It was Mumsnet that gave me the guilts. As much as my cat-owning friends said it was common for moggies to adopt second homes, we had mixed feelings. One afternoon Neighbour Cat was yet again snoozing on the living room rug, fluffy belly-up like a sheep about to be shorn.
“Do you think this is right?” Gareth said, “She comes over here an awful lot.”
“I know! We better throw her out. Do you want to do it?”
“Well, she is asleep. It would be rude to disturb her.”
“Yeah, she should finish her five-hour power nap, right?”
While we waited we told Google neighbour’s cat keeps coming over, and it sent us to various discussion threads on Mumsnet, Netmums and similar, each full of outraged cat owners whose traitorous beasts had been hanging out next door.
One neighbour had bought a visiting cat a sparkling new collar.
Another had bought the cat a new collar and its own cat bed.
Another said their neighbour smoked and would douse the moggie with stinky perfume to try and disguise the smell!
AIBU? cried the wounded owners. Which I now know means, Am I Being Unreasonable?
YANBU! came the replies! You Are Not Being Unreasonable! It was highly illegal. Highly immoral. The neighbours were “batshit cat thieves”. They should be reported to the RSPCA. They should be reported to the police!
Were we batshit cat thieves? This came not long after I’d read Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, which for some reason had jumped out at me at the bookshop:
“A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.
One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again.
New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife…”
The woman in this novel not only fashioned a bed out of a cardboard box for Chibi the Neighbour Cat, she would regularly fry her up a mackerel and cut it into little pieces and leave it out in a special dish.
“We’re not that bad!” I said to Gareth. There are no box beds nor mackerels round here. We’re basically being used for a quiet place to sleep. She’s still mostly indifferent to us, zipping back out the window as soon as she hears the tyres of her owner’s car crunching on the gravel driveway.
But my guilt came from feeling so emotionally attached to a strangers’ cat. I have no interest in any other cats, I’m just besotted with this one. Yes, our poky wee bathroom is damp and dark so the window does need to be opened a lot to prevent mould… but really, all day, in the dead of winter? Deep down I knew that every time I heard the plip-plop of paws leaping from window ledge to bathtub to bathroom floor, my sad and lonely freelancer’s heart skipped a happy beat.
So I decided to come clean with Neighbour Cat’s owner. It was time to put an end to this cat borrowing, as much as it pained me to do so. I met her in the car park one morning.
“Hi! Umm… have you got a minute to chat?”
“Oh!” she said, “Is it my cat again? Has she been bothering you?!”
“No! Not at all. It’s just that she comes in almost every day, and I thought you should know where she was. And also to assure you we’re not cat-nappers! She just comes in through the bathroom window and finds somewhere for a snooze.”
“She really is a sweet cat.”
“Sure is,” I said casually, though inside I was screaming SHE IS THE GREATEST!
“Well… just chuck her out if she starts to annoy you!”
So far she hasn’t annoyed me, and she still chucks herself out when ready.