‘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
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.
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.
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