When the owner's away, the cats like to play in style
What to do with your pet when you go on holiday can be a worry, but Betty Dobbs has one solution, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
'IT looks like you have more guests in your cat suites than many of the hotels around the country," I quipped to Betty and Mary Dobbs as I surveyed all the beautiful felines, moggies and pedigrees, lounging in suites at the Dobbs Cattery in Rathfarnham, Dublin, while their owners were away from home.
"Yes, though this year bookings are more last minute than in other years but, saying that, we are almost booked out for Christmas."
One of the biggest concerns for pet lovers going on holidays is who will mind Fido, Trixie or Felix. Owners want to be sure that their beloved pet will not pine and will be comfortable in their absence.
Years ago, facilities for pet boarding were pretty basic and we were all quite amused at the idea of five-star pet hotels in the US, but the fact is that really sleek facilities for boarding your animals are much more hygienic and safe.
Betty Dobbs is one of the best-known names, and recognised as the ultimate expert, in the cat world in Ireland. Since the late Sixties, Betty has been a major player in the Siamese and All Breeds Cat Club of Ireland, for which she has worked tirelessly over the years, and of which she is currently the registrar.
Betty got into the cat world quite accidentally when her husband went out with their then four teenage children and bought her first Siamese cat as a present. "He often joked that it was the worst day of his life," she says with a laugh. "There is no doubt once you get involved in Siamese cats, you become addicted for life and you can't live without them around. They are such fun creatures. They chat constantly, and noisily, and follow you around the house taking part in everything you do."
Eventually Betty bred Siamese and, occasionally, Persian kittens. This led to her establishing a small boarding facility as new owners often asked if she would mind the kittens at holiday times.
Now the cattery, set in magnificent gardens, is run by daughters Mary and Marjorie. It has 30 purpose-built pens, built to standards required in the UK by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Each little home has its own upstairs and downstairs area, and a little patio to the front.
Amongst the residents was one lovely chap basking in the sun who was there for three months whilst his owner moved apartment. Another was a long-haired tabby with a partner who was epileptic and has to get special medicine. Ed, a red Burmese, was there too -- a really handsome chap -- as well as two tortie Siamese with beautiful striped marking and clear blue eyes. Oscar, who at 19 was the eldest guest, has been coming to the cattery for years.
Some people get really upset when they are dropping off their cats, and it is not just women, for nowadays lots of men also bring their cats in. However, Mary says, while the owners may be crying, very often the cats have already "dismissed" them because they are so busy checking out their new environments.
"Some of them won't eat what they normally eat at home. It is like a hotel -- they go along with what's going and they like trying something different to their regular food. But, of course, if they want their regular food, it is there too."
There are strict regulations for boarding -- cats must have their inoculation certificates dated at least two weeks in advance of their stay.
Many people have been boarding their cats with the Dobbs for years and a friendship develops so "there is a sadness when the cat dies".
"Sometimes too it is quite funny when we get people, who have met while sitting around the pool somewhere abroad, who have discovered their cats are having their holiday with us," said Betty.
"We also had the experience of watching the news on TV during a big trial and seeing shots of the defence counsel and the prosecuting counsel, both of whose cats we look after at holiday times."
The cats' personal charts are up on the door of each suite. Some of the most popular names are Oscar, Felix, Misty, Molly and Kitty, whilst unusual names are Kamikaze, Sesame, Moses, Albus, Tambourline and Quasimodo.
"The biggest number of cats we have boarded from the same household would be 12, most of which are Maine Coons, probably the largest of the domestic cat family. Three of these guys when lying down in the run would almost cover the whole floor area."
Mary says that people should go and visit a cattery or kennels in advance of boarding your cat or dog there.
Cats have been close to humans for 9,500 years and there are many famous people, from Cleopatra on, who absolutely adored them. The late Hugh Leonard wrote regularly in this newspaper about the pleasure he derived from his Siamese cats, The Pooka and Panache, over the years.
Ernest Hemingway was famous for his cats and had 30 at one stage, Marie Antoinette allowed them walk all over her dining tables during dinner, while Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote the musical Cats after watching the habits of his pet cat. Albert Schweitzer was another cat fan as well as singers Freddie Mercury and John Lennon. Even Pope Benedict is a cat lover.
Details on the cattery are on www.dobbscattery.com
The Cork Cat Club show is on September 19 at the Great Island Community Centre, Cobh, Co Cork and the Siamese and All-Breeds Cat Club is on October 17 at the Knocklyon Community Centre, Idrone Road, Dublin. 16. Details of both on www.sabcci.com