Hedgehog Lives Matter

Now is the time of year you’re liable to see small hedgehogs bumbling about in the daytime (and all too often getting squashed on the road). These unfortunate youngsters, born late in the season, haven’t had enough time to fatten up sufficiently for winter, forcing them to forage in daylight, and making them vulnerable, in their weakness, to disease and pest infestation. So the hard truth is that most won’t survive hibernation – especially sad given that this iconic British animal is now an endangered species due to habitat loss, deliberate human cruelty and misplaced human kindness (never, but NEVER, give hedgehogs bread and milk! They’re lactose intolerant and it kills them. Don’t give dried mealworms, either, only meat-based cat-food – not fish – and biscuits, or special hedgehog food).

So yesterday afternoon at Beckside, Hubcap wasn’t entirely surprised to see a young hedgehog wandering about in the open, being plagued by a swarm of green-bottles (‘fly-strike’, a horribly apt term). Needless to say he retrieved it, shooed off the flies, and brought it home in a bucket of hay.

Neither of us had great hopes for its survival. Although we couldn’t see any obvious wounds, it was covered in fly eggs (plus a couple of ticks), lethargic, and small; we hoped it was just cold, hungry, thirsty and disoriented rather than sick. We knew from experience, (having found a young hog of similar size but in even poorer condition a couple of years ago), that our local vet couldn’t do anything for it. Luckily, as we have resident hedgehogs in the garden which we house and feed year-round, we were reasonably well-equipped to try some DIY; so rather than risk Hoggie dying before we could get it to a sanctuary, I Googled ‘remove fly eggs from’ and ‘emergency first aid for’ hedgehogs and acted on some refreshingly simple information I found on britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

First I prepared a bed in an old washing up bowl, lined with a warm hot-water bottle wrapped in a tea-towel, topped it with a pad of hay, and laid the patient on it to start slowly raising its body temperature. Then I assembled my instruments: a small artist’s paintbrush, cotton wool swabs, and tweezers and forceps from my old museum conservation toolkit; set up the illuminated magnifying glass Hubcap uses for tying fishing flies; and with some trepidation, set to work. Bar the odd flinch, poor little Hoggie was too exhausted and torpid to protest, which made it relatively easy to spread its bristles and find the disgusting yellowish-white masses of fly eggs laid close to its skin; luckily these stick together and can be extracted in big clumps, (as satisfying as squeezing pimples!), rather than picked out individually, which would have taken all night. As it was, I spent the best part of an hour tweezing out all but a couple of stubborn single eggs adhering to the bristles – by which time I (and probably the hedgehog) had had enough, and I hadn’t yet found, let alone removed, any ticks; but hadn’t seen any fleas either, which was good news.

While I’d been thus occupied, Hubcap had sorted out a recovery ward in a large plastic storage tub lined with newspaper, with a pile of hay and bits of old sheet for bedding, a dish of water, and a dish of Henry Wowler’s chicken-flavour cat-food. In went the hog, on went the lid, and we left it in peace and warmth in front of the stove.

A couple of hours later it started scrabbling around and polished off the cat-food – an encouraging sign. I gave it some more, plus some dry hedgehog kibble. It liked that a lot, proved by the soon-emptied dish. I gave it some more. Meanwhile I’d found lots of excellent advice from Hedgehog Bottom, Berkshire’s Hedgehog Clinic, a voluntary group whose delightfully witty website https://www.hedgehog-rescue.org.uk/ is worth reading purely for information and enjoyment, and resolved to put it into practice ASAP. 

And contrary to our initial gloomy predictions, Hoggie did last the night, alternately stuffing its face then sleeping it off tangled like a teenager in a horrible mess of bedding; and by next morning, curled adorably on its side like a tiny bristly cat, looked bright-eyed and remarkably perky. We duly went straight out to buy pet-safe disinfectant, proper food bowls, a bag of hay, (Hubcap cursing because we’d just had a field full at Beckside, but not foreseeing a need, hadn’t processed any for storage!!) – and lots more hog-food. Then, as recommended by Hedgehog Bottom, while Hubcap did the mucking out I popped Hoggie onto my digital kitchen scales: only353 g, at least 250 g below the minimum for successful hibernation. That answered our first question: yes, we need to keep it indoors and let it pog until it’s practically doubled in weight, when we can move it out to a luxury wooden Hedgehog Hotel, complete with bed compartment and dining area, under our new lean-to in the garden. I also tried to find odd fly eggs (or, God forbid, maggots) and the ticks Hubcap mentioned – but by now the full and feisty Hoggie had enough strength to ball up tightly, contracting its skin and pulling the bristles together wherever I probed. I’ll have to keep trying this every day until, hopefully, it becomes sufficiently accustomed to handling to relax and let me examine and treat it properly. Meanwhile my best hope is that the loosened eggs fell out and were thrown away with the soiled bedding!

Finally, we installed hog-home in the hobby room and put it in as recommended, with chopped-up old fleece and shredded newspaper for nesting. Looking in an hour later, I saw it snugged into a hollow in the hay, sound asleep, breathing deeply – completely transformed from yesterday’s limp scrap into a warm, fed, watered and healthy-looking (if no doubt highly bewildered) little creature. It was a joy to see, especially knowing that Hoggie would surely have died in this big, cold, wet storm if Hubcap hadn’t found it; and even if it doesn’t survive till next spring, we’ll have the consolation of knowing that its days ended in comfort and safety.

But so far, so good – a cycle of eating, sleeping and evacuation has been established, with an immediate and very noticeable improvement in Hoggie’s energy and appearance, (needless to say, if we’d seen any sign of disease, like crying or wheezing, we’d have taken it to the nearest hedgehog specialist). Hopefully this regime of warmth, restricted movement and plentiful food will allow it to gain up to 10 g per day (indicative of good health) – in which case it could be outside in the Hotel by November, with a chance to hibernate naturally, find food nearby if it wakes, and be restored to Beckside next spring to help raise a new generation of these delightful creatures.

In short: if you find an ailing hedgehog, don’t panic! Look up and apply the emergency first-aid procedures, they’re quite simple. Then if you can’t provide the requisite ongoing care, contact the RSPCA or your local hog sanctuary – because every one matters, now more than ever, and we need to save their precious little lives wherever possible.

Amazingly Fat Cat

This week saw our Henry Wowler’s least-favourite day of the year: the day he gets poked about by a stranger then jabbed in the neck. Yes, it’s annual medical time!

We heaved his cat-basket into the van with considerable effort, braced for a scolding about his heaviness; and in the vet’s waiting room I read a poster, ‘How to Tell if Your Cat’s Overweight.’ Can’t feel its ribs? Check. Saggy dewlap? Check. Lack of interest in playing? Check – sort of. As soon as Henry learnt to kill things, he went off toys, although he still enjoys savaging his Christmas catnip mouse, playing ‘knock on the patio window then run away when they open it,’ and chasing the odd leaf or twig round the garden; but on the whole, if it doesn’t bleed, he deems it not worth bothering with. Lazy and lethargic – um, how do you tell with a creature that spends 18 out of 24 hours asleep?

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With Wowler, it depends on the weather, (when it’s fine, he spends more time outdoors doing cat stuff ), and whether anyone’s at home, (Mummy and Daddy-cat’s arrival means dinner, irrespective of how early we finish work – cue for him to wake and start prowling round hassling for food). So no check here – I’d call him averagely active for a cat of his age and temperament. Hesitates before jumping up onto furniture? Check. Mind you, Henry does like to consider the pros and cons – often at some length – before he acts, to avoid any taint of slavish obedience when invited to jump on the bed or onto Mummy-cat’s lap for a cuddle. I’m not sure if that counts as ‘hesitation’ – he’s perfectly capable of jumping without it when the occasion demands, and agile enough to make a standing leap onto the kitchen worktops (attested by the trail of small muddy rosettes I find after rainy nights). And he still has a visible (if substantial) waist, and no problems with flexibility or grooming his hard-to-reach areas. How overweight can he be?

We soon find out – 6.9 kilos! Amazingly, despite receiving exactly the same diet all year – a half-tin of meat and two handfuls of biscuit a day, plus his ration of toothy-bics (ie the dental-care type) – he’s gained 500g since his last weigh-in. Oops. Henry Wowler is, once again, officially Too Heavy; although to my great relief, he hasn’t topped his highest weight of 7.2 kg, recorded three years ago. But despite being a big, solid cat, he should weigh nearer six than seven kilos; so we discuss his intake with the vet, who recommends that I weigh the handfuls and cut back to no more than 30g of dry food per day.

OK. Next morning I duly chuck two heaping handfuls onto the scale, nervously wondering how much we’ve been over-feeding him. It weighs 35g. In other words, the absolute maximum he’d get on the rare days he succeeds in whingeing extra breakfast out of Mummy-cat and conning his bedtime biscuits out of both cat-parents, is a paltry 5g more than the vet’s recommendation. I reduce it to 25g, which looks more like his average daily portion. Phew. I’m delighted that we generally give him less than the recommended 30g – but amazed that, notwithstanding, he’s still managed to put on a pound. How did that happen?

Um. I guiltily recall the odd scraps of Spam or chicken he gets off our plates; doesn’t happen often, but that’ll have to stop – as will giving him any chance to steal scraps I put out for the birds. Plus I suspect he recently went through a phase of pinching a feline neighbour’s food, because he kept coming home in the afternoon looking smug and suspiciously fat, (but still demanding his usual dinner). Luckily, if that was the case, I think the neighbour must’ve got wise and either stopped leaving food outside, or started locking the cat-flap when they feed their own cat. And we can’t control the number of rodents he pogs overnight, (or even necessarily know about it, unless he leaves bloody remnants in the kitchen) – but however good the hunting, it never stops him demanding his full daily ration of cat-food. (Perhaps he thinks mice contain no calories, like chocolate eaten in secret).

Whatever, the upshot for Henry Wowler is no more unscheduled treats, and no more than a measured 25g biscuit and 12 toothy-bics with his meat every day. I’ll also try to make him run about a bit more, (although that only seems to sharpen his appetite). Then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that when we take him to have his teeth cleaned in the New Year, the vet will find our amazingly fat cat has shed a few ounces…

Animal Costumes = Animal Abuse!

Imagine I have a small child who can’t communicate with me verbally, or prevent me from physically abusing them. Imagine I buy that child a hot, uncomfortable, ludicrous comedy costume for my personal entertainment. Imagine I force it onto the child’s body, and when they wriggle and struggle and cry, I say, ‘Oh, never mind, you’ll soon get used to it.’ Imagine I then take photos of their baffled, miserable little face, or videos of them struggling to move around in said ludicrous costume. Imagine I splatter these all over social media, inviting the whole world to mock and laugh at my child, and inspiring others to torment their own helpless children in similar fashion.

What would you think of that? You would, I hope, be horrified and disgusted, report me to social services, get my child removed to safety, and me banged up in prison.

Now substitute the word ‘pet’ for ‘child,’ and suddenly it’s all OK. ‘Oh, how cute, how funny, how precious!’ you may cry when you see images of unfortunate pets suffering in ludicrous costumes. ‘Just look at the expression on its face! Oh, I must share this with all my friends! I must torment my cat/dog/hamster with one of these ludicrous costumes so I can get lots of likes on Facebook and YouTube!’

Well, you certainly won’t get any ‘likes’ from me – in fact, if costuming pets to make them a laughing-stock is your idea of fun, I want nothing to do with you. I deplore, loathe and detest this stupid fad. It may be pretty low down on the continuum of grotesque cruelties humans inflict on animals every minute of every day; nonetheless, it is a cruelty, part of a mind-set that believes animals exist purely for our pleasure and entertainment, so it’s fine to do whatever we want to them irrespective of the effects on their well-being.

Don’t get me wrong: I completely approve of clothing and/or shoeing animals when it’s necessary for their warmth or protection, or as part of their work. But this silly, growing dressing-up trend has nothing to do with animal welfare, and everything to do with human whimsy and fundamental misunderstanding of animal needs and rights.

For instance, yesterday I was particularly appalled to see a Hallowe’en costume for cats that makes them look like a giant spider. Sure, on the most superficial level it does look very funny, and lets you play hilarious practical jokes on people; but if you stop to think from the cat’s point of view, it’s a total disaster. Even if the cat is placid and doesn’t overtly object, once it’s been put in this costume, it’s stuck. It can’t scratch if it gets itchy. It can’t groom without choking on synthetic fibres. It can’t remove the ludicrous costume when it gets too hot. And if (like the cats in the advertising video) it’s allowed to go out and about, it’s in constant danger of getting caught up, injured or killed – especially if someone freaks out at the sight and attacks it. What a great Hallowe’en decoration: your cat-tarantula kicked to death on the street outside your house, or dangling, strangled, from a tree in your garden – just imagine how your kids would love it!

No. Animals are animals, not small furry people; they deserve to be respected and treated according to their nature, not hurt and held up to ridicule. Animals don’t want, don’t understand, and seldom need, clothing. Animals don’t ‘get into the spirit’ of human festivals; they don’t understand what’s going on, and are more likely to be frightened or agitated than to enjoy wearing a festive sweater or having a pair of foam reindeer antlers strapped to their head. They don’t understand – nor do humans who dress up their pets understand, or apparently ever stop to think – that apart from being uncomfortable, these ludicrous costumes are terribly dangerous, that they can catch on objects, or brush against candles/heaters and burst into flame. Imagine how well that’d go down at your birthday party: a terrified, agonized cat in a blazing tutu doing the wall of death round your lounge, or your dog’s elf costume snagging on the Christmas tree and pulling it down in a great smash of baubles on top of itself and your children.

And I don’t understand why anyone would wish to torture a beloved animal companion by inflicting this kind of thing on them. Animals are, in their own right, beautiful, cute and frequently very amusing; they need no artificial embellishment. As readers of my blogs and Facebook posts will know,  I love to share the doings of our Henry Wowler with the world, and many people seem to enjoy hearing about them – but it’s all his own, pure feline behaviour while he is, and always will be, dressed only in his own fur (oh, and a microchip, the only thing we’ve ever succeeded in making him wear – he won’t even tolerate a collar). I mean, look at him: I wouldn’t dream of insulting such a perfect being, demeaning his natural dignity, or making him unhappy/uncomfortable, by forcing him to wear some ludicrous costume for foolish people to laugh at.

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Last but not least are the environmental considerations. While our planet is on fire and we’re facing a massive global climate crisis, pet clothing companies are wasting untold resources of energy, water, petroleum by-products etc on producing this pointless, non-biodegradable novelty tat for people with more money than sense. It’s the kind of consumerism that has GOT to stop if humanity, collectively, wishes to survive into the next century.

So I implore you: please, please, if you care about your pets, don’t dress them up! Boycott these harmful, wasteful products, delete images of them from social media, and discourage other people from buying them. If you’ve got that sort of money to spare, give it to an animal welfare charity instead – and do join me in campaigning to at least raise awareness of the dangers and undesirability of pet dressing, and at best, getting these horrible products taken off the market altogether.

Cat-sick

Today, 4 am: ‘Waaoow!’ The gentle patter of rain is rent by mournful cries as Henry Wowler yells his ‘wet-wah’ up at our open bedroom window. ‘Waaoow?’
Hubcap sighs. ‘Shall I give him his breakfast?’
‘If you like,’ I reply.
Hubcap returns in due course. ‘Soaked, starving and hysterical,’ he says. ‘There was half a mouse and a big pile of mouse-vom in the middle of the rug – It’s a wonder I didn’t step in it.’
It makes such a nice change for Hubcap to rise first and deal with one of the early-morning horrors our cat-son regularly presents me with that I laugh in the dark. ‘Welcome to my world.’

4.25 am: ‘Waaow! Waaaooow!’ Oh God, not again… it’s going to be one of THOSE nights. Before he wakes the entire neighbourhood, I stumble out of bed and say, ‘I’ll go downstairs and sleep with him.’
To my surprise, I find Henry isn’t particularly wet – but he claims, loudly and repeatedly, to be insufficiently fed. Guessing that Daddy-cat forgot to give him dessert, I administer his daily ration of dental biscuits and a little extra cat-food, then tuck myself up on the couch. Normally, Henry would leap aboard in great delight and sleep in my armpit for as long as I’d let him – but not today. No, today he prises the living room door open, scratches noisily on the hall carpet and thunders upstairs.
In a vain attempt to stop him disturbing Daddy-cat again, I follow, return to bed and invite him to lie on my chest. Henry tramples it briefly then retreats to lie on my feet in the most uncomfortable position possible. I move to make space for him at the foot of the bed. For five minutes it seems he’s gone to sleep. Then thu-dub! He lands on the floor and starts shouting again.
‘*%!?@*!!!!’ Daddy-cat shouts back. Henry flees. I follow him down to the kitchen, (good grief, he thinks he’s going to get more food), shut the door on him, go back to bed and callously shut the window against further outcry.

6 am: The alarm goes off. Feeling jaded and irritable, I head downstairs to make our breakfast and discover that Henry Wowler, in great chagrin, has scratted up the duct-tape repair on the old lino ripped by previous scratting (roll on retirement/installation of new kitchen with tiled or laminate floor) so that I struggle to open the door between living room and kitchen. Threading dangerously between my feet, he pleads loudly for yet more food. On the basis that he had, after all, sicked up last night’s supper, I relent and give him a little – for which Daddy-cat rebukes me. It transpires that actually, as well as a generous breakfast, he HAD given Henry his dental biscuits – so as well as both of us being disturbed and sleep-deprived, I’ve been conned out of extra extra food. So when the cat-pig finally settles down in his accustomed place on our bed and goes smugly to sleep, I take revenge and apply spot-on wormer to the back of his head – and laugh when it makes him get up and go off in a huff.

Henry Hates Firework Nights

Now that Slack-jawed Selfish Morons’ Firework Season (run-up to Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, run-up to Bonfire Night, Bonfire Night, numerous extra Bonfire Nights for people unable to celebrate on November 5th, run-up to Christmas, Christmas, post-Christmas, run-up to New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Eve, post-New Year’s Eve, plus random explosions in between times) is in full swing, Henry Wowler has to spend most evenings cowering in his safety box under our bed – and given the propensity of said selfish morons to continue letting off bangers till midnight, we don’t have the heart to evict the poor little chap.

On such occasions, when he eventually feels it’s safe to emerge and wants Mummy-cat to take him downstairs and administer bedtime biscuits, he usually sits at the foot of the bed whispering, ‘Mrrp? Mrrp?’ in a very small voice until I awake. But last night, he mrrped to no avail – both worn-out cat-parents were too fast asleep to hear him; so the first I knew of his wakefulness and desire for attention was when he jumped on the bed, landed on my feet and snuggled down in the space between our legs. I stroked him. He purred. I thought, ‘Aw. This is OK – I can cope if he settles there,’ and went back to sleep (after throwing back the bedspread and sticking one leg out from under the duvet to compensate for the extra heat generated by his large furry presence).

But he didn’t settle there, of course. Night is his time to do cat stuff; so shortly he got up, went out in the pouring rain for a while, then came back upstairs shouting, ‘Wet!’ I ignored him, and- aha! Instead of pestering on to be mopped dry, he dealt with the situation himself, allowing me to doze off again to the slight, soothing sound of a washing cat. But of course the peace didn’t last – soon Henry was wowling again, obliging me to arise before he woke Daddy-cat too, escort him downstairs, give him some fuss, then lure him into the kitchen with the usual biscuit bribe and shut the door firmly behind me.

All this took place between 10.30 pm and 1.40 am; and this, dear reader, is the reason why on normal nights, if Mr Wowler tries to evade the normal nightly routine of being confined to the kitchen by hiding under our bed, he gets prodded out with a longbow…

Feline Friends!

Henry Wowler doesn’t take kindly to strangers on his patch. If visitors are human, his normal response is to hide in his safety box under our bed and sulk until they go home. If they’re feline, he’ll caterwaul terrible songs of hate and retribution at them; and if that doesn’t work, he takes more positive action. Given that he’s twice the size of most of our neighbourhood moggies, seeing the feline equivalent of a Rottweiler (sixteen pounds of spectacularly fuzzed-out Wowler) charging towards them at high speed generally suffices to see them off the premises pretty damn quick – and if that fails, he won’t baulk at resorting to violence.

So it was with some trepidation that I noticed the new kid on the block – a sparky ginger tom-kitten – had taken to exploring our garden. Last week he got stuck on the roof of our wood-box, and was so over-excited, fighty and bitey when I tried to rescue him that I had to don heavy leather gardening gloves in order to pick him up. Yesterday afternoon GK (Ginger Kitten) was back again; and when I went upstairs I was surprised to find Henry sitting on the bedroom window-sill watching him potter about down below. Not fluffed up, or growling, or even lashing his tail – just watching with mild interest, which was extremely unusual.

At tea-time, with Wowler in his customary early-evening position on my lap, the young intruder returned. This time his reaction was what we’ve come to expect: he sat bolt upright, glaring; then dismounted and sat by the patio window, yowling.

“I’m not letting you out, Henry,” said Daddy-cat. “If you want to see him off you’ll have to use your cat-flap.” While Henry thought about this, the undaunted GK came up and inspected him through the glass, then began frolicking around the patio clearly wanting to play. Henry stopped yowling and watched. Intrigued, I took a jingly ball outside and entertained GK with it, wondering if Wowler would follow; but no, he just continued to watch.

I petted GK as he twined round my ankles, then went back indoors. “This is what he smells like,” I said to Henry. He sniffed my hand. Finally, as the kitten went on cavorting, he could stand it no longer. Hubcap and I looked at each other as the cat-flap clicked, expecting the usual mayhem and braced to rescue GK if the Wowler tried to savage him. But to our utter astonishment, he simply strolled up and held out his nose. So did GK. A mutual bottom inspection followed. “They’re greeting!” I gasped. Then came a slight laying back of ears and batting with forepaws; then Henry bounced away with his tail in the air, hotly pursued by the kitten; then the kitten came back into view, hotly pursued by Henry.

Hubcap and I watched entranced. The only other cat Wowler normally tolerates is the ginger tom from three doors down, who we’ve always jokingly referred to as Henry’s dad (as he may well be); but they don’t cosy up or play together, they just hang out in a companionable, blokey sort of way. So this was the first time in six years that we’ve ever seen Henry larking about with another feline, apparently enjoying its company, (admittedly, he did fetch GK one good clip round the ear that elicited a cry of protest, but it was no more than an uppity kitten deserved).

Delighted, I went out to fuss them both, and my amazement was complete when Henry flopped down on his back, giving the full social roll. Playful chasing then continued until Henry, in wild excitement, leapt into Hubcap’s wheelbarrow so forcefully that it overturned and scared him back into the house.

The episode was no fluke or one-off. This morning GK came back, peering in through the patio door obviously looking for his playmate. I let him in, entertained him with a piece of string, then led him to our bedroom where the Wow was asleep on the bed; and when he eventually woke and condescended to notice, another amicable meeting and greeting took place, followed by more outdoor play. It can’t just be down to GK’s youth and smallness – Henry has hated our opposite neighbour’s lovely lavender-grey pair, Boris and Doris, and chased them off with extreme prejudice ever since they were the same age as this little lad. So I can’t help but wonder whether they belong to some secret League of Red-headed Cats – whether Henry recognises GK as a fellow ginge and, like Tormund in Game of Thrones, finds him ‘kissed by fire’ and beautiful.

Whatever, at long last it seems our anti-social Wowler has a real cat-pal – and I’m chuffed to bits!

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Henry Wowler has a Hissy-fit

Once upon a time, a long, long time (well, 18 months) ago, The Cigarette was the siren-song that lured Hubcap back to the house from wherever he happened to be. Yes, whatever time I chose to come down from the office for a fag-break, the minute I began rolling it he was guaranteed to turn up: on early/late lunch, to get changed/clean his teeth before a doctor/ dentist appointment, to pick up/drop off gear and have an unscheduled cuppa or loo-break while he was at it, or because he’d finished the day’s jobs/was rained off/had randomly decided to knock off early or take a half-holiday – thus obliging me to either wait for the fag until he cleared off again, or have it outdoors, or sit uncomfortably at the end of the kitchen, blowing smoke out of the window. I kid you not – it was like some weird psychic whistle calling him home.

But now I’ve given up (by and large), the lure has changed to Henry Wowler’s tea-time. No matter at what point in the cat-son’s permitted feeding window (any time after 3.30 pm; or 3 pm, at a push; or even 2.30, if his demands become too unbearably annoying) he wakes and decides that he’s hungry, the minute I dish his food out Hubcap’s van is sure to roll up – whereupon the trauma starts.

Mr Wowler dines in the kitchen, you see, not far from the back door – and like any cat, he dislikes being disturbed while he’s eating. Unfortunately, Henry finds Daddy-cat extremely disturbing – sometimes by his mere existence and proximity, especially when he’s dressed in his boiler-suit and big clumpy work-boots, which are clearly very dangerous for cats. Then there’s the noise factor as heavy feet tramp up and down the garden path unloading gear from the van to the shed, passing a bare metre away from Henry’s bowl; and the ultimate horror of the back door opening and shutting, often repeatedly depending on what needs bringing into the house – firewood, coal, shopping, armloads of soggy clothing etc – before Hubcap is finally finished and can divest himself of the scary work-wear and sit down for his own meal.

If Henry’s really hungry, he might dare to snatch a few mouthfuls while this is going on, tensed to spring away at any moment should the door open; but sometimes it’s simply too much for a cat to cope with. Like yesterday, for instance, when I was making dinner and (surprise surprise) the arrival of a soft pressure against my calf and a long orange tail curling round my leg coincided almost to the second with the sound of an engine drawing near. I dished Henry’s food out as he dashed into the living room, then followed to give him a reassuring stroke and encourage him to eat before Hubcap came in. He duly jumped down from the armchair only to halt dithering in the doorway, caught between the sounds of trundling lawnmower wheels and clumping boots ahead, and Mummy-cat’s urging from behind.

I should’ve known better. Henry Wowler does not like being told what to do; and when he’s in a Mood he does not like people dogging his paw-steps and invading his personal space. And of course, now he was in a Mood, baulked of the pleasure of stuffing his face in peace by his horrible, inconsiderate cat-parents. ‘Ssssssssss!’ he said to me crossly, ‘Wrow-row-row-row-row,’ then turned tail and fled upstairs.

None of my previous cats have ever hissed the way Henry does. But being a cat of decided character and voluble expression, the Sound of Extreme Wrath and Displeasure is quite a common part of his vocabulary; and he usually gets away with it with me, although Daddy-cat objects and has been known to swat his little ginger bum for using bad language. And I let it go this time because I felt quite sorry for the little chap – not to mention impressed by the admirable clarity with which he made his feelings known.

(For any reader concerned by Mr Wowler’s hungry plight, the story does end well – within half an hour he’d managed to fill his belly and curl up on Mummy-cat’s lap, and we all lived happily ever after – or at least until I had to get up and go for a pee…)

Catty Christmas

Even as a kitten, Henry Wowler hated Christmas. At the age of four months, when a proud new Mummy-cat tried to involve him in our first festive season together – rolling wrapping-paper balls and trailing lengths of ribbon for him to chase – he just stalked off and sulked in his tent. (His tepee, to be precise: a big bubble-wrap sheet draped over his scratchy-post, one of his favourite hidey-holes). He didn’t like the alien objects invading his living room playground; some smelt funny, and none were connected with his comfort or pleasure. The rattle of paper sheets and ripping sound of sticky-tape were most unsettling. And as for the shiny, dangly things that later appeared everywhere – pooh! He couldn’t be bothered to lift a paw at those (thank goodness – no Christmas trees or mantelpiece swags would bite the dust in Helmickton).

Needless to say, he didn’t mellow with age; and at four years, he finds Christmas simply a Nuisance. The fetching of materials from the loft disturbs his sleep with noises overhead; it’s also dangerous for cats, (we might bring the ceiling down), obliging Mr. Wowler to retreat to his safety-box under the bed, leaving a sad little depression in the duvet to reproach us when we descend. Postmen and couriers knock more frequently with parcels, producing a similar result (Stranger Danger! They’ve come to take him away – better hide!). Then there’s the space invasion: the influx of cards and gifts received and yet-to-give piled on every available flat surface, and worst of all, visitors… yes, it’s Extremely Distasteful for a gentlemog of Henry’s refinement and retiring disposition.

Still, our vulgar festivities hold some compensations, like his dinner of fresh raw chicken moistened with turkey cat-food gravy and, of course, presents. As a successful mouse-mass-murderer, the Wow has largely lost interest in play substitutes, but this year he’s rather taken with the run-around mousie-on-wheels from a gift-box of treats given by a friend, (for reasons I can’t quite fathom, family and friends often give presents to the moody fatso). Our gift goes down well with him too – a minute after I filled it up, in fact…

Yes, in lieu of his usual sturdy brand of catnip fishes, (of which there were none to be had), I buy a fluffy hedgehog about the size of a real mouse, with a Velcro slit in its tummy and a tube of catnip to stuff in at home to ensure maximum fresh aroma. A split-second after I toss it to the Wowler – who promptly goes into nip-frenzy, growling and biting and rubbing it over his face – I realise my mistake: Hedgehog is a toy for kittens or small polite lady-cats, not our huge strong tom. Engulfed by his jaws it looks pathetically tiny and so like his usual prey I half-expect to hear it squeak; and as he clasps it in his forepaws and rips into its belly with his hind claws, the Velcro parts slightly and bleeds a little catnip onto the carpet.

Oops – I need to get Hedgehog back before it all pours out and makes a real mess. Of course, Henry Wowler’s having none of that; as I attempt to snatch it, he swipes at my hand and hooks a claw in the side of my thumb, deeply and painfully. Involuntarily I yank my hand back, which only makes matters worse. ‘Argh!’ I cry. Startled, Henry rears up, dragging my impaled digit with him. ‘Argh!’ I repeat as the pain worsens, then try desperately to soothe the cat, rescue the hedgehog and unhook my thumb before any more damage is done.

Five minutes later, Hedgehog is sporting a tight girdle of bootlace to stop its flaps opening while it’s being savaged by the Wowler, I’m sporting a plaster on my throbbing, oozing thumb, and I’ve learnt a few useful things:

  1. Never give a tom-cat girly presents
  2. Never try to part a Wowler from his nip
  3. When snagged by a cat, never yell or pull; remain calm, treat the claw as a fish-hook, and gently push to release your pierced flesh
  4. Remember these points for Christmas 2016…

De-clawing = Cruelty to Cats

Today I saw a most distressing image on Facebook: a pathetic, devastated-looking kitten newly returned from de-clawing. It was such a pitiful sight that it’s prompted this heartfelt plea: if you, or anyone you know, is considering this operation for a cat, PLEASE DON’T DO IT!

I can understand the reasons why people want cats de-clawed – they can be horribly, expensively destructive little monsters. Twenty-odd years ago, mine certainly were. I’d just bought my first house, and was repeatedly reduced to tears by the damage they did. They couldn’t resist blown vinyl and textured wallpapers, so the living room, kitchen and bathroom décor rapidly fell victim to their claws – as did the pristine Art Deco moquette three-piece suite I’d just proudly acquired from an auction room.

So when I took them to be neutered, I innocently asked the vet if he could de-claw them while he was about it. He gave me a funny look and replied sniffily, “We don’t do that operation here.” I wondered why not – it’s only like cutting your nails or trimming a horse’s hooves, right? Then I shrugged it off, redecorated with flat wallpaper that offered no interest to their claws, and put up with their loop-work on my suite until I could eventually afford to replace it (by which time, alas, both cats were long gone).

And I only discovered quite recently that de-clawing a cat isn’t like cutting fingernails AT ALL. It’s a radical, invasive procedure more akin to having your fingernails pulled out. When the anaesthetic wears off, your cat will be in pain – for a long time. It may develop infections involving more pain and medical treatment. The function of its paws will be permanently impaired. Okay, so it won’t be able to scratch you or your precious furnishings, or get stuck up trees, and it’ll probably make a pretty useless hunter… but it’ll pay a heavy price for your convenience.

If you’re in any doubt about how cruel de-clawing is, have a dig about on the internet and find out what it involves. The pictures are not pretty. I firmly believe that this operation should be made illegal, and that any vet who carries it out should be prosecuted – as should the owner who caused it to be inflicted – because there are other, far kinder (and cheaper) ways to deal with the scratching problem. Cats may not be as amenable to training as dogs, but they CAN learn – apparently a quick squirt of cold water from a plant-spray is excellent for training kittens not to scratch. You can also provide scratching posts and encourage your cat to use them by incorporating them into play, and put sacrificial scratchy-mats in places they like to use. Deterrent sprays are helpful, too – our present cat, Henry, loathes the smell of Indorex flea-control spray, so putting that on the upholstery is a sure-fire way of keeping him off the soft furnishings. (He also knows full well that scratting the suite is BAD, and as an adult only resorts to it when he’s desperate for attention because he knows he’s absolutely guaranteed to get it then – even if only a yell of “Henry Wowler! Stop that!”).

Or you can accept that all pets do anti-social stuff and learn to live with it. Dogs roll in dead foxes and eat their own poo. Rabbits and small rodents gnaw stuff. Birds crap everywhere. Cats claw stuff. It’s just the nature of the beast. So we live with Henry’s scratch-zones in the bathroom and office and on the landing carpet, the fur that coats the whole house and the small creatures (or fragments thereof) with which we’re regularly presented. We may not exactly like it, but what the heck – we like the cat, and we like the fact that he’s happily doing his cat-thing.

So please, please, let your cat keep its claws… or if you really can’t stand the thought of letting a cat BE a cat, maybe you shouldn’t keep one at all.

Cats: for life, not just for Christmas

Christmas is coming – so why not give a cat? They’re cheap to feed (only c. £5 a week), easy to house-train thanks to their poo-burying instincts, and easy to look after since they sleep for 18 out of 24 hours – besides, just imagine the children’s little faces when a cute, bright-eyed kitten bursts out of its box on Christmas morning!

Actually, as any responsible cat-lover knows, this is an extremely bad idea. Christmas, with all its upheaval, social excitement and dangerously chewable decorations, isn’t the best time to introduce a new animal to a household; plus kittens are not toys to be cast aside when their batteries run flat (which they won’t) or the new PlayStation game is unwrapped. They are sentient beings with rights and needs which extend far beyond the festive season – a fact which many people, sadly, still fail to grasp, judging from the influx of unwanted ‘Christmas presents’ into the animal shelters every New Year.

This doesn’t mean that children and cats can’t go together very successfully (although crawling infants and toddlers may make for an unhappy mix, with few cats likely to enjoy their clumsily enthusiastic attentions). Pet ownership teaches a lot about care, companionship and responsibility, and my own beloved cats were among the chief joys of my childhood. But the key word is responsibility, and it’s why you should NEVER give a child a kitten (or any living creature) unless you’re 100% certain that the adults in the household are fully prepared to welcome it, and to embrace its care if and when the novelty wears off – because this involves a lot more than buying a food-bowl and a weekly pack of Felix. A litter-tray, poop-scoop and poo-bags are fundamental requirements, along with plentiful supplies of cat-litter – an additional ongoing expense if the cat will live permanently indoors – because kittens produce copious pee and amazingly large stinky poos, necessitating at least a daily clean-out if the house isn’t to reek; and in my experience, fresh litter provokes an ‘Ooh, goody!’ response and an immediate, gleeful evacuation demanding yet another session with the poop-scoop.

Then there are the vet bills, at the very least for inoculations (with annual boosters) and neutering, to safeguard the cat’s health and prevent further additions to the unwanted feline population – so an insurance policy is a wise precaution against the hefty expenses often incurred for dealing with accidents or illness. If the cat goes outdoors it will pick up fleas and require disinfesting (as may the house!), as well as regular worming if it hunts and eats rodents or birds. So, based on our healthy, ‘free-range’ hunting tom with pet insurance and a daily dose of special dental biscuits to keep his teeth clean, this all adds up to annual maintenance costs of c. £250 on top of c. £300 for food and mineral water (he won’t drink fluoridated tap water) – an average of more than £10 a week to keep Henry Wowler in fine fettle. This might be modest compared to the cost of keeping a large dog, but it may still be a significant burden on a cash-strapped family’s budget – a vital factor to consider before adding a cat to a household. And of course it doesn’t take into account things like a pet-carrier (essential for vet visits, and can double up as a cat-bedroom), or optional extras like toys and scratching posts. (It may not be worth shelling out on an expensive bed, since cats are notorious for preferring to sleep in the box it came in!).

Last but not least is the care. Sure, adult cats spend most of their lives looking out of the window, out and about doing cat-stuff, or curled up asleep – but they may expect to spend a substantial portion of this sleeping time on a person, and demand the right to do so with highly vocal persistence. Cat-children are another matter. Like any young creature, kittens are tiny concentrations of energy, as demanding of attention as a human infant but capable of damaging mischief a baby could never achieve – climbing up wallpaper and curtains, pooing in plant-pots (when they aren’t chewing the leaves), shredding furniture and carpets, knocking ornaments off high shelves – the list is endless. Our 12-week-old Wowler required five to six hours of play every morning before he would finally collapse, (and woe betide me – and the house – if I tried to deny him), plus another couple of hours in the evening. Admittedly it was great fun, albeit more so for Henry than for us – the attraction of trailing a string round the floor, rolling balls and jiggling catnip mousies does pall after a while. Then, unless you acquire one of those sad hairless breeds, there’s the matter of fur. Long-hairs need regular grooming to stop their coats getting matted, and even short-hairs benefit from periodic fine-tooth combing to check for fleas and reduce the amount of sheddings which will otherwise blanket the house, especially in summer. Cat under-fur is so fine that it floats on the air and gets into places pussy never goes, as I discovered on taking a dress never worn in Wowler’s presence from the wardrobe. Yes, it’s true that ‘everything in a house with a cat IS a cat’ – so sharing an abode with a feline may add considerably to the burden of housework, unless the residents are content to wear, eat and sleep in their pet as well as look after it.

So the real message is, ‘DON’T give a cat for Christmas’. Instead, give cat-related gifts from welfare charities like the Cats Protection League or RSPCA. Or, if you’re absolutely certain that someone truly wants a feline companion and is willing and able to care for it properly, wait until early 2015 – because then the rescue centres will be overflowing with misguided ‘Christmas presents’ desperately needing new homes.