An Irishman's Diary
Our old cat was given three months to live recently. In fact, that was the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic one was that he wouldn’t see another Christmas. The vet prescribed some medicine, but the main advice was just to keep him warm and his make last weeks comfortable.
It had to happen – the cat is fairly ancient. And yet, as recently as autumn, his only noticeable ailment was arthritis. So my suspicion is that his demise was accelerated by the arrival in our house of Pete Briquette: the kitten that, in August, I rescued from a bog road in Tipperary.
Pete is now thriving and doing all the things baby cats have done for millenniums. He has never yet seen a mouse. But thanks to genetic hard-wiring, he is already preparing himself for that first momentous show-down, and spends all his waking hours having fights with everything that moves, or that he can pretend is moving.
The old cat falls into the latter category, usually. Were their age difference not so great, he would probably be mentoring the kitten, sharing tips on killing technique, and maybe teaching him other valuable life skills, such as how to lick his own bottom.
Instead, their relationship is just one big, tragic misunderstanding. Especially on the question of playing. No matter how many I’m-not-interested hints the old-timer drops – like appearing to be asleep with his head buried in the corner of the sofa – Pete still thinks he can goad him into action.
He persists even past the stage when the cat snarls – a sound that can still scare dogs – and only stops when a wizened paw finally lashes out and scratches him. Then the kitten will back off for a while, looking offended.
But only for a while. In his persistence, he reminds me of Cato, Inspector Clousseau’s man servant, who considered it his duty to keep testing the boss’s defences with martial arts attacks.
It might be only five minutes since Pete was last forced to flee by a clawing, or since we exiled him to the bad corner, saying – “Bold Kitten!”. You think he’s learned his lesson. Then you see him skulking along the back of the sofa, about to pounce yet again.
So yes, I fear that stress may have been a factor in the old cat’s decline, although recently we’ve been keeping him and the kitten in separate rooms. And of course I feel slightly guilty about my part in their introduction.
In fact, now the cat is on his last legs, I also regret that I didn’t always appreciate him. The problem, at first, was that he wasn’t ours. He just adopted us by hanging around our garden long enough for us to feel responsible.
Then, with the unwanted responsibility, came unwanted expense. The cat has very finicky tastes in food. Accommodation too. One bad winter, for example, when he was still an outdoor animal, we bought him a lovely little wooden house with a swing door.
He never stayed in it. Claustrophobia, probably. He preferred what used to be the children’s playhouse, which is bigger and – thanks to the bean bags that we bought for human use but that ended up outside and are now covered in hair – more comfortable.
I won’t even go into the matter of certain other soft furnishings rendered permanently unusable on those occasions when the cat was locked inside the house accidentally. Suffice to say that, knowing he hasn’t long left, I’ve forgiven him everything.
Which is just as well because, since his diagnosis, he has been more expensive than ever. Not only are there new veterinary costs. But having moved permanently indoors, he now needs cat litter too. And no sooner had we bought one litter tray than, thanks to segregation, we had to get a second.
The cat certainly doesn’t lack for comfort these days. Late at night, I find myself sitting at one end of the sofa, watching Sky news, with him at the other. He’ll have at least a cushion under him, and on colder nights a hot-water bottle. My wife may even have covered him with a blanket, something she’d never do for me.
Short of letting him have the TV remote, I’m not sure how I could further ease his lot. Still, as I reassure myself, it’s only for a while. Which said, the old bugger seems to have perked up a bit again lately. And much as I’ll miss him when he’s gone, I’m not entirely convinced he’ll be checking out any time soon.