We have cats. Two cats actually. Bobcat and Pumpkin. Bobcat is the sensible one. He leaves the house early, finds a spot elsewhere for the day, and returns when the children have gone to bed, for some food and a little bit of attention. Sometimes he times it wrong, but he's quick and he has an attitude that says 'Don't mess with me', so the children generally leave him alone.
Pumpkin however, loves us, loves the kids, and most importantly, loves any food that is going, especially chicken, fish or ham. She is therefore subjected to torture on a daily basis.
I always thought that having pets would be a good thing for the children, and I'm still hoping it is. I finally persuaded my parents (well, my Dad, actually) to get a kitten, at the age of 14, and she was my friend through those teenage years. A companion and a comfort. I pictured the same for Holly. At 4, nearly 5, she wants to love the cat, sleep with the cat, and cuddle the cat, all the time. And I think that with all the frustrations of being four, a cat could be a calming, comforting influence. Sitting with a cat on your lap, gently stroking her, listening to her purr, is relaxing, there is no doubt about it. The trouble is, Holly just can't leave her alone. And we just can't get Holly to listen, or understand.
He has an attitude that says 'Don't mess with me', so the children generally leave him alone.
Last week, I was in the bathroom watching Michael have his haircut by a friend, while her 3 year old daughter and Holly played in Holly's room. When we checked up on them, we found the cat ensconced in the laundry basket on a pile of clothes, with a blanket over her, a bracelet dangling from her ear, a large torch shining up into her face and Holly and her little friend brushing her fur. She was amazingly calm, but under the blanket, her tail was wagging, and if you know cats, you'll know that is not a good sign.
How do I explain to Holly that the cat is not a toy? She needs to be treated with respect, just like Holly treats her friends and her brother (well, maybe that's where I've gone wrong...) Animals need to be treated kindly and gently, or else they will instinctively fight back. The cat cannot reason with us, so if she is unhappy, she'll get her claws out and scratch us. If you want to stroke the cat, you need to approach her slowly, not chase her and grab her by the tail. If she has had enough, you don't pin her down and pick her up again, you let her go. She'll be back. She always is.
The cat cannot reason with us, so if she is unhappy, she'll get her claws out and scratch us.
But she doesn't want to hear it. Holly does what she does and when we finally extract the cat and remove her to a safe location, our drama queen breaks down and declares she cannot sleep or eat or live without the cat.
We got to the point where we actually wanted the cat to scratch Holly, to help her understand. But we have got one of the most compliant, docile cats you could ask for. Pumpkin is a Burmilla (Chinchilla, Burmese cross) and I'd highly recommend this breed if you have children or want a very friendly cat.
It has happened, though. I caught Holly one morning washing a scratch on her leg with a wet flannel. 'That's funny', I thought. 'If Holly's hurt herself, where's the drama and the tears?'. I took a closer look. 'How did you hurt yourself?', I asked, spotting a definite cat scratch. 'I fell over', she declared, and I let it go. She obviously knew she'd get little sympathy!
I now think that animals would be better introduced at a slightly older age. I recently saw Dr Harry explain that for a 2 year old, you need a pet that you cannot squash, like a goldfish, and as I watch Michael lying on the cat, I completely understand. He then suggests you progress to a guinea pig or rabbit, and I think dogs and cats didn't come in until 6 or 7.
This seems right. Our neighbour’s children are 5 and 8, and the 5 year old reacts in the same way as Holly. He wants to stroke the cat, but his approach is too noisy and too fast, and he seems to enjoy the chase. The 8 year old listens, and knows that a quiet calm approach is more likely to produce the required response from the cat.
But, the cats came first. They were our babies before we had babies, and as you know, a pet is for life, not just for Dinkies.
I have to say, my relationship with the cats has changed since having children. When the kids were babies, there was always the fear that the cats might jump into the cot where a baby was sleeping. It never happened, not once, but doors were always kept closed at night.
When we moved house just before Michael was born, Bobcat took to marking his territory. There were cats down the road who obviously had free access to our house with the previous owners, and who never really understood the new set up. So, to claim his property, Bobcat instinctively marked it in the only way he knew how; with urine sprays on the wall and furniture. The smell is awful, and I have lost count of the times I have crawled round on my hands and knees sniffing the furniture, armed with a bottle of Ajax, in search of that small drip of cat pee at about the height of a cat's bottom. It's amazing how hard it is to find when the smell percolates through the whole house.
Luckily the neighbours, plus cats, moved, and Bobcat is king of the neighbourhood.
Then there's the noise - meowing in the middle of the night because they're cold, or hungry or bored. Which means Holly gets up and either feeds them or wakes us. I prefer a fat cat and more sleep, but we get through a lot more cat food at the moment.
In a previous life, relaxing on the sofa with the TV on and a cat on my lap, was a good end to the day. Now after a day of children climbing on me, I want my space for an hour before bed. I don't want Bobcat head-butting me and Pumpkin kneading my tummy.
No wondered Pumpkin craves Holly's attention despite the torture. We wonder why she doesn't leave, why she puts up with it, why she comes back for more, and why she chooses to sleep on Holly's bed, but maybe she just needs some love, even if it's rough love from a 4 year old.