More than two decades ago, my university tutor poured himself another glass of sherry, settled back in his armchair and observed that I looked like the kind of person who liked cats. I have never forgotten his comment because it’s possibly the most insulting thing anyone has ever said to me. Did he really view me as the sort of person who fills her home with cutesy cat calendars and embroidered cushions depicting winsome kittens? The sort who, one day, would leave her undiscovered, bloated corpse to be nibbled by Macavity and her meagre savings to the Cats’ Protection League?
I can already hear the cat lover’s cry of protest: ‘But cats are such graceful, independent creatures!’ Here’s the thing: I rather admire brown rats for their stealth and tenacity, but if one took up residence in my kitchen, gnawing the electrical cables and crapping on the bread board, I’d have no hesitation in calling Rentokil. So why can’t I do the same when the neighbour’s moggy persists in digging up my seedlings and using my herbaceous borders as a giant litter-tray?
Apparently that would be unacceptable – criminal, even. Instead we’re expected to tolerate, if not appreciate, these destructive creatures. A friend of mine once rang her neighbour’s doorbell and politely asked him to deal with the trail of shit that his cat had deposited on her daughter’s trampoline. He responded with a look of bafflement followed by pure outrage. His rationale seemed to be that domestic cats roam free, so somehow it’s everyone’s responsibility to accommodate them and clean up their mess.
It particularly annoys me when people attribute human characteristics to their feline friends. Intelligence? Come on – have you seen their tiny skulls? As for cleanliness – would you call me clean if I licked my own arsehole? Applied consistently, this anthropomorphic approach would mean branding every cat in the neighbourhood a dangerous psychopath. After all, what sort of person gets his kicks by ripping the heads off baby robins and snapping the spines of wood mice?
Along comes the cat lover again: ‘Oh, but that’s just nature,’ she simpers. If she were talking about a skulk* of urban foxes, she might have a point, but her cat didn’t just turn up one day to leave a trail of carnage. She’s the one who wilfully inflicted this killing machine on her neighbours, turning every back garden into a morgue. Can’t she see the contradiction between her professed love of animals and the mangled frog by the side of my pond? Between her RSPB car sticker and the bloodied heap of feathers on my lawn? My tutor was a clever man, but he misjudged me. I really don’t like cats at all.
* Possibly the best ever collective noun.