It’s easy to blame social media for polarising society, but if we’re honest, it was ever thus.
History abounds with non-negotiable viewpoints sorting us into one camp or another, where we hunker down for a lifetime of loyalty. Beatles or Stones. Donny Osmond or David Cassidy. Blur or Oasis. X Factor or Strictly. Team Edward or Team Jacob. Shower or bath. Aisle or window. But one of the biggest and thorniest of these must surely be: dogs or cats?
I grew up in a dog family. Beginning with Wow-wow, who was a cantankerous, chunky dachshund whose life’s sworn mission was to bark at things. She was actually named Jane but in a toddler-filled household, that was never likely to last. One pleasing bonus of having such an unusually-named first pet has been that in the ‘find your pornstar name’ game, may I introduce Wow-wow Carnegie?
After Wow-wow came Ghillie, a sheltie who liked to escape and tour the village and who was, perhaps inevitably, run over by a lorry. Ghillie was succeeded by three more shelties: Mac, Huisdean and Hamish, all of whom lived to comfortable and smelly old age. I loved them all.
Never work with children and animals
Needless to say I assumed that when I got married and had a place of my own, I’d own a dog. Unfortunately, nobody told me that having three children in four years would actually be quite hard work and time-consuming – how do other people manage to factor in a puppy as well?
In the exhausting process of bringing up my wee ones I missed the whole of the nineties – were they good? Britpop, you say? No idea. I was too busy changing nappies, chasing sleep, mashing bananas and plotting bold escapes to do anything other than keep everyone alive. Couldn’t contemplate introducing another incontinent youngster into the mix – why would anyone do that?
But one day, one day, I promised myself, we’d have a puppy and begin creating the sort of memories my parents and all those darling, deceased dogs made for me. Originally, we thought we’d have a corgi, to be named Woody. Then a beagle – Thorfinn. Whatever the breed, it would be a devoted, intelligent and obedient hound who would get us out and about, cuddle up on the sofa at night and bark usefully at intruders. Never happened.
In need of something new to cuddle
Fast forward to July 2021. Life is in no way back to normal and jollity remains scant. We are confused, emergent, blinking in the faint new light of cautious optimism. My social life is tiny, still, and my ambitions small. But my home is in need of something new to cuddle. We finally have the time and the emotional bandwidth to welcome animals into our quiet fortress.
And so, two weeks ago, I drove to Clackmannanshire and collected two small kittens and it wasn’t even a mistake. What? Kittens? Aren’t they, you know, cats? Those haughty things we didn’t like very much? Yet here we are. And here they are. Tiny Hector and Flora are in the house; brother and sister, three quarters sleek Bengal and one quarter floofy Ragdoll, they are adorable. I caught my son cuddling Flora and murmuring: ‘I would literally die for you, you know that don’t you?’ into her fur and knew we’d done the right thing.
So why did a couple of diehard dog people go over to the dark side? Well, during lockdown, we got to know our former enemy, not only so we could recognise him in the dark but also, so we could understand his magic. We began receiving visits from our neighbour’s cat and in our hermit state, he was pretty much the only new face around. He started out sneakily, kidding on that he was a stray, yeowling ravenously, softening us up. We nurtured, fed and fell in love with him. Then we discovered his ruse – yikes. The feeding stopped but, charmingly, his visits didn’t. He was the coolest and best visitor ever, glaring in at windows, booping our faces with his head and demanding scritches under his chinny-chin-chin.
But he was a tired old boy and inevitably, we got word that he’d gone to the great rabbit-field in the sky. I shed real tears. So we have plugged the cat-shaped hole as best we can with two small versions of him and don’t have a single regret.
Go on – reach out to the other side. Dog people can love cats. Cat people can love dogs. Love is love. But I’m not budging on hot baths – showers are rubbish.
Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor