My friends have a long-standing epic joke about me which focuses on what I will be like when I am a lot … okay … maybe not a lot, maybe a little … older than I am now. It features, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the orator, my complete eschewment of men, my gradual, reclusive withdrawal into my house, which will by then resemble a rundown, barely inhabitable cottage with overgrown garden and the addition of at least 20 cats and foxes, along with the resultant decline in my olfactory senses (and a great deal for other people to wrinkle their noses at).
Whilst there is a certain allure ascribed to a woman described as a “Catwoman”, that sexy image goes out of the window when its accompanied by the pong of unemptied catboxes and 20 hungry, bellowing felines. The image of Michelle Pfeiffer in leather is quickly superceded by that of a wrinkled, pee-stained crone, the type of slightly deranged, aroma-challenged woman who, in fact, could be described as a witch.
This, along with my obvious involvement in things a little esoteric, makes my friends (and me) laugh. However, a slight frisson goes down my spine when I realise how easy it is to slip into the frame of mind that would allow this.
I have a clearly defined interest in animal welfare. I like to think that my cats are well-looked after, given goodly amounts of attention, are as well-fed as I can afford them to be and have happy lives. I now have five cats. I started out with two, got a third because she was so very cute and the first two adored her. The fourth arrived as a stray and the fifth did also.
The first stray stayed because she fitted in well with the others, obviously was at home on the allotments and I felt it would be cruel to rehome her to another environment where she may not have such a good life. The second stray has stayed because he’s been abused and whilst he would make the ideal pet for a one-cat household, his habit of taking chunks out of humans (and doors and plants and furniture and other animals) when even slightly stressed makes him rather ineligible for rehoming.
I also like to think he has the best of both worlds – he gets to roam around freely (apart from at night when I bring him in) and he gets to go to the vet when he’s been in a fight or is ill, gets fed cooked fish and premium biscuits and gets cuddled and is assimilating slowly into the menagerie.
However, to think that I am the only animal person who can take care of him and put up with his behaviour is very egotistical. Moreover, what happens when the next stray comes along? Does this mean I end up with six cats? And then seven? Am I really that far away from Batty Catwoman for the joke still to be funny?
Most people involved in animal care have known at least one person who has crossed the sanity line, who believes that only they can care for the cats that should pass through their doors when their initial care requirements have been fulfilled. Many of these people end up with far more animals than they can comfortably look after. The animals end up neglected and ill and in severe cases, die. The owners simply do not see that they are doing more harm than good.
The papers occasionally report on people whose animals have been taken away because they have, for instance, eighty dogs in a two bedroom house. Some of these animals have initially been rescued and stayed and then bred and interbred and interbred again because the human in charge loses control, loses their objectivity and then feels shameful when they realise they can’t cope. And it is easier to pretend that all is well, that only they can provide the love and care their animals need than face up to the fact that they are being cruel.
It relieves me to recall that more than a few strays and rescues (update: around 60 by 2010) have passed through my home and straight into new homes and owner’s arms. I can name eight kittens who’ve stayed for between two days and six months and been rehomed. I can recall at least four cats for whom I have done the same.
So maybe I am not that much in danger of crossing the line. My inner sanity police(wo)man must still be working. And I have friends who would bring me up short if I start to slide. Still … I think wistfully that it would be lovely to have a bigger place and all the cats and foxes and dogs that no-one else wants …