It seems like only yesterday that we brought Winston home as a wide-eyed kitten. He was such a delight that a week later we acquired Monty as a companion for him.
Monty rather overshadowed Winston. He was a month older so maybe that was why. Most of the time they were great friends but occasionally Monty tried to subjugate Winston who is a very gentle cat. We were very upset when Monty developed congestive heart failure at three years old and we realised that nothing could be done for him. Every solution our patient vets tried exposed further serious problems and eventually we had to let him go to save him further suffering.
That was just over a year ago. Winston didn’t appear to miss Monty – we have had other cats in the past who have pined for their companions, seeking them in all the familiar spots. In fact, we realise now that Winston would have remained perfectly happy being an only cat. He has canine company when we go out and when we take the dogs walking he is usually waiting for us when we come through the front door, greeting us with a quiet miaou and a question mark tail.
In the year that has passed since Monty’s demise Winston has become much more confident. He is extraordinarily affectionate and has a range of calls to inform us of his needs. A loud ‘waaaahhhhh’ tells us he is hungry, a ‘mew’ says ‘hello’. ‘Ng’ means ‘Please open the door’ and a silent miaou is a request for a cuddle. When he is snoozing in the sun and I stroke him he says, ‘Wa-mah’ to start a conversation. He chitters at the birds in the garden, headbutts us for attention, pats an arm for treats and hooks his paw round a hand to draw it to himself for stroking.
He yells raucously for breakfast, particularly if it’s raw beef heart, though chicken wings are a close second favourite. He has other tastes, too. We sometimes have croissants for breakfast and can guarantee that Winston will be on the arm of the chair, reaching forward with a delicate paw to steal a piece. He also likes cheese, cooked chicken, ham and porridge. Two of his stranger delights are bubble wrap and sellotape.
When he and Monty were young kittens Mark-the-Vet asked us what we were feeding them. It’s the usual sort of vet question but when I replied that, along with other fare, we gave them kitten milk he looked a little surprised. I had a sudden vision of a herd of cats waiting to be milked and fell to wondering how this might work.
Cows have been domesticated for years and are accustomed to yielding their milk to the farmer at least twice a day. They are hefty beasts, not given to scaling trees or bounding over fences or indeed clambering under them. Granted, they have to be confined to large open spaces where they spend their days chewing the cud and pondering the meaning of life. If they had absolute freedom to wander at will they might remain in a close-knit band but would undoubtedly enjoy a more varied menu than meadow grass. They are social animals, used to living together.
On the other hand, cats are largely solitary, independent creatures, often leading nocturnal lives of which their owners know little. Keeping a number of cats together leads to challenging problems that can be accommodated only after careful deliberation and cosmetic changes to the human living quarters – that is, extending the house to provide a great deal more space. However, cats cannot be herded, will only cooperate if they are so inclined, and can squeeze through small gaps and leap and climb seemingly insurmountable obstacles with the greatest of ease.
I cannot visualise a throng of dairy felines waiting patiently at the milking parlour gate, miaouing quietly among themselves. Furthermore, would the cat farmer opt to milk by hand? Unlike cows, cats have sharp claws and teeth, so perhaps he might choose to use milking clusters. A cat has eight nipples (usually) so a cat cluster would look decidedly different to the bovine form.
Supposing the farmer has managed to milk his flock of felis catus, does he then pasteurise the product or is it safe to drink straight from the cat, so to speak? Is there a milk tanker – probably the size of a Mini Cooper - that arrives regularly at the cat farm to transport the day’s yield to a central depot where it is bottled or canned? How long can a cat be expected to lactate before she must have another litter? Then what happens to the kittens? Cows have one calf, very rarely two, but a cat may have anything from one to nine or ten young. We know what happens to calves . . .
There are many brands of kitten milk on the shelves of the pet supermarkets but it’s pretty safe to say that none of them have been collected from dairy cats.