‘I thought dogs were slobbery and smelly – until ours brought happiness into our Covid-cramped lives’
Fear was never really an emotion I associated with cats until we adopted our four month old kitten, Percy – full name Persephone – who, it transpires, was the Greek goddess of the underworld. How could we have known, when that bundle of fur curled up on my lap in a restaurant in Athens in September – the waitress uttering the words “car park”, “abandoned”, “so sad”, then “take her?” – that it could go so wrong.
Percy was living beside our hotel in a pile of rubble after her mother and sister abandoned her and, wooed by her Annie-like charisma, when the hotel suggested my partner Kayleigh and I adopt her, high on tzatziki and air travel, we said yes.
There followed the job of finding and luring Percy into a cat box one morning; creeping around to waft cat food around the ankles of the other diners. As the vet noted, Percy is a “highly food motivated creature”, so was fairly easily tricked. After a spell in a shelter getting injections and checks, she took a three-day drive in an air-conditioned van with a “pet chauffeur” over to England.
Aside from anxiety about our existing cat Gus who has the nerves of a frail Victorian woman, I couldn’t wait for Percy to arrive. She got here at midnight and I was amazed to watch her jump out of her box boldly; sashaying around the flat, booting open all the doors with a single paw. What a strong, independent woman, I thought.
The first week was a little difficult as Percy had travellers’ tummy, 15 times a day, in the room where she was settling in, which is also Kayleigh’s office. Percy, however, was calm and affectionate. This, I now know, was simply physical weakness. And as she gained strength, she decided the room we were keeping her in was not acceptable. At the end of week two, we sat cowering on the opposite side of her door as she howled and flung her full body weight against it – then watched in horror as the door handle suddenly started waggling up and down. The howling, it turns out, is par for the course. Even when she’s having a fantastic day, she swaggers through the house yodelling.
Over the weeks and months, Percy has gone from kittenish nibbling and pouncing to full blown stalking. Entering a room in the dark to see two eyes glinting, I am that ill-fated gazelle in Planet Earth. It’s even worse when you can’t see her. Poor Gus has had a rough ride. She does something with him that I’ve never seen a cat manage before, which is to use her inordinately long legs to somehow put him in a headlock.
We also came home recently to find his tail sadly flopped over at half mast, dragging along the floor. When I collected him from the vet and examined his woeful shaven tail, there was a perfect set of bite marks in it. In five years of owning Gus, he’s only bared his teeth to bite once and even then changed his mind at the last minute. Percy, on the other hand, regularly sails silently through the air, attaching herself to my back with claws and teeth.
We’ve even had to rub chilli powder in the corners of walls because she started chewing hunks of plaster off and spitting them out, all the while maintaining unblinking eye contact. It wouldn’t be so unnerving if she wasn’t also getting bigger every week.
Just as she bites hard though, she loves hard, too. Now that she’s going outside, her entrance back through the cat flap is like a bullet train exiting a tunnel – firing up onto the sofa at breakneck speed to get as close to your face as possible with terrible breath and enormous purrs. She’s a woman of extremes, like all the best ones – though it’s very important in those moments of affection not to relax.
Last week she gently laid a paw on either side of Kayleigh’s face, looked her in the eye, then latched onto her nose with her dagger teeth. But, despite everything, when I see that warm little belly snoring on the sofa, passed out on her back as she twitches and dreams, probably of burning the house down, I am filled with love and admiration. I just won’t ever fall asleep in her presence.