Maow Care is a business that boomed during the bust — a cat behaviour and cat sitting business that all began when Alice Chau- Giguene couldn’t find a cat sitter when she was away.
She and her partner Jason had moved to Dublin from Paris where cat sitters are commonplace. Many cats, she says, need cat sitters as they find a stay in a kennel not dissimilar to staying in a hostel stinking of other people’s excrement.
When she mentioned her nascent plan, the begrudgers were out in force. It was 2009.
“Nobody is going to be spending money on their pets,” she was told. Within four months, however, she was working on Maow Care full time. Foreign nationals who resided here needed someone to take care of their cats when they visited home and the Irish also began to seek out her service.
Maow Care has moved beyond its original remit, however, and cat behaviour therapy is now a big part of the business. Hong Kong-born Alice says over 50% of her clients contact her because their kitties are ignoring their litter box and piddling in a manner unbecoming of that feline ideal, as projected by Felix or Sheba.
“Cats pee like this for a number of reasons,” Alice tells me when I visit her home in Dublin 3. “Maybe your cat is getting old and can’t hold it, they might not like their litter box, or may be establishing boundaries. But because they can’t answer the question themselves, people like me help you figure it out.”
Cats, much to their own chagrin, have become prey to the feline paparazzi — their owners, who stalk them around their homes, waving cameras in their faces, publishing the results on social media proclaiming, “Aren’t they so human”; “You’ll never believe what they’ve done now” and “Guess what inappropriate place I found Waggles in today?”
Is it any wonder that so many cats have gone a bit crazy, attacking humans, peeing on linen, rending household fixtures and refusing to eat?
“Cats used to have such a bad reputation,” Alice says. “But in the past few years, more people who would not have called themselves ‘cat people’ have gotten one, helping undo some of the myths.”
Problem is, humans tend to impose their ideas and psychology on cats, or alternatively, their past experience with dogs. “And that stresses cats out. Owners expect them to come running when they open the door, to sit on their laps and react to you rubbing them.”
They’re more interested in looking out the window at the neighbours cat, or whatever prey may be taunting them through the plexiglass.
“Half my time is taken up trying to find a diplomatic way of saying the problem is not the cat,” sighs Alice.
“I’ve seen a rise in the number of people inquiring about how to raise ‘apartment’ cats. People who may have preferred to have gotten a dog but who just don’t have the space. I run workshops for them.
"A dog-lover I helped had rescued a cat from a warehouse. The cat was hissing at him and scratching him. He couldn’t understand, having saved its life, why it was treating him like this. I told him to just take it easy, give the cat space and treats and leave it alone.”
Another person had adopted a 16-year old cat and couldn’t understand why she was peeing all over the place. “When I asked her about the cat’s routine she said she let it out in the morning, but not at night. She didn’t have a litter tray for it.
This was in 2010 when there was a heavy snow. A 16-year-old cat is like your grandmother. Would you expect her to hold it in all night and then wander out into the garden and pee in the freezing cold?”
Abigger problem is people imposing their own emotional attachments on the animal. “They are living in city, they’re single and living away from family. The cat is all they have. They love the cat so much that they start being over-conscious, asking people to be quiet, not to make sudden movements. They whisper instead of talking. You then train the cat to be scared because they think there’s something to be afraid of and they attack your friends cause they see them as a threat.”
Lots of things can upset cats, says Alice. They’re extremely sensitive to change and are affected by the death of a family member, or the birth of one, or when one moves abroad.
“They can also be put out by interactions with a neighbour’s cat. If you get on with your neighbours you can timeshare as to when you let your pets out, so their paws don’t cross.” However, if the bullying cat takes after their owner, you’ll just have to try shooing it so it gets the message.
Alice is the first to say that she shouldn’t be your first port of call. “Depression in animals can be the sign of a physical ailment. I’d always say go to your vet first. They can prescribe medication like kitty Prozac, though that route is rare in Ireland.”