What did Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler have in common? Apart from a lust for world domination, they were all supposed to suffer from ailurophobia, the fear of cats.
Now I wouldn’t normally place myself in such august and/or monstrous company, but I am the same. I put it down to the one cat I’ve ever shared a home with, an enormous she-tabby that belonged to my cousin who lived with us when I was young as her parents lived in the US and she was completing her grammar school education over here before going on to Oxford.
That cat was a terror of the sort that would slash your hand to ribbons if you dared to as much as offer to stroke it and our two German Shepherds definitely suffered from ailourophobia — when she appeared, they disappeared.
She also had that adhering habit of presenting my mum with a ‘present’ of a dead mouse, vole or bird by climbing onto the table and dropping it on her newspaper.
Later feline encounters haven’t softened my opinion. Don’t you just hate it when you visit a friend’s house and their cat climbs onto your lap and stretches before digging its claws into your thighs? Or worse?
There is a point to this anti-cat diatribe. Our neighbours have gone on a break and I’ve been landed with the task of looking after their puss, Tilly, a fine example of her species who likes to stay out all night before lurking in the trees at dawn in the hope of slaughtering a few fledglings while their parents are out gathering grubs.
The routine was meant to be simple. I let her in in the morning with breakfast laid out, then I let her out again in the evening for her nocturnal ramblings. All went to plan for the first couple of days, but went out of the window tonight.
I unlocked the door and there she was mewing and demanding more food. I fed her and opened the back door, but she didn’t want to know and vanished upstairs. As I was about to leave, I noticed that she had crapped on the stairs, and even I know this isn’t typical feline behaviour.
I returned with cleaning stuff and kitchen roll and as I set about cleaning up, several things struck me, first the smell. It stank! Second, I’ve cleared enough cat crap from my garden to know that it is usually of the hard, dry variety, but this was a bit sloppy. Third, there were bits of blue fluff everywhere, so she had obviously been scratching the carpet.
And now I’m wondering if I’ve managed to damage Tilly. Should I have given her milk? All cats like milk, surely? Have I fed her too much? Or too little? Is there something I should be doing? And, as an ailourophobe and bird lover, do I really care?