Tim Dowling: I’m on all fours, teaching our new cat old tricks | Life and style


It’s a freezing morning and I’m standing in the kitchen barefoot, holding the door open for the cat. The cat lowers its head, studying the world on the other side of the threshold.

“Faster, kitty,” I said. The cat sniffs the cold air coming from the garden, but does not move. I start to close the door very slowly, aiming to create a narrowing decision window. Within two months, the kitten has grown into a creepy, big-eared thing that I sometimes find standing on my chest staring at me in the middle of the night, its nose a millimeter from mine. He fears neither the dog nor the turtle, but remains rather wary on the outside.

The narrowing of the decision window, accompanied by a nudge of my big toe, finally propels the cat into the garden, where it immediately dashes into the dark recesses of the covered side to come back to curl up behind a few pots. As I put on my shoes and go back to the kitchen, the cat is looking at me out the window. When I look back he opens his mouth in a silent O.

Instead of letting him in, I step outside and lead the cat around the corner, where I get on all fours on the mossy bricks to demonstrate the action of the cat flap. I open it and let it fall.

“Do you see?” I say. I lift the plastic door, glazed until opaque with layers of old mud, to show the kitchen square beyond. The cat, crouching under the barbecue grill, looks at me with boundless suspicion. Eventually, he slips close enough to put his head through the flap, and after a pause of about a minute, he sneaks into the house. I don’t see the cat the rest of the morning.

In the afternoon, I come home from my office to find the cat on the windowsill, staring longingly at the leaves stirring on the grass. Instead of letting it out, I get on all fours next to the side door, to demonstrate the action of the cat door from a new perspective.

“It oscillates in both directions”, I explain. “Having both entry and exit. I do not demonstrate the lock that allows pets to exit, but not to enter. That’s another lesson for another time.

I keep the flap open again. The cat looks through, unimpressed by the sight. My knees hurt. The cats are seated.

“Try it, you little asshole,” I said.

“What are you doing?” the one in the middle said, apparently standing behind me.

“This is the cat flap class,” I said. “Someone is not progressing. “

“Is he struggling with the concept? Said the one in the middle.

“He’s definitely failing this module,” I say. But as I speak, the cat dives through the trap door in the garden. It rips at the corner of the back door, where the middle one lets it in. Then he comes to where I’m still kneeling and sits in front of the cat flap. I accidentally made up a game.

That night, I fall asleep worrying about telling the cat something I shouldn’t have: it’s too early for him to have the means to be independent. Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t understand. Something walks on my chest in the dark and sits down.

The next night, I come home from a group rehearsal long after everyone has gone to bed. I start to cook myself, even though it is near midnight. As I drop pasta into boiling water, I hear an alarming and pitiful cry, both close to the hand and choked: something trapped in something. I immediately think of the cat. I look in the cupboard under the stairs, and the washing machine.

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The noise becomes louder and more distressed. It’s clearly coming from the other side of the front door. I taught the cat to leave the house, I think, and gave him enormous fear. I rush to the door and open it.

The noise is actually from two foxes having sex at our front door. Before I know what’s going on, the dog rushes between my feet to break up the party. He pursues the male in the street; the female runs in the opposite direction.

By the time I catch up with the dog and the fox, they are a bit deadlocked. Part of me is thinking, wow, that fox is huge. Another part of me is thinking: I’m boiling pasta.

The dog turns and runs towards me. The fox goes after him for a few meters, before changing his mind.

“This fox is not your friend,” I said. “No more.”

When we reach the portal, I see the cat through the open front door, sitting on the stairs, just looking at me.

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