Belfast Telegraph

When 'Pussolini' adopted us, we'd no idea a whole new (expensive) world of pet care would open up

Pet lover: a cat soon becomes an integral part of your life
Pet lover: a cat soon becomes an integral part of your life
Pet lover: a cat soon becomes an integral part of your life

By Mary Kenny

You could tell she wasn't well. She was off her food. One eye looked sort of wonky and her movements were slow and reluctant. She was sleeping a lot, curled up in a ball. She seemed awfully needy, like a baby. Yes, there was definitely something wrong with our pet cat, Pussolini.

I didn't acquire this tabby by deliberate choice. She decided to come and live with us - maybe about five or six years ago (when my husband was still alive, although disabled). She just walked in the back door from the garden and requested feeding. So I fed her. Then, gradually, she took up residence. She had made the decision that here was a suitable berth for food, shelter and affection. She had a glossy coat, seemed well looked after and she wore a collar with a little bell on it, though she contrived subsequently to remove it.

Cats, I am told, often acquire a second home - a bit like bigamists who have another wife on the side - and I went along with the situation, passively. She sat on my husband's bed and was companionable to him. She was intelligent and knew how to open doors and only occasionally brought in a dead mouse or a vole from the garden.

Dogs, they say, have masters: cats have staff. The dog obeys while the cat commands.

And so she settled down chez nous. Sometimes she'd disappear for a day or two, and I'd start to worry about her. Then she'd suddenly appear again, like Macavity.

My son christened her "Pussolini", because he's an Italophile. And then there's a certain similarity between felines and dictators: they take over territory and then dominate all around them.

There were no local notices saying that a cat was missing from its rightful owner. Nothing on Facebook or in the local newspaper. It was suggested I should take Pussolini to the cat sanctuary, since she wasn't rightfully mine. My daughter-in-law called me "the cat thief" for assuming ownership so casually.

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But it was also suggested that Pussolini's original owner had probably died. Dogs have been known to stay loyally by their owner's corpse in an act of total fidelity. Cats, apparently, walk off and find another household.

This would fit the theory of why cats became domesticated in the first place. A prehistoric cat glimpsed a family in a nice warm cave, with a fire, roasting a toothsome piece of mammoth and saw an opportunity. This is one of the explanations why cats eat fish: they can't catch fish, but they savoured the fish that humans caught.

And so, Pussolini became a central feature of the household, just by constant presence. She's an affectionate cat though she balances an air of feline dignity with demands for petting. She has a good appetite, though she can be fussy, and turns up her nose at some brands of cat food.

I accepted Pussolini's choice to adopt us, but perhaps I didn't really accept the responsibilities of having a pet as I should have done. Her recent health crisis brought home to me my heedlessness.

When she became unwell, I consulted a felineophile friend - who has three cats - and she recommended booking with the vet immediately.

"Aren't you registered with a vet?" No, I wasn't. Pussolini had always been healthy and I didn't ever think I needed one.

So a consultation was arranged, and it turned out that the tabby had a serious abscess on the right side of her head. She had a temperature of 40 degrees (should be 39 in cats), and the abscess might spread, burst, or even kill her if nothing was done.

An abscess, he said, could occur from a scratch or a fight, or for no known reason. Surgery was carried out which removed the problem, at the cost of around £175.

And then a world opened up to me, which I had rather ignored, of pet care: vaccinations against cat flu, cat AIDS and cat leukaemia. Her teeth were fine, otherwise she might need cat dentistry. As she had been spayed, no further cat gynaecology was required. She should be deflead and dewormed regularly. Dietary advice was on offer. She probably should be microchipped. Insurance was advised. A pet passport could also be arranged, for a fee, should Pussolini wish to travel.

The vet's surgery was business-like and there were budgetary options available to allow for the cost of maintaining pet health.

All this is very caring and progressive for our animals but - sigh - life seems so complicated nowadays. You can't, it seems, just take in a cat that comes to your door, feed it and look after it. You have to take your responsibilities seriously.

And to be brutally materialistic, owning a pet costs money: how can people on low incomes afford it?

How can older pensioners, sometimes lonely and poor, afford it?

Pussolini recovered from her operation swiftly, and was soon back to her old self - glossy, lively, grooming herself, demanding food.

I purchased her a cosy, fluffy new cat bed for her naps. Cats don't really do gratitude, but they can do graceful satisfaction.

Then, back to the vet's surgery to arrange for vaccinations and other therapies required. A woman in the reception area was in tears because of bad news over her pet's health.

I'm sure I'd have wept if we'd faced losing Pussolini.

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