Early on in our relationship my husband and I set off for a doomed romantic break in Paris. The inklings, that this might not be all candlelight in Montmartre, were flagged up early. He announced that instead of staying in a room with a rose petal-covered levitating bed at a contemporary romantic gem of a hotel, we were instead borrowing the flat of friends. This, on the proviso, that we looked after their cat and fed it cancer medicine twice a day.
After five minutes in the flat I watched the face of my beloved start to swell and blotch, nose running, tears streaming, constant sneezing. It became apparent both that I would not always find this man alluring and that he had developed an allergy to cats.
What ensued was the most ridiculous of holidays. We stayed in a hotel but spent our mornings and late afternoons travelling to the flat to give poor Mog her medicine. The entire holiday itinerary was dictated by our feline friend. I should have bought one of those T shirts: I went to Paris and fed a cat cancer pills.
And so you might think it a queer choice to buy a kitten ten years down the line. But hope burns eternal and our small people were desperate for a family pet. My husband felt a dog was too much hard work, I felt a fish wouldn’t give us the requisite warm feeling.
So a small black fluffy bundle made it’s way into our home last November. I had not told my children that he was coming and when they opened the kitchen door and found this little bundle, enveloped in a giant plush bean bag, latterly known as the womb, they could not believe their eyes. One declared it the “most exciting day of my life. I feel like I am in a dream.”
All three children sat down and gazed in awe at the small feline creature. After a lengthy debate, google search and reference to various literary works, my eldest child instructed everyone to put down their colouring pens, water bottles etc and prepare for a show of hands. It was a moment that called for gravitas. They solemnly voted and the name Sooty was chosen for the kitten.
Niggling at the back of our minds was my husband’s allergy but the hope was that he might acclimatise to a cat. We had told the children that the kitten could only stay if their Dad was able to tolerate him. We even had a back up plan that he could go to a lovely local family who adore cats if it didn’t work out.
But after 24 hours all seemed to be going well. My husband was still breathing with relative ease and there were no outward signs of any major reaction. Another upside was that the kids skipped out of bed in the morning, rather than the normal half hour of cajoling, in order to spend time with kitty before school. With photos printed out of our new addition my kids were able to show their teachers and classmates the new member of the family and my son made plans to do a live ‘show and tell’ session that Friday. My middle girl was planning how soon she could get the kitten to sit on the end of her bed and sleep with her throughout the night.
They threw balls of wool, dangled toy fish and did everything in their powers to entrance their new friend. She spent most of her time hiding under the dishwasher. Every hour Kitty’s water was replenished and I had to hide the packet of dreamy treats to stop the children from overdosing her on cat goodies. They took it in treasured turns to feed her.
Then, 48 hours after she arrived, my husband awoke in the night to say that his breathing was becoming very laboured. He was in sufficient pain that he could not sleep. That was that. It may sound harsh but when we realised Sooty had to go we wanted it to happen quickly.
When the kids got up I had to tell them that they needed to say goodbye to their kitten because he was going to have to live somewhere else. More heartbreaking than anything was the fortitude of my middle child, the real pet lover of the household. She carefully gathered up all of the toys that they had bought him, with their pocket money the day before, because she thought this might, “make Sooty feel more at home in his new house.”
It was a very quiet walk to school. My friend, who so kindly agreed to rehouse kitty, suggested that the children might find it useful to go to her house after school and see him happily established in his new home. The thought behind this was made kindly and with generosity but the reality was brutal.
I watched my children watch other kids going wild with joy and delight over their new kitten. We fell silent as they excitedly discussed renaming Sooty to something else. I hadn’t expected this and hadn’t prepared them. “Tonight he is going to sleep in my room” said one of the children. I saw my middle girl blink back tears and I felt as though I had trampled all over her tender heart.
He was with us for a short time but he left a big impression on our family. The total trust and responsibility of caring for another living creature is a big thing to experience at any age. It is a lesson that my children will never forget.