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
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