From my earliest childhood I remember there always being animals in the house. The household would revolve around whichever dog was reigning at the time who would be the centre of hearth and home and he (they always seemed to be he) would be flanked by an assortment of cats with a variety of temperaments, most of whom were unsurprisingly fecund, so we never lacked a new generation.
My parents were varyingly fond of the animals who shared our lives, and I often wonder if my mother was not more attached to the cats than the dogs as many of the photographs of my early childhood show her fondling a cat on her knee in a way I rarely remember her handling the dogs.
A game is often played in which the participants must decide whether people of their acquaintance are 'dogs' or 'cats' and if controlled elegance and a self sufficiency denotes 'cat' then my mother was certainly feline. Conversely my father, who was always unconditionally adoring of whoever was our current dog, had in his nature many of the qualities that I associate with 'dog' such as a totally extrovert nature, a wish to please that was formidable when it wasn't being countermanded by his own single minded pursuit of something more interesting [though come to think of it that could equally be 'cat'] and an endearing optimism and relish for life.
Most of my life I, too, have perceived myself to be a dog person, although in my childhood my greatest passion was reserved for donkeys, then ponies then horses, but I also shared my existence and my pocket money with numerous goldfish, budgies, hamsters and white, skewbald and black mice, who taught me many useful rudiments about reproduction. Later on I became even more passionate about cetaceans and in particular dolphins and humpback whales and then in my thirties I visited Rajasthan with my former husband Geoffrey Moorhouse and encountered free-roaming Bengal tigers at close range in the fragile wilderness of the Ranthambhore National Park, which I found heart stopping and started me thinking seriously about cats and their nature. Throughout this period of time there had been several dogs that had captured my heart, but none more so than Sam, a labrador mongrel whom I adored and who, when he died, broke my heart.
Since the death of Sam I had been counting the days until I could get another dog and when Michael and I started our life together in Moon Cottage I had thought that moment had arrived but Michael, rightly, pointed out that our work hours were long and containing a dog inside a house on its own for those hours would be cruel, whereas there is a self-sufficiency about cats, especially if there is more than one, where they can cope with human absences more easily, not least by the expedient of either cat flaps or litter trays. A colleague of ours knew of a kitten needing a home and before we could draw breath a young feline tortoiseshell angel with geisha eyes and a sassy outlook on life had joined our ranks and was setting about beguiling Michael's old battle-torn tom cat Septi and thus began the setting for The Cats of Moon Cottage.
What then happened is that I found myself enchanted by the indefinable nature of cats. I started to log the relationship that emerged between the old neutered tom Septi and this young flirtatious queen Otto, who was the quintessence of feminity and my cat diary was born. I then went on to write a further two books about Otto's offspring and am now currently writing a fourth book about a further addition to our household. I was especially lucky in having the great feline artist Peter Warner to illustrate the books as he can capture the quality that is cat like no-one I know.
What especially captivated me as I started to observe and to write was what I call the 'essence' of cats, which is unique to them. Cats have all sorts of qualities that I had never realised before and which I believe are theirs alone, such as an innate sense of pride, so that for example if they fall off some ledge or high place they are walking along they will go through a complex pattern of behaviour to make it seem it was deliberate on their part. They are pack animals, more than I had realised. They watch and learn a great deal from each other and their relationships with each other are constantly changing so that the top cat does not stay the top cat for all time, or even for very long. They are very sensitive and their emotions can be hurt very easily. They are also profoundly loving, but in such a different way from dogs, who fawn adoringly. Cats have to be wooed and reassured every day that you still care and then they care back. If you, as their human companion, are ever in great distress, physical or mental, they will help you in the most profound way. They are born healers.
In the time that I have been writing these books I have had a remarkable number of emails rich with all manner of experiences about cats, uplifting and sometimes very humbling but one of the things that has moved me most is how many people men as well as women - admit to finding living with and loving cats is both easier and more rewarding than dealing with people and while I would not endorse that for myself entirely, I so understand and empathise with it. There is an unconditional love, a love that doesn't mind if you are too fat or too thin, or tired or ugly or distracted and there is a quiet awareness that is between you and your cats that is yours alone.
I know now that I could not easily live without cats around me and I am made a better person by their example. They are stress-busters and life-enhancers.