Life is way better with animals in it and on this Love Your Pets Day, writer Kat Brown celebrates the two cats who helped her through IVF and reconnected her with lost loves
When I first imagined having a pet, it was as a familiar or a best pal. A daemon, say, like the ones Philip Pullman conjured up so brilliantly in His Dark Materials; your soul made flesh in a fabulous creature (no spiders need apply). I grew up with family dogs, but they were never ‘mine’.
I ended up with a Voldemort-esque horcrux. My cat Ambridge is an absolute monster – and I wouldn’t be without her. Loving your pets, as we are celebrating this National Love Your Pets Day, doesn’t mean it has to be conditional on their being cute, photogenic, or undemanding. Much as with humans, you love them just as they are.
I was 30 and struggling with a lack of enthusiasm for anything in my life when I realised that the only thing stopping me from getting a cat was me. After being accepted as an adopter by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, I popped in “for a look” and met a sulking five-year-old lump of coal called Patch.
I could see why she was the last unadopted cat on the floor when she punched me for stroking her tummy – rooky error! Yet, I was so grateful to be allowed a pet at all that I took her home in a taxi, anxiously listening to her yowling the song of her people all the way home. I renamed her after the village in my beloved radio soap, The Archers.
The boundaries I set collapsed immediately. She completely ignored the cat cave I had bought her, making a beeline for my bed. There was no point shutting doors in my small flat; I could hear her determined scratching as though it were boring into my soul. I bought a bigger duvet as her tiny frame absorbed my existing one, like a furious black hole. And yet I was enchanted. What character! Disdain dripped off her like paint. I adored her refusal to be companionable during daylight hours, instead manoeuvring onto my lap for evening TV, and yowling irritably at 10.30pm that it was bedtime and who the hell did I think I was, Kate Moss?
I knew my now-husband was the one when I left him cosied up in my flat one day and he sent me a selfie of the pair of them sitting together. It took him a few years to admit that he loved Ambridge – she is an acquired taste, like petrol – but when he did, I was more moved than when he’d said he loved me. Ambridge and her judgmental expressions quickly earned an army of fans on Instagram: one year, Nintendo even sent her a tiny Mario hat to wear. She hated it, obviously.
Ambridge loves a lap but doesn’t see the point in being cossetted, manhandled or otherwise cuddled in any way. But this doesn’t mean she isn’t wonderful (although, blinded by her fluffiness, I often ignore this, with extremely negative results). When I was recovering from an exploratory operation after years of failing to get pregnant, she stayed with me quietly for the whole weekend. Last year, when we had to step up to IVF, she sat next to me while I had my hormone injections, her comfortable presence helping to keep me calm through a process I loathed. When the IVF didn’t work, her character was a blessed constant in a world of uncertainty.
This Christmas threw a spanner into Ambridge’s exhausting routine of wake, breakfast, lie on radiator, sleep under duvet, dinner: I found a grey and apricot coloured cat on the street outside my therapist’s office in Oxford Circus. I took her to the vet to have her microchip checked – I have never in 15 years seen a cat within a mile of Oxford Circus – tweeted about my find and did due diligence to try and find her owner, to no avail.
And now we have two cats. The Found Cat – Genevieve, as we named her after the vampire heroine of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels – is as chilled as Ambridge is irate. But in the two months we have had her, they have progressed to pointedly ignoring each other when in the same room, one on my lap, one behind my head, chase each other around the house when they can be bothered to squabble over territory.
Having a cat reconnected me with what I forgot I loved. It reminded me how much I thrive around animals. I reconnected with my old hobby of horse riding, which in turn has brought me close to some wonderful dogs and people – and even more cats, thanks to the rat control squad at stable yards.
Life is simply better with animals. It’s not that they replace something which is missing rather they fill a void you never knew you had. They might share traits or funny habits, but each is entirely themself. The honour of getting to know one is one of life’s great joys. Coming home to hear quick pads running up to the door to greet you is pure heaven. How lucky are we to have these quirky, glorious souls in our lives.