"Pedigree cats!" sniffed mother-in-law, when I bought a pair called Sweetie and Bawls (real name King of Navalee). "If you want to start breeding why not try kids?" I treated that remark with the silence it deserved and went out to buy a book on "How to Breed Persians."
The breeding game seemed simple enough I reasoned naively - just a matter of putting the two cats together and letting nature take over. I chortled at the thought of endless kitttens at $80 each. I'd actually hit upon a paying hobby while at the same time enjoying myself. How innocent I was. How ignorant of the facts of life!
Sweetie, the cream coloured female of the pair proved to be a difficult creature. She knew she was better than the ordinary mog. and showed it with a mile long pedigree. With a disposition as venomous as a death adder she ruled me and my husband with iron paws. At the slightest intrusion on her privacy, such as a timid attempt to pat or stroke, she wiped her claws ruthlessly down the back of my hand leaving a two inch trail in glorious technicolour.
"Daily grooming" the cat book pointed out "was a must for Persians." The author, who'd obviousoly never known Sweetie or others of her ilk, waffled on about how puss really enjoyed the process - purring with delight and playing gently with the comb. That was a laugh. Sweetie (heaven knows why they named her that) took off at the first sight of a comb, and had to be retrieved at great risk to life and limb, from under the sofa.
Grooming was definitely a job for two. With Sweetie yelling maniacally and clawing at every available part of us, we would hang on in desperation - blood splattered and grim. When we'd laboriously demolished the knots on her back we'd turn her tummy side up. This was the signal for the loudest shrieks of all, especially if we tampered with her tail. When finished she'd sit on the floor, a picture of silken beauty and growl furiously to herself for at least an hour.
When spring approached Sweetie let it be known loud and clear that she was ready for kittens. Tom-cats arrived in droves. A mangy ear-bitten lot, they watched Sweetie covetously through the netting of her cage. Bad temper forgotten, she flirted with them outrageously, and many and bloody were the battles for her unprocurable favours.
"You will know when your female is ready to mate," said the book "by her vociferous calling and the presence of alien toms." The conditions seemed right and so did Sweetie. I presented her with great expectations to Bawls the pedigree tom. Kittens at last, I thought with glee. I couldn't wait to play with the little darlings and they would all get wonderful homes.
I should have known better. Bawls was as scared of her as we were. At her unprecedented advances to him he cringed visibly. When she managed to corner him at the end of the cage and rolled before him in a shameless show of exhibitionism, emitting howls of passion, he desperately tried to claw his way out of the cage. After two days of this and another glance at the book which prophesied gloomily about what could be wrong with a virgin pedigree tom I took Bawls to the vet.
The vet examined the cat minutely and pronounced him as sturdy and virile a tom as he'd seen. "After all," he explained to me delicately, "humans are fussy about their mates, why not cats?"
It was plain the vet had no love for Sweetie. I noticed with guilt that he was unconsciously rubbing the newly healed scar on the back of his hand, a relic from Sweetie in an earlier fray.
When Sweetie next showed signs of unrequited love I was ready for her. Ignoring her protesting yells I tossed her in a cage and had her flown up north. The owner of the northern tom had assured me his cat knew all about fractious females. "Hercules will fix her," he said. I wondered a little, after all the man hadn't met Sweetie, but then who was I, a mere beginner to the breeding game, to question a seasoned breeder of twenty years?
She arrived back later the same week battered .... and virginal! The note from the northerner was terse and conveyed the message in no uncertain terms. Sweetie had been unco-operative, had mangled his tom occasioning veterinary attention, and he didn't want her back. The clouds of depression settled heavily upon me. "Frustration for a young unmated female cat was particularly bad" quoth the book. "It could even give her a life-long complex." I searched New Zealand for a co-operative cream tom and the telephone bill mounted nightly. I needn't have bothered. Sweetie in the throes of nature's strongest force wriggled out of the cage through a hole in the netting which would have baffled a mouse. She spent a night of wild abandonment with a harem of toms and made enough racket to permanently impair good neighbour relations.
She never did have kittens, not even illegitimate ones. Although she swelled up alarmingly over the next nine weeks - nothing happened. The book had the answer. "Sometimes," it said with nauseating truth, "frustrated females have false pregnancies." "Frustrated - really!!"
I gave up after that and had her speyed. The vet was quite chummy when I picked her up - considering that she'd sideswiped his arm while he was administering the anaesthetic. "It's a dicey business, breeding animals," he told me as he handed back Sweetie with obvious relief (she was growling softly). "I'm glad you've given up the game," he said.
I smiled slowly. My new Chihuahua bitch was an absolute beaut, and I couldn't wait to get home to read my new book: "How to Breed Dogs."