There's a glitch in the Cat Distribution System - Gaby Soutar

Until recently, I thought the Cat Distribution System was nothing but a banal TikTok trend. Essentially, it’s the idea that the universe will sometimes select you to be a cat owner. Perhaps you'll be stalked home by a moggie, or find half a dozen mop-top kittens in a box by the road. There are plenty of videos on that social media platform, which are either a set-up or show people being suddenly blessed, presumably by Bastet (the Egyptian goddess of cats).

My online algorithm thinks I’m into this idea of spontaneous fur-baby guardianship, but it’s very much mistaken.

If I found those kittens, I’d be posting them straight through the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home letterbox first thing in the morning. After a night of cuddling, obviously.

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I’m not consciously in the market for a pet. We definitely don’t want one. In fact, we’re both allergic.

I grew up itching and wheezing, because my parents (well, my late dad, who always wanted a Tom to balance the amount of oestrogen in our household) couldn’t cope without a feline. The cat slept between them, under the covers, with his head on the pillow. The golden boy.

I loved all our childhood cats, but I don't want to go back to the antihistamines.

This species is determined to change our mind.

They know we’re both soft touches.

On a recent holiday to Portugal, a skinny tortoiseshell with pointed Pipistrelle ears, a half white chin and a pencil thin tail, stationed herself beside our alfresco dinner table.

She stared, with eyes the colour of lime Glacier Fruits, at my sea bass. I think she bewitched me, as, before I could think, I started dropping tiny nuggets of expensive fish on the floor. Oops, and oops again. She ate it all, licked her paws and settled in for the evening.

“This one comes here every night,” said the waiter.

“What’s her name?” I asked. He thought for a while, before fudging it and coming up with Zsa-Zsa.

Later on, he accidentally spilled water on the table, and said, “It was Zsa-Zsa’s fault”.

Although that was just a spot of cupboard love, I feel that the Cat Distribution System was stirring. There was purring in the air, or maybe it was just cicadas.

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Shortly after that, my sister-in-law’s cat, Yami, went missing.

It’s a bit like the proverb about a butterfly flapping its wings, and somebody else feeling it on the other side of the world. On the day that she went AWOL, we had a visitation from another cat, who presumably belongs to a neighbour.

He is persistent. I’m saying it’s a male, as 80 per cent of gingers are boys, while tortoiseshells are almost exclusively female.

The first time we met him, we opened the back door and he sauntered in, then sat in a roasting tin, as if it was a nest and he was preparing to lay an egg. We tried to be hospitable, and gave him a nib of smoked salmon, but it was snubbed.

I sneezed as he left.

Day two, he was back. My husband is the one who keeps opening the door for him. He claims he’s a dog person.

“This cat is not ordinary though,” he says. “He’s like a puppy”.

Indeed, our foster puss seems obsessed with my husband, squirms in his lap like a worm off the hook, and tries to bite his chin. I looked this up, and apparently it’s grooming behaviour. Bit aggressive, for my liking.

I haven’t had much affection yet. I keep my distance, so I don’t get itchy eyes.

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However, he did jump onto my work laptop and stomp on the keys, so now whenever I type “, I get a @, and vice versa.

He is extremely beautiful and probably only a year old, with a pure white face, Botticelli red patches and Nocerella-olive-sized eyes, though he also looks a bit gormless. I named him Spooky, since there’s something spectral about him and it’s only a few sleeps until Halloween.

The visits were sporadic at first, then my husband started giving him nuggets of chicken or ham, mainly to lure him out of the door when it was time to go back to his real home.

Bless my beloved, he’s naive in the way of cats and didn’t realise that there’s no turning back from this point. Ham, bam thank you ma’am

Since then, we see him four or five times a day. He has been known to idiotically recline in the tiny window box, with all four paws pressed against the pane. The pansies are squashed. There is always a sore paw performance at the window, or he’ll bang on it if he’s in no mood for subtlety. Sometimes it looks like he’s trying to tell us something important.

Then my sister-in-law’s cat turned up. Yami had been missing for 12 days. She was thinner, and her white socks were mucky, but she acted like nothing untoward had happened and demanded her usual bowl of Felix.

They had been so worried about her, she could have requested caviar and sashimi, and they would’ve ordered it. Mercifully, most cats can’t talk.

We thought this would be the moment that Spooky stopped turning up at our house. He vanished for a day and I thought the Cat Distribution System had recalibrated, but now he’s back.

I can see him, but what does he want? I put my ear to the window. “Ham”.



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