Friday 6 December 2019

How an unannounced guest became the lady of the house

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

The lost little pussy-cat appeared at the kitchen door in a pathetic state. She was terribly thin and had a pitifully-weak meow. So of course I let her in and gave her a bowl of milk. She took it gratefully. And then I dashed out to the shops and purchased some cat food. She took that gratefully too. And then she settled down to wash herself in the conservatory (which had a slightly buckled window whereby she could enter and exit).

She wasn't a stray, I thought, as she had a collar and was quite well-maintained, apart from being hungry and thin. Had her owners lost her or moved away? In any case, she appeared at the kitchen door, from the garden, every now and again, clearly needing food.

And so, every now and again, I gave her food, and she found a pleasant spot to bask in, post-prandial. Little by little, the cat attached herself to the house and my son dubbed her Pussolini. But, he warned, she would drive away the birds in the garden.

"No, she won't," I said. She's not interested in birds. She only wants food. "Cats drive away birds," he repeated. "It's the law of nature."

So I went out and bought a high-up bird house, so that the autumn and winter feathered-creatures could come and take their food without fear of Pussolini. But the native birds stayed away, and the migrating ones flew away, it being autumn. And one day I did see Pussolini crouched down in the stalking position of the hunting feline when she spotted a wood pigeon on the garden wall. The wood pigeon flew away and hasn't returned. And later she killed a field mouse, bringing it back as a nice trophy.

Pussolini was well-named. Like all dictators, she gradually occupied more territory, and gradually demanded more benefits. At first, I was glad to see her fill out, fatten up and to hear her meow become more confident. I was gratified by the seduction game that cats perform, purring against you when they want something, and to watch the playfulness of the feline when they stand on their hind legs and reach for something. Pussolini is only a standard moggie, but she has the gracefulness of a ballet dancer and the rippling musculature of a tiger.

She became a fixture in the house, disappearing off when she fancied, and then reappearing again. Her meows for food became more assertive, and then, more picky. She decided she didn't like one brand of cat food, and walked away from it - she favoured a different brand, which had more moisture in it. You can't reason with a cat, but I tried, just the same.

"Just eat what you're given and be grateful!" But I noticed when I went to purchase the cat food, my hand went to the brand that she liked. I even drove to the late-night garage for her special cat food when we ran out of it.

She began to find comfortable little nooks in the house - she made a nest in the cosy airing cupboard, and I'd find her stretched out for a siesta on my bed, her grey tortoiseshell coat resting against the pillows. "No, Pussolini, no!" I said, and she looked at me balefully, and then vamoosed.

It's said that dogs have a sense of morality - or at least a sense of guilt, when they have done something they know they shouldn't do - but cats are totally amoral. They are detached, pursue their own pleasures and only show affection when they want something. When I caught her stealing a piece of cheese, I condemned her as a thief, but though she quickly fled from the scene, I don't believe she had any remorse. She now stalked through the house as of right, the conqueror of the territory she had possessed.

Then she disappeared for about three days and I began to worry about her. But she returned one morning, appearing by the kitchen window and signalling to me that it was time for food. And, her favourite, if you please. So of course I complied.

Yet I began to think I should make an effort to find her owner, who might be concerned about her. A friend suggested I should call the local cat sanctuary and report her as a missing tabby.

The collar that she wears around her neck may contain an encoded chip which identifies her. Yes, I'll do that. I'll definitely do that very soon.

But in the meantime I'm pondering on the instructive experience of having Pussolini around these past three months. What did they used to say when I was a youngster about certain characters, who "if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile"? Is it cat nature or is it human nature to start out with pleading humility and to end up with dictatorial demands and an overweening sense of entitlement?

Is it just felines who take advantage of benefits that are offered, and then start getting choosy about the selection? Are moggies the only creatures to spot an opportunity and grasp it, or to purr as a means of persuasion?

And did I feed Pussolini for her sake or for mine? Did I like the warm glow of appreciation when she licked her chops after a satisfying meal? And how pretty her bright green eyes were as she focused on the source of provisions.

But she has to go, alas. The birds were here first and nature has decreed that you cannot have both a cat and garden birds, and you cannot square nature's adversarial laws.

Yes, for sure, I'll have to evict Pussolini shortly. Maybe next week.


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