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I love cats: My intense relationships with them

Chrissy Iley has had several cats throughout her life. They have been more important to her than her ex....

Cats have always been my emotional touchstone, more reliable than people. It’s a different kind of loyalty. I think it’s in the DNA. My grandfather – who died before I was born, used to like to dress up cats and he was thrown out when he allowed his best cat Georgie to have kittens in my grandmother’s hatbox, thus ruining her feather hat. Georgie only thought it was a feathered nest I imagine.

My father loved cats too, although my mother was a dog person. He was never allowed to have one in the house, although he borrowed a neighbours two cats Lupin and Rosie to guard his pigeons who were kept in a loft in a garden.

After he died, I saw his driving license and in it was a picture of a black and white cat. I’ve no idea whose but he carried it next to his heart for decades and hopefully onto the next life.

I was able to explore this different kind of loyalty in more recent years. Perhaps I imbued my cats with more personality than they actually had, or perhaps I wanted an emotional presence that wouldn’t bug me and that I understood.

My cat Tugboat symbolised my marriage

I entered married life three decades ago with a black cat called Tugboat (his mother was called Trawler). He was a nice cat and I was extremely negligent. One time he left home and I found him renamed Korma in local the Indian restaurant. Yes, he did love a prawn korma. I took him back. Of all the cats I had – even though I wasn’t as close to him as others, when he was dying it was profound. I went out to get him Marks & Spencers prawns – which he instantly threw up. I felt the worst – guilt, remorse, emotional pain. When he died, I cried for days. It was as if he symbolised my marriage, which limped on for another 10 years. The cat symbolised my neglect of my husband. I felt remorse for the cat.

And it’s not that after that I decided to overcompensate. I just did. I developed intense emotional relationships with cats. Cats in many ways are an emotionally blank canvas. You can imbue them with properties they don’t have and love them for properties they do. They’re very easy to invest in, hence the cliché of the middle-aged woman with cats – all she’s got is her cats, she’s alone with her cats.

The things to love about cats

But to me cats are exciting. You never know what they are going to do. All cats are beautiful. I’ve never seen an ugly cat. Not all cats are smart, but they are all pretty devious, a quality I admire.

Cats live longer than dogs, sometimes by a good 10 years so they are little memory boxes that carry within them the emotions of a lifetime – yours, not theirs. In the Tugboat period he witnessed one suicide attempt, one marriage breakdown, one reunion, endings, beginnings and the event of grain free cat food.

The story of Slut Cat

Slut Cat on the other hand witnessed my whole life. Slut Cat my soul cat. Slut Cat who I knew from another life. Slut and I recognised each other the day she walked into my life. We bonded. She was a black and white fluffy cat, a stray who asked for tuna. Slut could talk very clearly, mostly I only understood “hello” and “tuna” and she was very picky about who she talked to on the phone. Me, my mother and her tortoiseshell friend Cleo.

Her fur was like no other cat fur. It was like a rabbit fur, it was so soft. But beyond that she was all knowing, instinctive. She knew which house would have the tuna. I called her Slut, partly because she was anybody’s, although really just mine, partly because it’s a high form of appreciation – I wish I could have enjoyed being a slut – and partly because when she arrived and I said you’re pretty fat for a stray cat – she was about to give birth to five kittens. Which she did on my very old Hollywood circular satin bed.

How I invested in those kittens. I kept the giant, extremely stupid Mr Love who was full of love but not much else.  He didn’t even work out how to get out of his own birth sack. My friend Alison had to help him.

Slut’s visit to celebrity homes

If anybody wants an emotional distraction, it should be a cat with kittens. It’s all consuming. They do the funniest things. Slut used to carry Mr Love around in her mouth when the kittens went one by one to celebrity homes (anyone I interviewed got asked the question do you want a kitten), Slut would be wailing and looking for them and decided to carry an Always sanitary pad in its plastic wrapper in her mouth. I don’t know if it felt the same as carrying a kitten or it was to remind me of life itself.

How Slut became my life

Slut saw me through love and loss, fame, fortune made and lost. She would always sing the same song and brush me with her tuna breath and make muffins on my breasts and thighs. Slut was monogamous. She slept with me every day. She developed kidney disease and went once a week to the vet for a kind of dialysis. By this time, Slut was life itself. Slut was everything of me and more.

Slut was in Los Angeles, I had come back for Christmas 2018 and on the 28th December as I boarded the plane at Heathrow, I felt her asking me to hurry up. By the time I arrived home, I was nearly sick in customs which had the worst delays ever and no line for working Visas, just hundreds of Chinese people.

Saying goodbye to my cat

By the time I arrived home, she could hardly move. That jetlagged night I had to have the talk with her. Don’t hang on for me. We will always be together. Don’t be in pain. I played her Michael Buble’s Where or When, a song about how we knew each other before who knows where or when.

She listened to that song as she went. I had a piece of her fur put behind a ring which replaced my wedding ring. I had gone through a divorce already. She waited and then left just before the New Year of 2019.

Other cats came to live with me in West Hollywood – not that Slut liked them although she had a soft spot for Roger, a charming tabby whom I won in a bet. She hated Lola because she was a white cat supremacist and whose ancient mother died and whose stepson was going to throw her in the street. Lola didn’t want that and whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

The white cat problem

Lola is extremely vocal and has a blood curdling voice, but I was later to learn that many female white cats are divas and white supremacists. Including the time when Lola went to the vet for a check-up and I was halfway home when I realised I had the wrong white cat. I had a white cat called Ivanka. We went back and swapped, and Lola told me off with blood curdling screams all the way home.

And then there was Mr Bits who neither Slut or I could really understand. An enormous black cat who was on death row and adopted by me because in a grave mistake, my doctor had given me progesterone cream in the hope that it would help my thyroid medication metabolise.  It didn’t. It made me fat and emotional, crave chocolate and cry, but before I did, I saw on Instagram a black cat posted on death row in a shelter along with the phrase ‘chipped, but no one came’.

I drove out in torrential rain to a suburb of LA with lots of mini malls – I think it had been living in one that had a pizza place because he’s obsessed with pizza. I took him straight to my vet and said he’s supposed to have a medical problem. The vets assistant said, “well he’s got a problem. He’s a full male.”  Oh, I said you mean he’s got his bits. They thought that was funny and started calling him Mr Bits (in part homage to Mr Love). It was better than Progesterone, which I was going to call him.

Dealing with my diabetic cat

Mr Bits was a diabetic cat. I’m needle phobic and had to inject him every day. I am also kitchen phobic but had to make him raw butter and chicken liver to reverse the diabetes. He thanked me by eating two couches. Roger would rip them open, and Mr Bits ate all the stuffing. Whatever you’ve got going on in your life, when you come home and find the cat eating the couch, it’s pretty emotionally distracting.

Slut from time to time would visit me in the night – always at night – not sure why – I suppose it was day in California and I was in lockdown London. Nice to know that even the afterlife has a time zone.

One woman I know had serious surgery and while under anaesthetic met with both her dead mother and her dead cat and was so happy to have been reunited. This seems to have pulled her through the surgery somehow. The fact that she didn’t have to die to be with them – she could be reunited with their souls.

I think more about my cat than my ex

I do believe that a close bond means forever and whereas I don’t think much about my ex-husband, I think about Slut all the time. I don’t know if it was unconditional love, but if there were conditions, I was happy to meet them.

As I was forced to be in London because of lockdown, I couldn’t stand being separated from feline energy. The occasional visit from the ghost cat wasn’t enough. I managed to acquire the last available cat in need of a foster in London through a friend of a friend who runs a cat charity. Catlyn arrived with a very sweet owner who’d had to move to a place that doesn’t take cats. He was going to come back for her – he never did.

Catlyn is my trans cat

Catlyn is a trans cat. She is technically male but projects female more so than many trans people I’ve met.  But aren’t most cats trans because they have their bits taken away?

Cats are like humans. The more you withhold, the more they love you. Catlyn is white with a ginger tail, a ginger heart, a moustache that’s like a dab of ginger paint, not a full Movember, and ginger ears.

She likes water because she’s a Turkish swimming cat. She is independent and needy, ugly beautiful, friendly and distant. All these extremes I felt she was a fur me. We got very close and then I broke my leg. She stopped sleeping on the bed with me because she was afraid of the cast, afraid of the wheelchair, she doesn’t like noise and suddenly I was this loud person. She also eats like a rescue cat – very fast and then vomits.

Because I have a hyper sense of smell, I cooked her a large breast of chicken every day so she wouldn’t be sick. I took her to the vet who said there was nothing wrong with her. She was just playing me. And then she got a chip inserted and all of London could hear her scream. It was lockdown so she’d had to endure this indignity alone. Yet with all of central London hearing her piercing yelp.

Being played by my cat

She forgave me for that but she wouldn’t forgive me for the broken leg because I could no longer walk to the kitchen. She hates other people but when my friend Linda came to feed me and her, I saw Caitlyn cosying up to her whispering sweet purrings and rubbing against her.  And appearing each morning in the shower so Linda could play with her. She doesn’t understand toys, but she likes a bathroom.

I was distraught because our bond was broken as well as my leg. When the cast came off and I was able to get into the kitchen, she was still disdainful. I couldn’t get there fast enough.  One day, shortly after I gave her her Waitrose chicken breast, I made the mistake of cutting it. She vomited it. Cleaning up cat vomit with a broken leg is not easy. Since then, I’ve given her dried cat food. Since then, she has slept with me every night and cried piteously into her bowl. Yes, the vet was right. She played me. She didn’t love me. she loved my chicken and as soon as she could see I couldn’t get into the kitchen she lost interest in me.

Now she is showing that most exquisite of emotions. One that is rare in a cat and even more rare in a dog – remorse. It’s very involving when a cat shows you remorse. Much more penetrating than if a man were to be able to show it.

Chrissy Iley


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Picture: Getty Images

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