One of the biggest sacrifices I have made, with my decision to pack up and see the world while working abroad, is the loss of having a cat in my life.
Cats are a serious responsibility and a long-term commitment. I should know, having spent nearly eighteen years grounded in the UK because two beautiful cats owned me. While thinking about emigration to Australia I baulked, because my older cat was getting too elderly and cats – let’s be honest – are not very welcome in Australia. I couldn’t see myself putting them through a very gruelling journey and quarantine conditions, only to keep them shut up at the other end. So I stayed put.
That’s not to say I didn’t travel. I spent three months travelling around Australia and made several other long trips whilst a pet owner. But I had a wonderful support system of cat sitters and a comfortable home for the cats to live in. I wasn’t up-rooting them or leaving them uncared for. And truthfully, cats don’t need a great deal of looking after as long as they have food, water and a cat flap. They can almost look after themselves!
But now I’m abroad and I find I can’t, in all conscience, accept responsibility for a cat again. The temporary nature of my position; the school-supplied accommodation on the 19th floor of an apartment building; the fact that I am in a place where I can go out and explore the far reaches of South East Asia with great ease, make that commitment a no-no.
And I miss it. I miss being greeted at the door with an indignant cry of ‘where the hell have you been? Where’s my dinner?’ I long for the additional weight on the pillow that pins me into the same position all night, whilst being lulled to sleep by the comforting purr of loving companions. I miss tripping over furry friends and having someone – who truthfully doesn’t give a damn – to tell my day to, just so that I can get it all off my chest. I miss the affection and rejection a cat gives; their contrary nature; their serenity.
I see the odd cat around the neighbourhood but they are flighty, unfriendly and frankly, not very beautiful. Runny eyes and stubby tails indicate a life away from humans that make any solace from them extremely unlikely. Still, I do the mad cat lady thing and have a chat with them anyway. They just blink at me from a distance, usually in a distrustful crouch, ready to escape if I make any kind of movement.
The next best thing is dogs. My boss has a tiny Yorkie who comes to work with her. I cuddle that dog at every opportunity and will greet her before I talk to anyone else! But I do feel this is slightly disloyal as a lifelong cat fanatic.
So, I rely on social media as a way of enjoying the complex nature of cat ownership, without the commitment. Simon’s Cat animations on Youtube, Buzz-Feed mash-ups, Tom Cox and his SadCat; anything that makes me laugh, cry or nod in understanding, to fill the gnawing absence that I feel every day. But it’s not much of a fix, I can tell you.
I even have a Tigger, velvet soft and the size of a small cat, which accompanies me to sleep at night. It helps, a little, but it’s not quite the same thing. Nothing is.