I was a dog per­son… then cats got their claws into me

De­spite a se­vere al­lergy, Nick Hard­ing has fallen in love with his furry, four-legged house­mates

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features -

For most of my life, I was Team Dog. I hated cats, their cold in­dif­fer­ence and big, spooky, blank eyes. My al­ler­gies didn’t help – mog­gies bought me out in hives, gave me asthma and caused my eyes to blis­ter. So how did I find my­self at Lon­donCats (the fe­line ver­sion of Crufts), last year, des­per­ately try­ing to con­trol a bad-tem­pered, hiss­ing, half-wild, minia­ture leop­ard-like crea­ture called Barry?

More to the point, how did I come to be Barry’s owner – and adore him pre­cisely be­cause he is noth­ing like a dot­ing, needy mutt?

My cat con­ver­sion be­gan eight years ago when, aged 42, I fell for Stephanie, my cat-lov­ing wife, who ig­nored my protes­ta­tions and in­sisted we get a cat when we bought our first house to­gether. My “cat zero” was Alvin, a cross be­tween a pedi­gree Ben­gal and a do­mes­tic mog.

When Alvin first ar­rived at our Sur­rey home, I greeted him with wary res­ig­na­tion and re­fused to touch him. Stephanie de­cided that we needed to bond and sat him on my lap, where he promptly uri­nated and leapt down, ter­ri­tory marked.

The fol­low­ing months were a bat­tle of wills be­tween a grown man and a tiny, un­de­ni­ably cute kit­ten with two fun­da­men­tal mo­ti­va­tions.

First, to cir­cum­nav­i­gate all bar­ri­ers pre­vent­ing him sleep­ing in the bed­room. Sec­ond, to mo­nop­o­lise Stephanie’s at­ten­tion. It tran­spired that Alvin was both lit­eral and metaphor­i­cal green-eyed mon­ster.

I work from home and so, for six months be­fore he was old enough to ven­ture out­side, Alvin and I were forced into a frac­tious in­ter-species of­fice share, in which my co-worker de­lighted in wan­der­ing across my key­board, dis­con­nect­ing pe­riph­eries and defe­cat­ing in the corner.

In an ef­fort to wear him out, we played hide and seek. We would take turns crouch­ing be­hind fur­ni­ture, jump­ing out at each other, him with claws ex­tended. My al­ler­gies bub­bled away, but over time I built up an im­mu­nity and I be­came fond of my four-legged house­mate.

Funny, plucky and fas­ci­nat­ing, I started to un­der­stand that Alvin wasn’t with us be­cause we owned him, but be­cause he chose to be. He wasn’t slav­ish like a dog, he didn’t need groom­ing or walk­ing. He could al­most look af­ter him­self – the ideal 21stcen­tury pet, which is per­haps why cat own­er­ship is ris­ing.

We had Alvin for 18 months and just as I started to en­joy our re­la­tion­ship,

That an­tique vase sur­vived the SS and the Holo­caust – but not the ar­rival of Barry

he dis­ap­peared. He slipped out one dank Fe­bru­ary morn­ing and, de­spite em­ploy­ing spe­cial­ist pet track­ers – and a three-fig­ure re­ward – we never got him back. To my sur­prise, I missed Alvin des­per­ately. The shelf un­der the stairs that he curled up on be­came a shrine of un­used toys and bowls; his mem­ory liv­ing on in the dark.

A year on, I was the one des­per­ate to get an­other cat. This time, a pedi­gree Ben­gal. I had been told that the breed, which re­sults from the cross­breed­ing of do­mes­tics and Asian Leop­ard cats, could be de­mand­ing, but I thought I was now cat-savvy enough to cope.

Barry lived up to his prom­ise; a vo­cal, en­er­getic ball of quirks. He had a fix­a­tion for run­ning wa­ter, a fetish for rub­ber (par­tic­u­larly earphones), an aver­sion to flow­ers and a de­struc­tive streak when it came to crock­ery.

Barry’s keen ears would pick out a run­ning tap and would race to it, claw­ing fu­ri­ously at it. Twice he leapt through my legs as I stood in front of the loo and landed in the bowl.

Clear­ing up af­ter him was a reg­u­lar chore. Stephanie had in­her­ited an an­tique vase that her grand­mother had taken with her when she fled the Nazis in Poland. It sur­vived the SS, the Holo­caust and the Tox­teth ri­ots, but not Barry.

On the one hand, Barry was soppy and craved af­fec­tion. On the other, he was ca­pa­ble of un­in­hib­ited vi­o­lence.

He’s older now and slightly calmer; though he still sank his claws into one of the Lon­donCats judges, where he av­er­aged a firm bot­tom in his group.

Barry may never be much of a show cat but, for bet­ter or worse, he is my cat – and I wouldn’t be without him.

My pedi­gree chum: Barry, a Ben­gal, takes owner, Nick, for a walk

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