the world.

He seemed none the worse for it, but ever since then he has expected to eat his dinner in the downstairs loo.

I don't question it. I just put his food in there, and do my best to remember to let him out afterwards.

Tail accepts this state of affairs.

I love Mouth dearly, but I don't pretend to understand him.