More than a feline: one woman in mourning for the king of cool cats

THIS is about a dead cat. No more. No less. In the great scheme of things, it couldn’t be less important. Just a dead cat.

This cat was named after Dean Martin because it was so cool a cat. It lay about looking languidly elegant, and when it went from A to B, you had the feeling that it expected cameras to be about, filming its sinuous progress.

Dino was always well-groomed, as you’d expect from a cat born in a wardrobe. He wore his silky black suit with an air of casual conviction. This put him in sharp contrast to Scruffy, his big white twin brother, who, from kittenhood, never saw anything dirty without wanting to cuddle up to it. Scruffy always looks like a derelict, homeless and slightly baffled sheep. Dino, on the other hand, was camera-ready at all times.

The two of them co-operated about most things, but you could tell Dino, like the rest of us, thought Scruffy was low class and thick as a plank. Scruffy hunts so indiscriminately that, at this point, if he dragged in a bald eagle or a dead motorbike, we wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Dino hunted only occasionally, like a pilot holding onto his licence by maintaining a minimal number of flying hours, and when he brought in his prey, he didn’t do any of Scruffy’s triumphalist yelling. He just arrived and left his gift beautifully draped for your attention.

His gifts were always dead, which was marginally less problematic than Scruffy’s, 50% of which are alive. Scruffy has a habit of capturing a pigeon or a blackbird and setting the terrified thing loose in the sitting-room. I spend half my life throwing bath towels over panic-stricken birds to capture and set them free out of doors.

In the late afternoon, Dino would take up a position on the windowsill of the front room, over to the side, like a decoration. About three minutes before my car turned in the gate, he would abandon his post and get ready to welcome me by playing chicken with the vehicle, running back and forth in its path so that parking took forever. In the summer, this was fine, but in the winter, trying to avoid a black cat you couldn’t see but knew was there was like vehicular Russian roulette.

If you went out into the garden, he walked behind you. Never alongside. Never in front. Always at the back, like a silent police cat. Most of the photographs taken at home have this black shadow in the background, all subtle self-effacement: present but no more than that. If, on the other hand, you were indoors and preparing food, he turned into an in-your-face predatory nightmare with a mean right paw. Lift a bit of chicken to lay on top of a slice of bread, and he would intercept like Agassi.

You’d never see him coming, whereas you couldn’t miss Scruffy, mainly because the big white eejit takes the direct route to any food, falling into shopping bags, ploughing into flexes and yanking whatever they’re fuelling off the surface, falling into basins of sudsy water, but never letting anything halt his progress towards an edible.

Because Dino was high IQ and Scruffy wasn’t, when we had a litter box in the utility room, the black cat would lie in wait for Scruffy at the top of the three steps, so that as the white cat emerged, business complete, he would be ambushed in mid- climb. No matter how often it happened, Scruffy never learned to watch out for the hidden assailant. The assault always took him by surprise, although he would fight back with so much energy, it made sense of that old phrase about skin and hair flying.

Whenever they had a fight, clumps of black and white fur would be left as CSI exhibits and Dino would have bald patches for a bit. You couldn’t mention or treat them though. He preferred to gloss over any injuries or mistakes.

The couple of times when he got drunk on catnip, he would work very hard at walking straight, putting one paw directly in front of the other and letting on to be in perfect control, even when he fell over.

WHEN a friend recently brought her golden retriever for a visit, the two cats went to different ends of the spectrum of reactions. Scruffy stood his fur on end so he looked like a giant deranged white hedgehog and engaged the dog in claw-to- claw combat, drawing blood at first swipe.

Dino simply disappeared. We checked, but he wasn’t behind the couch, so we assumed he’d escaped while Scruffy was in the ring. Seven hours later, he emerged from under the couch, having compressed himself for the duration to fit into a three inch space. He was twice as affectionate that night. I kept having nightmares about helicopters and waking up to find him on the pillow beside me, providing the helicopter sound effects by fairly committed purring. Next to the sound of a baby laughing, a cat purring has to be the most warming sound in the world.

He was affectionate when it suited him, distant when it didn’t. Friends would make pejorative comments about the selfishness of cats, preferring the slavish willingness of dogs to be rendered ecstatic by their owner’s very existence.

Dino had none of that emotional neediness. If he wanted stroking, he would head-butt your hand and demand it. Otherwise, he’d just snuggle up beside you, purr a bit, and go to sleep. You could re- start the purr at any time by patting him. A couple of months ago, we noticed he was getting very thin, except in his mid- section, and lying around more than usual. When he was brought to the vet, an X-ray seemed called for, so he was left overnight.

The following morning, the vet said Dino had “a mass” and that surgery was required. We agreed that if it transpired that the cancer had gone too far, the vet would let Dino go under general anaesthetic, and that’s what happened. We brought him home and buried him beside the fish pond.

Scruffy, mystified by his absence, took to sitting in any and all windows, searching the landscape. For three weeks, the big white cat was silently depressed and off his food. For that time, the local wildlife was safe because he gave up hunting, too, for a while. Gradually, though, he got over missing Dino and went back to normal.

In that same period of time, politicians, pensions and newly-inflicted poverty were in the headlines, Athens became a battle -field, an ashy cloud stopped us from flying and David Cameron sought Nick Clegg’s assistance in moving into Number 10 Downing Street.

It makes no sense, in that context, to be bereft, knowing a silent black figure won’t get in the way of parking the car or walk across a keyboard in the middle of an urgent job, or go to sleep athwart the open pages of a book, preventing access to an essential reference.

Dino is just a dead cat. I keep telling myself that. It doesn’t help.

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