NEW LIFE Margot, who was recently adopted from Mayo animal-rescue charity North West SPCA. Pic: Anne-Marie Flynn
An Cailín Rua
Recently, I succumbed to my inevitable destiny and became a cat owner. This column is an ode to the cat.
My amateur self-analysis indicates that the adoption decision was a direct consequence of the Covid lockdowns; a vow that never again will I find myself confined for weeks to a house with only myself to talk to.
I’ve always wanted a dog, but dogs need love, walks, gardens and lots of company; I lack the garden and the time.
I’ve always been slightly cynical about cats, but simultaneously impressed with their extreme independence, high self-regard, sound judgement of character and power to convey absolute disdain with a single glance. All things to which I strongly aspire. And I figured the time was right to take on a bit more responsibility in my life. Even if it was just a cat.
Enter Margot. Not just a cat.
Inundated with rescue cats, local animal rescue charity North West SPCA were desperately appealing for volunteers to foster or adopt. Spotting two feline friends on their Facebook page, I ambitiously offered to adopt both. With impressive efficiency, a volunteer sent out the forms and vetted the house (and me). We both passed the test, but she gently suggested that going overnight from owning no cats to two might be unwise – but, a young tabby named ‘Tikka’ needed a home.
Before collecting her, I panic-bought a carrier, a bed, food and a bowl, a litter tray, an assortment of toys, more food, cat litter and bag of catnip (cocaine for cats). It dawned on me that owning a pet might be an expensive business.
Tikka was hiding when I arrived at her foster home, but emerged briefly and sniffed my shoes before retreating with a flourish.
She was out of sorts. Abandoned while heavily pregnant at only a few months old, she’d spent months with the vet after giving birth. Newly spayed, wormed and vaccinated – included in the NWSPCA adoption fee – she was not fond of the other felines in the foster home, and the upheaval had her a bit shook. (Who’d blame her?)
For weeks, she would only sleep on the chair under my kitchen table, where she apparently felt safe.
Most of my investments proved unnecessary. For days she would eat nothing but tiny morsels of cooked chicken. She had no interest in toys, shunned the cat bed and – quite responsibly, I felt – turned her nose up at the catnip. When she eventually ate, she would vomit with alarming frequency, so off we went to the vet.
But eventually, she settled. A graceful cat, I felt she deserved to be named after something more sophisticated than an Indian takeaway, so I called her Margot Robbie after my favourite actress.
As Margot found her paws, she found her personality. Three months on, she is highly affectionate, but only when she feels like it (like her owner).
My long-held belief that pets do not belong in beds was dismantled when I woke one night to discover a warm, purring ball of fur curled up at my feet, a favourite spot from which I don’t have the heart to dislodge her.
She is wildly curious, slowly and thoroughly inspecting any changes to her environment. She is an effective, overly enthusiastic alarm clock. She loves nothing better than a roaring fire, bouncy rubber ball or cardboard box. While her palate has matured, she still relishes a good chicken lunch. She is vastly superior to any hot water bottle. She likes company, and if she wants attention when I work from home, she will, with her tail raised, pad delicately across my keyboard inserting herself uninvited into Zoom meetings.
When settling for the evening, she will knead the blanket on my knee, or gently headbutt me to tell me she wants her head rubbed. She constantly disappoints eager family and friends when they visit with her haughty refusal to sit on their laps like she does mine. She is an excellent conversationalist. I have become a certified cat bore.
Despite being revered by ancient civilisations like the Romans and Egyptians, somewhere along the way, cats became associated with paganism, Satanism and witchcraft, and the reputational damage has stuck. But cats are good for you – owning a cat reduces the risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure, their soothing purr alleviates stress and petting a cat releases oxytocin.
Returning from work to someone who is happy to see you (but not overbearingly so) is very pleasant. She will sense if you are sad and sit quietly beside you. Margot cleans and mostly entertains herself, and like most cats, is particular about hygienic toilet practices. All traits one might expect from a prospective partner, but which don’t always materialise.
Abandoned cats could be enhancing your life too, and instead of living in shelters, could be helping reduce your heating bill. So, if you’re able, I’d highly recommend opening your home and heart to a Margot.