How I became a cat person

I went from putting up with, to loving and then losing a grumpy, fat, white cat

Here are some things I’ve learned about cats based purely on scientific observation of the only cat I’ve ever owned.

1) Cats are fat and white and are really bad at jumping.

2) Cats have to eat a special diet food.

3) Cats don’t hunt and are confused when small birds fall out of their nests in the garden. They just stare at them. Left to their own devices I’m sure the cat and the bird would become friends, with the cat warding off predators and the bird plucking fruit from the farthest branches, and possibly working together to play “tricks” on “humans”. But we’ll never know because my spoilsport wife intervened and put the bird back in its nest.

4) Cats make this sound: “wack, wack, wack”. They do not say “meow”, as my toddler nephew insists. “You’re wrong,” I say firmly. “And it’s ‘cat’ not ‘gat’.” He doesn’t like that. “Oh, here come the waterworks!” I say.

5) Cats have a complicated cosmology in which humans control the weather. If, for example, a cat wants be let into the back garden and then sees it is raining, it will look up at you expecting you to change the weather. When you do not, it will go to the front door, where it assumes atmospheric conditions are different. Sometimes, surprisingly, they are.

6) In the wild, cats would probably be f***ed.

My cat came as part of a package with my wife. In a way, she was my "step-cat", but soon I came to see her as my own. Her name was Princess Arjumand. She was named after a cat in a Connie Willis novel, who turns out to be the centre of the universe. The name was shortened, of course, to Ju Ju, the well-known abbreviation for Princes Arjumand. I would, of course, have preferred a tougher name, like Fang or White Thunder, but Ju Ju had already been cat-christened by the time she moved in with me. She did, I have to admit, have an aristocratic sense of entitlement that suited the name.

As someone who worked from home, I began to bond with Ju Ju. I started seeing her more as a work colleague than a pet.

“Good day, Ju Ju,” I would say every morning as I stumbled to the coffee pot.

“Wack, wack, wack,” she would quack back, looking up at me accusingly when I didn’t fill her bowl straight away or because I was late with a deadline.

As I stood there in my underpants, wielding my coffee spoon like a mighty sword – I fancied we looked like He-Man and Battle Cat, although possibly He-Man and Battle Cat in later years, after they’d retired.

Ju Ju lived to be a very old cat. When my wife got her, she was a slightly traumatised rescue animal. After her first owner died, she spent a few months in a small pen in a veterinary clinic. When she arrived at my wife’s house she nestled down outside the kitchen like a brooding hen and refused to move for a whole week.

Thankfully, she soon came out of herself and became a demanding little tyrant. The vet estimated that she was about five years old when she came into our lives. She was with us for a further 13 years.

Once, early on, she disappeared for a week. We were, to our surprise, distraught. It turned out she had moved in with some wealthy old ladies down the road. I suspect she had some sort of grift or long con underway.

When she suddenly turned up again she glared at us with contempt. She had moved on to a better life and we were pulling her back down into the mire.

She was pretty sedentary compared to other neighbourhood cats, whom she hated. She particularly hated Bobby, the cat from next door, an energetic ginger cat who would gyrate sexily in the window at her as she glowered out.

“Oh Ju Ju, you are all woman!” I imagine him saying in a rich baritone. “I am in luuuv with uuuu.”

“I hate you Bobby,” I imagined Ju Ju responding in her high-pitched quack, puffing her fur up and growling out the window.

Of course, I did not say these words aloud, employing special “cat voices”, because that would be weird.

We did not do a special voice for our cat. That would be nuts. Seriously. Who would do that?

Next you’ll be saying we invented long involved narratives about her adventures – about how she was an avid balloonist who travelled the world looking for a mystical jade monkey, for example. But that would be crazy. Stop looking at me.

Ju Ju outlived all of her hated neighbour cats. She was disinclined to wander towards traffic and she liked the simple pleasures – sitting still, misanthropy and overeating.

She was a medical marvel. She was prescribed a special diet food. She had cat asthma.

She got skin cancer despite always being plastered with sunscreen (white cats are prone to skin cancer), so she had to have the tips of her ears removed, leaving her with little round ears, like a bear.

Once a big dog ran into the garden, picked her up by the scruff of the neck and shook her until I intervened. It was very upsetting. It had all the hallmarks of a gangland hit.

“What enemies has she made?” I wondered. I’d long realised I’d miss her if anything happened to her.

Then she survived a house move, which I barely survived myself. It’s touching to watch an elderly cat trying to figure out a new environment – tentatively sniffing and padding about (she probably felt the same about me).

She had become a regal old lady. But her health started to get worse, even by her own unhealthy standards. And this is where the funny story about a funny pet turns melancholy. She could no longer manage to get on our bed. She began weeing in inappropriate places so we had to restrict her to certain rooms.

“Hello again!” was how the vet greeted us on weekly visits. One day we realised Ju Ju’s sight was failing. Shortly afterwards she went missing. (“Are you looking for a weird looking white cat?” said a passing man. “She’s sitting up there in that garden”). We began confining her to the house. She was diagnosed with kidney disease and we were told she had only six months to live, but she lived for another year-and-a-half on a cocktail of medicines and obsessive care.

She was not in pain. But she was unkempt (we had to groom her) and confused (she didn’t know the difference between day and night) and not really her proud, loud, annoying self (although she still purred happily when we stroked her under the chin).

And then the vet said it was time to let her go. We were given a final weekend with her. Then we brought her into the Anicare Veterinary Clinic for the last time.

They were lovely. In an adjoining room they put a cannula in her arm. Then, with Ju Ju peacefully perched on a blanket on a silver table, they gave us time to say goodbye. We stroked her. She purred. We cried. They gave her a sedative and the drug that killed her. “Goodbye Ju Ju,” we said. “We love you.”

She breathed a few last breaths and all life went from her skinny, no longer fat, little body.

Losing a pet is not like losing a person. The grief is not bottomless. But it does leave a sad little four-legged hole in your life. It’s a bit like our house had a grumpy, fat, white, fluffy soul, and now that’s gone.

When I come home now my instinct is still to greet her. “Good day, Ju Ju!” I want to say. But I don’t, because I wouldn’t hear her say “wack, wack, wack”.

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