‘My big­gest love ri­val? It’s my girl­friend’s cat!’

When Nick Hard­ing’s part­ner asked for a kit­ten, he didn’t re­alise he’d be left fe­line blue

Friday - - Making A Difference -

She was in­sis­tent. “Put him on the line, I want to speak to him.” The Skype con­nec­tion had only just been made. I’d not seen or spo­ken to my part­ner, Stephanie Davies, for sev­eral days but that did not mat­ter. Wearily, I pointed the lens on the phone at the ob­ject of her at­ten­tion – our kit­ten Alvin.

“Mummy loves you,’’ Stephanie cooed over the speaker.

Alvin was sit­ting on the sofa lick­ing his paw. He glanced up, his ears twitched mo­men­tar­ily, then he con­tin­ued clean­ing him­self. “You’re such a hand­some boy,’’ she soothed while, ig­nored, I rolledmy eyes. When

I told you cat own­ers smell, I whis­pered as we were ush­ered in to choose one of the kit­tens

she re­turned to our home in Sur­rey, Eng­land, it was the same sad story. I used to be the first one to get a hug. Now it’s the pesky cat.

I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t even like cats. And de­spite my reg­u­lar ef­forts to of­fer the new ad­di­tion to our fam­ily an olive branch, Alvin only has eyes for Stephanie. And he’s to­tally re­placed me in her af­fec­tions.

It all started in Au­gust last year. “I’m get­ting a cat,’’ de­clared Stephanie. It was a state­ment of fact, there was no room for ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Still, I tried. “But I’m al­ler­gic to them. They give me asthma, they bring me out in hives... they make my eyes blis­ter.’’ “I’m get­ting a cat,’’ she re­peated. “Cat own­ers smell and women who own them end up sad and lonely. Be­sides, we live on a main road. It will get run over. It won’t last a month,’’ I per­sisted.

The con­ver­sa­tion took place a few weeks af­ter we had moved into our new home. Alvin ar­rived two weeks later de­spite my protes­ta­tions.

They say in life you are ei­ther a cat or a dog per­son. I’m a nei­ther per­son. I have two chil­dren. That’s all the re­spon­si­bil­ity I need.

That smell

I went with Stephanie to col­lect Alvin from a breeder, fig­ur­ing it would be bet­ter to be in­volved than not.

I even tried to ne­go­ti­ate and sug­gested we get a hairless Sphinx va­ri­ety. They look strange but they are less al­ler­genic.

In the event she found a lit­ter of cross-Ben­gal kit­tens at a house a few kilo­me­tres away.

You could smell the menagerie in­side be­fore the door was even opened. Alvin’s house­mates in­cluded sev­eral other cats, a dog, some ter­rap­ins, a lizard and a par­rot.

“I told you cat own­ers smell,’’ I whis­pered as we were ush­ered in to choose one of the eight-week-old kit­tens.

In a rash de­ci­sion – one that haunts me to this day – I pointed out the liveli­est-look­ing one. “Get that one, the oth­ers look like they’ve been drugged,’’ I ad­vised.

About Dh750 later Alvin was packed into his crate to ac­com­pany us back home, mew­ing all the way.

“You’ve wrenched him from his mother and sib­lings, he’s got sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety, let’s take him back,’’ I tried be­tween sneezes.

Alvin’s for­lorn cries soon sub­sided when we ar­rived home and he saw the pre­pos­ter­ous ar­ray of bed­ding, toys, scratch posts and cat para­pher­na­lia that Stephanie had bought for him – he even had a cat Su­per­man out­fit in case he fan­cied a game of dress-up. “Wel­come to your new home,’’ she fawned.

Stephanie fussed over him for around an hour be­fore de­cid­ing that ex­po­sure ther­apy was the best way for me to over­come the var­i­ous ail­ments he was spark­ing, in­clud­ing runny eyes and itchy skin. She placed him on my lap on the sofa.

“Have a cud­dle with Daddy,’’ she cooed. For five min­utes we sat awk­wardly eye­ing each other un­til Alvin uri­nated on me, jumped down and trot­ted away.

That was our in­tro­duc­tion and since then my re­la­tion­ship with both Alvin and my part­ner has de­gen­er­ated. The cat is com­ing be­tween us. While Stephanie has be­come in­creas­ingly be­sot­ted, Alvin and I have been hav­ing teething prob­lems and I have the scars to prove it.

It’s part­lymy fault. I didn’t read the small print about Ben­gal cats un­til a few weeks af­ter he’d set­tled in and started his er­ratic be­hav­iour. Ben­gals were cre­ated by cross­ing do­mes­tic cats with Asian leop­ard cats, hence their at­trac­tive mark­ings. Their tem­per­a­ment is of­ten de­scribed as be­ing sim­i­lar to that of the char­ac­ter Tig­ger in Win­nie the

Pooh; en­er­getic, acro­batic and overly ex­u­ber­ant. Os­ten­si­bly we’d homed the fe­line equiv­a­lent of a gym­nas­tic tod­dler with ADHD who’d been fed all the blue Smar­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Ben­gal Cat So­ci­ety, ‘The Ben­gal cat de­mands a good deal of at­ten­tion and affection. Whether they are fish­ing in the aquar­ium or play­ing in their wa­ter bowls, fetch­ing balls for their fam­i­lies, tak­ing walks on a leash or climb­ing to the top of the high­est cup­boards, Ben­gals are con­stantly on the move and are per­fect for any­one who wants to in­ter­act and play with their cat daily.’’

What also con­cerned me were the con­stant on­line dis­cus­sions that fre­quently men­tioned jeal­ousy. Alvin’s big green eyes were both lit­eral and metaphor­i­cal.

It be­gan with bed­times. “He’s not com­ing in the bed­room,’’ I in­sisted.

“But he’s only small,’’ Stephanie ar­gued, try­ing to win me round.

Ini­tially I stood my ground and shut him out. Af­ter an hour or so mew­ing and claw­ing at the door he’d give up and wait du­ti­fully out­side un­til the morn­ing. If he was lucky some­one would need a toi­let break in the night and in the dark­ness he’d be in the room like a four-legged ninja. One night I woke scream­ing af­ter he crawled silently un­der the cov­ers and clawed at my back.

When he did man­age to get in, he po­si­tioned him­self in the mid­dle of the bed and if I dared move a limb or digit to­wards Stephanie, he would at­tack it be­fore curl­ing up next to her and purring.

Of­ten he’d go into a frenzy and leap at my head. I’d hide un­der the cov­ers un­til he calmed down. And when I threw him out I was ac­cused of bul­ly­ing.

The prob­lems got worse as he grew. For such a small crea­ture he de­vel­oped sur­pris­ing strength. So much so that at three months old he was eas­ily able to push the bed­room door open. I bar­ri­caded it shut with a laun­dry bas­ket but a week later that wasn’t enough. I had to bol­ster the de­fences with a suit­case and when he man­aged to get through that I bought a rub­ber door stop, which I now wedge un­der the door.

Our cosy evenings on the sofa by the fire­side have also be­come a thing of the past. Alvin seems to come alive at night, usu­ally around 8pm when we are set­tling down for the evening. He ca­reers round the house and leaps at me with claws un­sheathed and teeth bared. As he’s grown so has his arse­nal.

He sees me as a hu­man scratch­ing post and on many oc­ca­sions has clam­bered up my legs and back when I’ve been on the phone, dig­ging his talons in along the way and forc­ing me to apol­o­gise to the per­son on the other end of the line for my sub­se­quent tirade. My limbs

The vendetta is di­rected at me — he’s learnt to open draw­ers but will ran­sack only my bed­side cab­i­net

re­sem­ble those of a self-harmer and peo­ple in the gym look at me with a mix­ture of shock and pity when I wear shorts and a T-shirt. Just the other day he bit the end of my nose so hard his tooth em­bed­ded it­self and I had to prise him off.

Grudg­ingly im­pressed

One night I thought he’d left the room and si­dled up to Stephanie for a cud­dle. He had been wait­ing be­hind the cur­tain. In a flash he climbed up it and then launched him­self at me like a fe­line Ex­o­cet mis­sile. He went straight for the face and I still have the faint scars from the on­slaught.

I protested, Stephanie thought that it was cute he was be­com­ing so pro­tec­tive.

His climb­ing prow­ess is grudg­ingly im­pres­sive. I have wit­nessed him scale an ex­posed brick chim­ney breast al­most to the ceil­ing in or­der to launch at me when I put an arm around my beloved. He will also climb up in­side the open fire­place. At such times it takes all the willpower I have not to set a fire in the hearth.

I’ve no doubt that the vendetta is per­son­ally di­rected at me. He has learned to open draw­ers but will ran­sack only my bed­side cab­i­net and a week ago he opened the key drawer, found my car key and chewed the but­tons off it. One morn­ing when Stephanie was away on busi­ness I was awo­ken by the sound of smash­ing glass. I thought I was be­ing bur­gled. When I went to see what had hap­pened I dis­cov­ered that Alvin had climbed to a high shelf in the lounge and knocked a framed pic­ture to the floor. It was a por­trait of me with Stephanie.

We used to en­joy ro­man­tic Sun­day strolls, but Stephanie re­cently bought Alvin a har­ness and lead as rec­om­mended by the Ben­gal Cat So­ci­ety and now he comes with us, trot­ting be­tween our legs.

“It’s ridicu­lous,’’ I huffed. “It’s good for him to get out and it’ll help you two to bond,’’ she ex­plained. To make mat­ters worse Alvin is too small to be let out on his own un­til he is six months old. He is house­bound and I work from home. Stephanie, how­ever, is the di­rec­tor of her own busi­ness and works away a lot. Which leaves Alvin and I home alone.

I’ve dis­cov­ered to my cost that he likes key­boards. Specif­i­cally, my key­board. On count­less oc­ca­sions I have been sit­ting at my com­puter work­ing when Alvin launches up my leg and on to the desk­top to run across the keys. I have lost sev­eral pieces of work as he al­ways man­ages to find the delete but­ton. He also en­joys chew­ing wires and pulling pe­riph­er­als out of sock­ets at the back.

I do try to be nice. I feed him and stroke him, but more of­ten than not he at­tacks my hand or claws my face. Some­times, es­pe­cially when he is asleep, I look at him and catch my­self think­ing what a won­der of evo­lu­tion he is.

And I also al­low my­self a smug smile, be­cause I know some­thing he doesn’t. At six months old he’ll not only be al­lowed out on his own, he’ll also need to be cas­trated. And I’ll be the one who takes him to the vet. When he comes round from the anaes­thetic and re­alises some­thing is ter­ri­bly amiss, I’ll be there smil­ing at him to re­mind him that I am the Daddy, not him.

Stephanie thinks it’s “cute” her cat Alvin has be­come so pro­tec­tive of her

Ben­gal’s tem­per­a­ments are com­pared Tig­ger in Win­nie the Pooh; en­er­getic, acro­batic and overly ex­u­ber­ant

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.