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.