Hilary Fannin: The vet spoke quietly. I knew the cat’s number was up

Though nonplussed by God and Gwyneth Paltrow, the cat was a patient listener

It’s a busy practice, with only three people allowed in the reception area, so I waited outside, shifting from foot to foot, while the vet examined the moggie.

I wasn’t alone. A couple of mildly anxious-looking owners stood waiting as dogs with cones on their heads milled around, trying and failing to sniff each other’s bottoms while doing passable impersonations of four-legged lampstands.

A sheepish-looking man arrived with a giant rabbit in a pet carrier. The rabbit was the size of a busby. Maybe it was pregnant. I read somewhere that a doe can carry up to 15 babies inside her. The thought of all those squirming blind bunnies made me seasick.

The man was called inside to register. I, too, put my head in the door to see if there was any information on the cat; there wasn’t.


A young man pulled up on the verge in an expensive car, opened up the hatchback and joined the assembly with a Herculean-looking Doberman, brawny, sleek and sinewy. The implacable presence of the dog, with its cropped ears and remorseless eyes, silenced the yapping of the colliding light fixtures.

“She’s Turkish,” the owner explained. “I got her from Turkey. She’s only a baby.”

We all, dogs included, nodded sagely.

“I think she’s after having a phantom pregnancy,” he added. “She’s running milk.”

We looked, albeit not too closely. She did indeed seem to be lactating.

“Ummm,” we chorused. Nice doggy. Nice milky doggy.

“She’s from Turkey,” he said again, as if that might explain the matter.

“You’re here for Holly, yeah? The tortoiseshell?” The vet was standing next to me, speaking quietly. I knew from his tone that, this time, her number was up.


I started writing about the cat more than a decade ago now, when I was the TV reviewer for this paper. Her interest in the television, in wildlife documentaries (she liked a bit of rumbling and squawking) and snooker in particular, used to amuse me. Much like my late father, she’d pour herself a large Paddy and draw up an armchair, ears cocked for the satisfying click of cue on ball. Unlike my father, however, she was prone to leaping up behind the box, then appearing above it and attempting to fish out the rolling reds with her paw.

Over the years of column writing I began eliciting her opinions on a variety of topics, including celebrity culture, religion, grief and ageing.

On the first of these, she remained stoically unmoved by my stories of Gwyneth Paltrow steaming her yoni over a bucket of mugwort or hawking pulsing vibrators in the shape of little firemen from her pop-up shop in Chelsea.


Religion, too, left Holly a little nonplussed. She never could quite get her whiskers around transubstantiation, and when you did try to outline Catholicism’s basic plot structure – an unlikely encounter between a winged man and a virgin, leading to violent deaths and reincarnation – she had an unfortunate tendency to get mixed up between Anne, the Princess Royal, and Anne the lesser-spotted mother of the mother of God.

Meanwhile, I could yack on to her week after week about ageing, describing the loneliness of friends facing changed domestic circumstances, with children departing and work receding, and she’d respond to my concerns by diligently licking her own endlessly fascinating backside.

I once ran home to tell her about a mate attempting a tryst in the airport car park, only to have her lover keel over, having had an alarming reaction to Viagra. (The airport medics had seen it all before.) But the cat wasn’t as interested in sex as she was in processed ham. “Haaaammm,” she’d growl when you opened the fridge, sounding remarkably like ET.


She remained stolidly unruffled by grief when it hit the household, even by the loss, over a short number of years, of the three mothers that my husband and I had accumulated between us.

Her expression one of mild confusion, her presence one of wary loyalty, she continued gamely to assume that the empty chair at the kitchen table was for her.

I was with her at the end, on a humid day in a hot surgery. She was 18 years old and tired, her breathing ragged. I was grateful to see her at peace.

I drove home, listlessly got out of the car. My neighbour hugged me, even if she wasn’t supposed to.

“It was your responsibility to let her go,” she said. “Now go inside and pour yourself a drink.”

I try not to drink midweek, but it’s Friday now and tonight I’ll raise that glass. Cheers, Holly.