Everyone knows that a dog is a man's best friend, but what about the complicated relationship between cat and owner?
Melissa Daley, author of Molly and the Cat Cafe, tells us how her own feline friends inspired her new book and why she wanted to write from a cat's perspective.
Whenever I catch sight of my cats observing me, beadily, from the top of a bookcase or through the banisters on the stairs, I can’t help feeling that they’re not so much watching me as gathering intelligence about me.
With their innate air of entitlement, my cats Nancy and Pip shamelessly exploit my family’s goodwill. My husband, children and I are at their beck and call, like servants trained to answer their every whim. On an average day this not only involves feeding them on demand, but might also entail getting up to let them in through the front door because they can’t be bothered to use the cat flap, or sitting on the floor so as not to disturb them sprawled in blissful slumber across the sofa. Then there are the middle-of-the-night stumbles across the house to feed a noisily insistent Pip, or to open the airing cupboard door because Nancy has decided, for no apparent reason, that she simply must investigate its contents as a matter of urgency.
And I don’t think we’re alone. Any cat owner (or perhaps, cat own-ee might be more accurate, as we all know that you can never truly own a cat) would surely recognise the feeling that, in their home, it’s the cats who are in charge. There’s no doubt about it, cats are benign tyrants. And yet we humans indulge them, pandering to their demands and feeling privileged when they deign to show us any affection.
Deep down, I’ve always suspected that our cats know more about the world than they are letting on.
I have spent many hours wondering what my cats get up to in their mysterious ‘other’ lives. Sometimes I get an insight, in the form of phone calls from concerned strangers telling us that Nancy has followed them home, or jumped into their car, or spent the evening at the local pub. And I suspect that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There’s something beguiling about their self-assurance, and their determined independence. Who hasn’t watched their feline disappear purposefully down the garden path and wondered what secret life she is heading off to, and whether she is, in fact, running multiple households in the neighbourhood, all of whom might think she belongs to them? While we’ll never know for sure, it’s reassuring that it’s our home they choose to return to.
In spite of their tantalising aloofness, we remain convinced that, deep down, our cats love us. How else to explain the way cats intuitively know when we need them? Be it by climbing into bed next to us when we’re feeling unwell (and nothing beats a purring, furry hot water bottle), or cheering us up at the end of a long day with a friendly head-bonk − there’s nothing more comforting than a cuddle with a cat. And though they might act like selfish ingrates most of the time, those occasions when they show us love make it all worthwhile.
When I decided I wanted to write a novel about a cat, I knew the heart of the story would lie in the relationship between the cat and her owner. It also seemed natural to tell the story from the cat’s point of view. I wanted to explore the idea that, just as we are attuned to our cats’ needs, they are attuned to ours. By telling the story from the cat’s perspective I could imagine what goes through a cat’s mind when she sees her owner’s life going awry.
My conviction that, underneath their cool exteriors, cats care as much about us as we do about them, underpins events in my book Molly and the Cat Café. When café owner Debbie takes pity on stray tabby Molly she knows nothing about Molly’s history. She has no idea that, like herself, Molly has experienced loss and hardship in her life. Although Molly comes to understand how much she and her owner have in common, this is something that Debbie can never know. Likewise Debbie will never know what lengths Molly goes to to help her, both personally and professionally. Debbie thought she had rescued Molly; she never imagined Molly would be the one to rescue her.
Can a cat really turn around the fortunes of a struggling café, and help a single mum to find love and happiness?
You’ll have to read the book to find out. Right now, I’ve got to go and feed the cats.