You carefully choose the right breed of cat for apartment living – but no one told you they were possessed, as Laura Good explains to Sue Williams.
Some pets, just like some people, should never be allowed to live in apartments. And it’s nothing to do with size or breed; it’s all about temperament.
I’ve always been in favour of keeping pets in apartments and been a happy supporter of strata policies to allow them. But when I finally got two kittens of my own, and installed them in my over-sized three-bedroom apartment, with balcony, it started to slowly dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, apartment-living wasn’t right for everyone – or everything.
I thought I’d taken great care with my choice of cats to make sure they’d be as apartment-compatible as possible.
For a start, they were an old Thai breed, the Korat, a small blue-grey short-haired cat with only one layer of fur instead of the usual two that most cats have – perfect for being in a confined space, I imagined. As well, they’re intelligent and form strong bonds with their “keepers” (no cats ever have owners, of course). And finally, they’re traditionally known as the “good luck cat” which brings good luck to any household they live in.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Phi-chai (Big Brother in Thai) and Nong-chai (you guessed it, Little Brother) were trouble right from the start. I couldn’t open the sliding door to the balcony as they were so skittish they were likely to jump over the rail in pursuit of a passing bird or butterfly. I couldn’t open any of the windows for exactly the same reason: they seemed suicidally determined to take to the skies.
And in the first few days that I left them alone while I went out to work, they managed to wreak havoc in every room, in every space and with every object we owned.
After the first week, I was exhausted cleaning up after them. Roll after roll of toilet paper and kitchen paper reduced to confetti scattered throughout the apartment. Valuable paperwork transformed into a pile of shredded scraps. Tax returns and receipts eaten. Irreplaceable objects pushed off shelves to smash on the polished, now dented, floorboards below. Carefully curated pieces of designer furniture clawed and ripped. My favourite clothes … No, let’s not even go there.
Most worryingly of all, when I came home early from work one day, they’d figured out how to turn on the mixer tap for the bath … and the bathroom had become a paddling pool. If I’d have left the office at the usual time, a tidal wave would have enveloped the entire apartment, buckled the expensive timber floors and doubtless have swept down through all the apartments below.
The problem seems to be that the apartment living doesn’t offer enough variety for these particularly frenzied felines. Most normal cats seem content in such circumstances to eat, play with their human companions for a bit, sleep, eat some more, sleep, play with each other, then sleep for a lot.
These devil cats, however, are far from normal and I can’t help thinking they’d be much better off if we moved to a house. There they could rip up stair carpet to their hearts’ content, climb trees, jump from roof to roof, pee in neighbours’ gardens, chase birds, catch rare and endangered species, and eat everything, and anything, that moves.
Life in the apartment just hasn’t improved over time. The pair seem to work in tandem as a practised dubious duo, like Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or even Kyle and Jackie O, to unleash the maximum mayhem they can.
One keeps watch while the other pries open the pantry, and then ravages every packet of biscuits, box of cereal or edible item not encased in a tough plastic, unbreakable, impenetrable container. One often picks locks as the other stands guard, then both go on the rampage. One works to distract me while I’m cooking so the other can sink its teeth into the chicken, fish, pork … anything left on the kitchen bench while I turn my back for just a milli-second.
Things, predictably, ramped up when we had our first child. The cats at first loved playing in his cot and pushchair but, when he arrived to claim his rightful place in both, they were irritated and annoyed. They vomited all over the carpet of the room we’d prepared as his nursery – we can’t help suspecting deliberately – peed on his bed and bedclothes, and stole his toys.
It makes me laugh when new mums complain of their tiredness with a new baby. That’s nothing compared to two mad apartment-hating cats.
They only started coming round when we pretended our son’s toys were really for them and he was able to sit up in his highchair and fling his food at them. They began thinking of him then as less of an enemy intruder and much more of an accomplice in their tireless quest to gather as much food as they possibly can.
We’ve always loved apartment-living, but some of the shine has been tarnished since the cats arrived. Without being able to use the balcony, open the windows or keep any of the doors to the bathrooms, child’s room or bedrooms open, and with new locks now put on many of the cupboard and wardrobe doors, it can feel stifling, in a way it never has before. Having to hide anything at all important in a sealed container takes away much of the peace of mind of the otherwise high security apartments offer.
Our son has taken to the apartment lifestyle with ease, but the cats take up far more energy than him anyway.
But we have one last tactic to try before we concede defeat and abandon apartment-living forever for life in a house in the suburbs. We’re now trying to teach our baby son to play with the cats to keep them amused for longer and out of trouble.
I’ve taught him already to wave a stick in the air with a piece of wool hanging down for them to chase, which they all find hilarious. He similarly kicks his feet to encourage them to chew off his shoes. And, most endearing to them of all, he still enjoys jettisoning half of every meal onto the floor to keep his buddies happy.
So do I have any advice when choosing a pet to share your apartment? Yes, check out the temperament carefully of your intended animal. And if it’s likely to be problematic, consider having a child in an apartment instead. It’s a lot, lot easier.