Friday, 4 December 2015

The bushy tale of Grace Quirrel and the nutty world of cricket-bat tests

Grace doing her nut on my patio in Manchester
THE garden of my Costa Blanca home is not short of wild life - particularly in the summer.
OK, I can do without the eerie twilight flapping of bats around the turrets of neighbouring houses. And I wasn’t best prepared for the three baby hedgehogs my grandson rescued from the hedgerow as they tried vainly to suckle milk from their lifeless mother.
But the suction-padded lizards that scurry up and down the walls fascinate me. So does the incessant chatter of the crickets or whatever they are (I wonder if they ever play Test matches against the bats?)
Back in September, I felt I was in the Garden of Eden when a litter of tiny feral kittens took temporary tenancy of the bamboo gazebo in my garden. Nevertheless, I have yet to see anything in Guardamar to compare with the urban beauty of my furry friends Grace and Samantha.

Grace Quirrel and Samantha Fox (cringe cringe) took up semi-residency in the back garden of my UK home in Manchester  - and while I only saw them on my increasingly rare visits to Emgland, there are few more beautiful creatures on earth.
The hunting fraternity would no doubt dismiss both species as vermin...and happily rearrange Samantha’s fur into a natty Manc coat. But urban foxes and grey squirrels have become as much a. part of life in the northern ferretlands as flatcaps and black puddings. Even four miles from Manchester city centre.
They get an unintentional helping hand from local councils, too. And the ayuntamiento under which authority my home is unfortunate enough to be sited --  is among the unwitting leaders. There are none of the slick nightly refuse collections we all marvel at in Spain -- it’s once a fortnight if you’re lucky. Providing, that is, you can work out the complicated sequence in which the queue of grey, brown, green and blue bins are emptied. I swear the local bureaucrats have a terrorist supervisor called Bin Over- Laden supervising the colllection crews, who simply don't empty bins whose lid is not fully shut.
Anyway, the council's tardiness means that Grace and Samantha will have bags and bags of goodies for Christmas...courtesy of a garbage-emptying cycle which leaves enough overflowing bins to fill the bellies of an entire colony of wild foxes and squirrels, feral cats and a rat or two-ee.
My only fear is that Grace will become too fat to chase cats (yes, I have witnessed it - you should see her doing her nut!).
Ms Quirrel is already a bit of a pudding, legacy of the unending supply of peanuts chucked out to her through the patio doors by my grandkids. But did you ever see a more beautiful piece of  vermin?

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Dogs don't wash with me - moggies will always be the cat's whiskers

At the risk of being dog-tagged for life as a mutt-hater, I’m sticking to my view that cats make better pets than their canine cousins. With one exception.

Dogs keep you fitter – and the bigger the better. In fact, if you can afford to buy and feed a Pyrenean mountain dog, he’ll be happy to drag you on a double marathon ‘walkies’ over the nearest mountain range – in record time.

Before I came to Spain, my house in Manchester was like a Home for Lost Pussies. So many waifs and strays came and went that I swear our friendly little dog Carrie thought she was a moggy herself.
She was certainly adept at squeezing herself through the cat-flap as a quick means of exit, even if the poor mongrel never quite mastered the art of getting back in unassisted.

Because so much commitment is involved, I’ve not owned a dog since Carrie died aged 15 of a heart condition. However, my love affair with cats purrs along today at my villa near Guardamar, where I have two permanent residents and also spend considerably more on feeding the local stray and feral community than I do on myself. Hence most of them are even more, shall we say, 'rounded' than myself.

I also have my own two black cats, Tommy and Molly, though Molly has her own agenda - she moves in with Barbara and Ross in the next street whenever they are over from England. It might just have something to do with being the centre of attention.

The sad thing is that only two of the 41 villas in my immediate neighbourhood has a regular feline presence. In fact, there are only a handful of dogs as well, which is perhaps the reason our local Spanish vet bought his home slap bang in the middle of us. It's his way of keeping business and pleasure apart.

My biggest worry is what to do with Tommy and Molly if ill health forces me to return to the UK. The obvious thing is to take them with me - but I fear they may have trouble settling in because they can only miaow and purr in Spanish and Catalan. Not to mention the menace of moving to Manx-chester, the city which gave its name to cats with no tails.

Equally, there are residents who actually believe that feeding feral cats encourages an infestation of vermin. The reality is that where there are cats, there are unlikely to be rats. In fact, any roaming rodent that wanders into the vicinity of Tiddles’ mouth is likely to become rat-atouille in an instant.

In my last article on dogs and cats, I gave you chapter and verse on doggy poo and the filthy creatures which deposit and leave it as the staple diet for the soles of our shoes. I wish someone would invent incontinence pants for out-of-control growlers (that’s roughly 93 per cent of all dogs, by my reckoning) and with it redefine the expression ‘’doggy-bag’’.

I must emphasise here that a ‘’catty bag’’ is not the feline equivalent of a doggy bag, but a label one might put on a spiteful female of the human variety. I’m told that efforts were once made to breed a cross between a cat and a dog known as a ‘’catty bitch’’ but the animal was so venomous that scientists abandoned the project.

More seriously, cats are considerably less trouble than dogs. To start with, they never need a bath (just try giving them one and you may well get your head ripped off). They spend half their lives washing their body, legs and tail with their own saliva – and the other half trying to paw it all onto the top of their head, the one place their tongue can’t reach.

While Tiddles always washes herself, all Fido much prefers to wash YOUR face, hands, feet with a giant moist tongue that is as soft as a cat’s is rough. Keeping Fido himself clean is a major operation. The best bet is probably to plonk him in the bath under a warm shower, though that is a bit of a gamble in itself. He’ll either love it or make a dash for safety, leaving the entire house three inches deep in water on his romp to the open front door – and thence to the nearest garden wall for a mega-sniff of his pals’ doggy wee.

Unlike Fido and his mates, cats will also control their motions almost indefinitely. If there is ANY way Tiddles can avoid messing in the house, she will. I had one amazing female cat who, having sussed out the sewage system and knowing she’d fall off the seat if she tried to use the loo, always urinated in the bath. And immediately over the plughole, too. That’s what I call a well-drained pet (the puns get even worse!)

Every moggy will head instinctively for the great outdoors when nature calls. Tiddles’ biggest failure here is that she tends not to look while she is burying her poo. She prefers to whirl round and round kicking soil, gravel and defecation into the air.

The end product is often a mound of soil topped by a modicum of No.2 – perfect for Fido to stick his nose in next time he comes back from soiling the neighbourhood streets.
Yet overall, and despite my own bias, it seems that animal lovers generally prefer dogs – but only just. A survey of 3,000 people in the UK found that 31% cent of households owned dogs and 26% cats.
All I can say is that if people are happy combining walkies with cleaning up their dogs’ runnies, that is their business. Personally, I’d rather settle down with my cats and watch our favourite film.

The Mog-nificent Seven.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Cats and dogs: A tongue-in-poo look at our pets' habits

I love cats more than any other animal. They are to me the most mysterious, fascinating and wonderful creatures on earth. Not only can they read your mind, they can also manipulate it to  their own advantage.

That's the voice of 40 years of cat ownership speaking. Oh, and I didn't own any of my moggies - they owned me.
From Fluffy to Thatcher, from Geoffrey to Henry and from Lucky to Sooty, I was THEIR pet, not the reverse. If it didn't suit them to live in my home, they'd have been off like a flash to appoint some other purr soul as honorary daily food-and-milk supplier. (That's Geoffrey in the picture, by the way. His full name is Geoffrey Boycat - cricket fans may remember him!).
Some of us are cat people, some dog people and some, like me,  care for both. Only we usually have a preference and in my household cats have always held the edge.
To start with, they allow their owner more independence. If you're not around for a few days, it doesn't really matter as long as someone is there to feed them. Leave a dog on  its own for two days and you're not only in serious trouble with the animal authorities, the poor mutt will also have moped itself into a candidate for the canine nuthouse.
IT'S ALL IN THE NAME: My cat Geoffrey (Geoffrey Boycat to give him his full name)
Then there is the cleanliness issue. Dogs love to pepper their noses with  the ghastliest of savouries left for them by their fellow barkers. The browner and smellier the better for Fido and his pals, and the worse for those of us whose shoes squelch the stink into our  rugs and carpets when we get home. From my experience, there's nothing more frustrating  than trying to house-train a  puppy. It will pee and poo to order providing you let it out a minimum of 250 times a day. But pop out yourself for five minutes and you open the door on your return to a mound of doggy dung and a floor awash with a ship-load of urine.
The yelps when Little Poo  is left momentarily on its own are bad enough. But they are nothing to the yelps of human anger that boom into the stratosphere when Mr and Mrs Owner discover what poochie was up to while they were out of the room.
Yet to a dog lover, those Close Encounters of the T*rd Kind are all acceptable in exchange for the pure, uncomplicated love you are guaranteed in return for just being there. Who cares that Fido spends all day rolling in mud, urine, vomit and the faeces of every animal on earth? It only takes a couple of hours to clean him up - and then those luscious licks and doggy hugs make it all worthwhile.
Unless, like me, you're already so browned off by those pooper bloopers that you've vowed never to have a dog again.
Cats are a complete contrast. House-trained before they've ever seen a house, all a kitten needs is a litter tray and it will wee and poo  into it ad infinitum. Mind you, removing the hail of stones that hurtle around the house in mini-puss's attempts to  bury the residue with its lethal back feet can take twice as long as clearing up after any untrained puppy.
Moggies also need no  teaching when it comes to cleaning themselves. And thereby hangs another tale - plus body, head and legs.  Before you  know it, puss has licked herself  bald and is coughing up a two-ton hair ball. You rush her to the vet thinking she's on her last legs but fear not...they all do it.
Unless, like my Molly, the furry one suffers from feline asthma and vomits up nothing but wheeze.
If your cat is a Tom, then you have another problem or three. First and worst is his territory spraying, and the pungent, difficult-to-remove smell it creates. Then there's his sexual appetite, which he'll inevitably impose on all the local moggettes - accompanied by a cat's chorus loud enough to drown out a 30-piece orchestra.
The solution to that one is simple. Have Tiger Tom snipped in the bud when he's a few months old and the spraying and s****ing will be a thing of the past.
If you have a dog, you will of course need to take it for walks. Unless you are a lazy bitch like one or two of my friends - and end up with a mutt that's even fatter than its owner. In such instances, at least fatso and her pet won't need a pooper scooper to clean up the dog mess, though not that many people seem to bother if the pavements in my locality at El Raso are anything to go by.
People not clearing up the mess left by their dogs in public places is a big problem everywhere. But here's a question for you: If you saw a threatening-looking yob's pit-bull pooing outside your home and he didn't clean up the mess (the yob, not the pitbull), what would you do?
If your answer is 'nothing', score a brownie point for honesty.
Cat-walking is strictly for models, of course. But at the end of the day, you'll shack up with the pet that suits YOU, whether it be a dog, cat, rabbit, kangaroo or a 15-foot crocodile. My 15-year-old grandson would happily have the lot - particularly if the croc came with a guarantee to eat his sister.
As for me, I'll stick with my two moggies back home in Guardamar. Even if I will be at my wits end hoping they are OK while I spend Christmas and the New Year with my family in Manchester. Don't worry, while I am away some good friends will be feeding them both - along with the neighbourhood's feral community who regard me as their meal ticket. 
They all used to be straggly. Now they are verging on obese - but at least none of them is pregnant. None of the males, that is.

If only they could speak English, I'd have shipped them all to the Isle of Manx. Now thereby hangs a tail...

PS. Question: What do you call a brown Spanish cat? Answer - a chocolate gato.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Am I spending too much on feeding my cats? Why aye, pet!

DO you ever wonder whether cats and dogs have the power of speech but keep shtum to avoid being put to work?
Food bills are a pet problem in Casa Donna, which is why I spend half my life lugging trolleyloads of animal grub around Mercadona.
I’m convinced my cats understand both Spanish and English as well as their own un-purr-nouncable language. Catatonic, I think it’s called.
The whiskered ones are also as foxy as Basil Brush. They know that the moment they utter a recognisible word, I’ll have them working as interpreters to help pay the mogg-age.
So they just eat, sleep and play while muggins seeks ways of claiming animal meals allowance.
Tom and Dick...don't ask me which is which!
It's not so much the cost of feeding my black beauties, Tom, Dick and Molly (Molly's the odd one out in every way). A menagerie of feral visitors have also adopted the cat flap in my scullery door as an access point to a never-ending supply of edible gold.
Molly is the one exception. She doesn't do cat flaps, queues or being nice to other creatures.
''Cat flaps hurt my head,'' is her lame excuse (she’s also got arthritis in her legs).
''That's surprising since there's nothing inside your head,'' is my answer. ''And you've just given away the fact you can talk. Here are the car keys - go and do the shopping.''
Some hope. Molly is as bad as the rest of them. Just wants to sleep all day, eat all night, and spend the in-between time cleaning herself. It makes me lick (sick as well) that while the cats laze about, I fork out at least 50 euros a week to keep them in the luxury they demand.
So I was staggered to discover a while back that my friends Mark and Judith Heyes were spending only HALF that amount on food for their TWENTY-TWO pets.
The Guardamar garage owner and his wife were at that time their La Marina finca with three dogs, six cats and three kittens, plus 10 exotic creatures including a Vietnamese pot-belly pig, a tarantula, two bearded dragons and a toad.
Mark Heyes with Roxy
And Judith insisted the total weekly bill to feed all of them came to just 25 euros. Clearly I’ve gone wrong somewhere, or my cat colony is even cleverer than I thought.
 Back in the Heyes finca, son Jack was keeping a supply of crickets padded up to bat against bearded dragons Dane and Athena. in a game the insects could not win.  Most were going in feet first and perish LBC (leg before cricket, that is.
Add to Lola's website Charlie the Vietnamese pot-belly pig, tortoises Fred and Wilma, terrapin Crusty and toad Todmandu, and they were hosting the embryo of a mini visitors' centre which could benefit animal charities as well as entertain inquisitive youngsters.
Mark and Judith discovered the animal within long before they moved from Tyneside to Spain in 2002. Back in South Shields, their pets included three Great Danes and a snake.
Mark owned a garage in South Shields for 15 years before relocating to Spain and establishing himself as a top mobile mechanic in this part of the Costa Blanca.
He set up the Performance & Diesel Centre in 2007At home in La Marina, it was already raining cats and dogs, not to mention pigs and toads, as the pet colony heaed for saturation point.
Says Judith: ''Having built up his reputation as a mobile mechanic. Mark decided he needed a base to work from, other than our garden!.
''So he found a large unit in Guardamar  which is now equipped with four vehicle lifts, latest diagnostic equipment, and everything you need to run a successful business.
‘It’s worked out very well for us. But you’re spending too much on your cat food, pet.’’

Monday, 19 October 2015

Bizarre but true: The night my psychic dog gambled with her life

I love both cats and dogs – with a marginal preference for moggies. And that’s because they have cleaner habits than poo-ches, whose noses should be avoided at all costs because you know exactly where they have been.

Anything clean and healthy is not to be sniffed at as far as Fido and his pals are concerned. Far better to savour the pungent pong of canine excreta at any opportunity and then lick the residue lovingly into their owner's face.

Some dogs, however, are extra special. Like Carrie, who was my best friend for 15 years until I found her frozen body on the back doorstep of our home in Manchester one frosty winter morning. But more of that later.

Carrie was a small sandy mongrel with white markings – probably a whippet cross because she hared across the local park so rapidly that I swear she overtook herself half way across!

She was around two years old when we inherited her from our younger daughter’s best friend, who was moving abroad with her family. We already had a couple of cats and whilst initially Carrie and the moggies treated each other with caution, they quickly became great mates and indeed would often snuggle together in a basket at bedtime.

A few years earlier we had invested a large sum in a pedigree Irish setter puppy and inherited nothing but trouble and stress. Our attempts to house train the beautiful but highly-strung creature were a disaster to the point that visitors had difficulty working out which room was the toilet.

With the the red setter in grave danger of becoming a dead setter at the hands of her furious owners, something clearly had to give. And Beauty of Belhaven duly bounded off with her new owners six weeks later as the entire neighbourhood breathed a huge sigh of relief.

With Carrie it was entirely different. Calm and good natured, she was nothing like as excitable as Beauty. And she never had to ask to go out to do her business – she would squeeze her body though the cat-flap, albeit with some difficulty, and then squeeze back in when she had finished.

When we went out, we’d take her with us virtually everywhere and she adored sitting on the back seat looking out of the rear window. What she saw and how it affected her we had no idea – until one night when she demonstrated a sixth sense that was truly uncanny.

Perhaps once a fortnight my other half and I would have a meal at a casino three or four miles from home – and we’d occasionally take Carrie for the ride. We’d leave her in the car under the supervision of the car-park attendant while we dined and had a quick spin on the roulette table.

Carrie had been to the casino no more than three or four times – and always in the car, her eyes focused on the road behind as we headed towards our destination, and then home a couple of hours later.

One night, we went as a family to a restaurant for a meal, leaving the dog at home with the cats. When we got back, Carrie had disappeared but we weren’t overly concerned. Presumably she’d just gone out for a wee and a wander.

Then the phone rang. ‘‘Hello, this is the Salford Albion Casino,’’ said the voice on the other end.

‘‘Do you have a dog called Carrie?’’ Cue panic – and the thought that something dreadful had happened to the dog. ‘‘Yes, we do,’’ I replied nervously. ‘‘Well, she’s here wandering around. The parking attendant recognised her. We got her name and your number off her name tag.’’

I was flabbergasted. She had obviously gone looking for us, but how on earth had she got there? I mean the casino was several miles away, across at least a couple of main roads including the busy A56. And she could not possibly have followed a scent because she had only been there in the back of a car.

As we drove to the casino to collect Carrie, the only explanation we could come up with was that she had somehow remembered the route, even though she had never been there on foot and therefore could not have picked up a trail. Or could she? Who knows what goes on inside a dog’s brain – and how many extra senses they possess?

It’s 15 years or so since Carrie died that fateful December day. Fifteen years old and suffering from a heart complaint, I guess she had squeezed out through the cat flap during the night to do a wee, and suffered a fatal coronary attack as she tried to get back in.

She went to meet St Bernard at the Furry Gates still carrying the secret of her mysterious trek to the casino that remarkable night. Indeed, to this day I have no explanation how she found her way there.

Carrie gambled with her life i n that bizarre trek to the casino on highly-dangerous roads that night. And with her courageous if unnecessary mission to find us, she won even more of our love. RIP, little one.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Manchester United mews exclusive - twin Spanish targets fear flying fur

I DREAMT last night that I was a lost moggy wandering among the street cats of inner-city Manchester.
I was the only one with a tail.
These guys weren’t Manx cats. They were Manc brats. Street fighters with a bit of Irish in them, like comic legend Korky the Kat.
They spent most of the dream  singing Mewchester United songs dedicated to their troll model, Catty from Cork. I think he's the sourpuss-in-boots that all Mew-nited fans idolise. The one that humans call  Roy Keane.
The only subject the dream cats wanted to miaow about was furball.
I heard so much of it that the pun cushion that used to be my brain is under threat from a cat’s chorus of chants about Alex Fur-gone's son, or whatever his name is.
Personally, I prefer to remember the days when Denis Paw was top cat around those parts.
Anyway, my street-cat dream (more of a nightmare really) was triggered by a desire to spend more time with my family in the UK.
I have to decide whether to take Tom and Dick, my twin black gatos, with me to England – or try to find a new  home for them here In Spain.
Tom and Dick: Would they settle in England? 
They have no language problems here, but Keith, my cousin's moggy in Manchester, reckons they’ll need to be wary of the locals.
Otherwise they might find themselves missing an ear or an eye. Or walking on anything between one and three legs.
Keith’s local street-cat clan call themselves the Kitty Kitty Gang Bang.  They are certainly no Pads Army - apart, perhaps from scabby tabby  Fur-Gus, who has all his limbs but is perpetually legless.
Keith (who is not a boy, by the way), says things have changed for the worse for local felines over the last 30 years.
She recalls: “In my great-great-great-grandparents’ day, the Manc cat community had some fur-midable role models. I mean, who can forget the likes of Moggy Thatcher and Geoffrey Boycat?’’
These days the only ‘greeting’ the Kitty Gang give to strangers consists of a two-word description of a hair ball.
All I can say is that it sounds very much like 'Fur cough'.
The real nightmare begins if that smattering of local lingo does not have the desired effect. The smattering becomes a battering and the ears and legs start to come off.
That clinches it. The boys are staying in Spain.