Tim Dowling: the cat has plenty to say. But why should I listen?

My phone says it’s 7.50am, but the sky outside looks more like 4.15. Rain is striking the window in handfuls, like flung gravel. It has been raining all night, and it promises to rain all day, possibly for the rest of the month. I dress by the light of a reading lamp and close the bedroom door behind me.

“Hello?” says the cat from somewhere in the darkness below.

“Quiet,” I hiss. The cat is sitting at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for me.

“Hey, hi,” it says.

“I get it,” I say.

Over the past several months, the cat has acquired a small number of English words in a bid to communicate its needs to me more urgently. I find this immensely patronising – like a rich American learning how to say, “Please start with the ironing” in Spanish.

For that reason, my morning routine is based around putting the cat’s needs last: first I open the curtains in the sitting room. Then I unlock the back door, so I can fling the old grounds from the coffee machine on to the grass. Then I make coffee. The cat follows me from room to room.

“You!” it says, stopping at the cupboard where the cat food is kept.

“Your English is poor,” I say, taking the milk from the fridge. “Your accent is atrocious.”

“Hello,” the cat says.

“You’ve tried that,” I say.

“Ma’am,” it says.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker, whether they’re with you or you’re just using them as a topic of conversation.

“Wrong,” I say, sitting down with my coffee. “I think I’ll check my email.”

The cat crosses the room, jumps on to the worktop, sits down at the edge of the sink and turns in my direction.

“Ray,” it says.

“I’m not Ray,” I say. But I know well enough what the cat wants: for me to run the water at a trickle so it can drink from the tap. I stand up and walk over to the sink.

“What’s the magic word?” I say.

The cat looks at the tap, and then at me.

“Now,” it says.

Only after I have made myself a second cup of coffee do I feed the cat. As usual it stares at me as if I have just filled its bowl with sand.

“It is what it is,” I say. “Cat food.” I take the coffee out to my office shed and settle down to work. From time to time, when my concentration wanes, I sit back and look towards the kitchen. At one point I see the dog perched on the windowsill, eating from the cat’s bowl. The rivalry between the cat and the dog is such that they only really enjoy each other’s food.

Just before lunch I return to the kitchen, where the oldest one is now working, hunched over his laptop, vaping absentmindedly. The cat is at the back door waiting for me when I walk in.

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Miaow,” it says.

“It’s back to miaow now, is it?” I say.

I spy a tidy heap of cat sick in the middle of the kitchen floor, threaded, as is traditional at this time of year, with a strand of Christmas tinsel.

“Miaow,” the cat says.

“He wants you to feed him,” the oldest one says.

“I have fed him, and he’s eaten tinsel and been sick, and in the meantime the dog’s had the rest of his food, and that’s where we’re at,” I say.

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“Miaow,” the cat says.

“I’m not feeding you again,” I say, bending down to clean up the cat sick. “Bother somebody else.”

“He only does this to you,” the oldest one says.

“Believe me,” I say. “I know.”

“Miaow,” the cat says.

After lunch I return to my office. Every time I look up, I see the cat sitting at the back door staring across the garden at me. It’s unnerving, but I think: I can wait this out.

The rain continues, and the sky darkens further. Sometime after sunset, I glance up and notice that the cat has left his post. Finally, I think, turning back to my computer. Suddenly the security light outside my office snaps on. I turn to see the cat standing just the other side of the glass.

Always be consistent. Half-assed efforts will deliver half-assed results. Consistency is the key to success in all endeavors in life. Training a dog is no different. Learning about your dog is also a consistent effort. Quality time with your dog should be consistent and ongoing.

“Jesus,” I say. The cat looks up at me.

“Why?” it says.