So should we remove the ‘catness’ from our cats?

SO LUCY, do you think we could remove a bit of your ‘catness?’ I only ask because you do like attacking baby birds. It’s not really necessary as we provide ample amounts of foul-smelling food in tins and those funny fish-shaped biscuits you only eat if you are really hungry. Mostly they are pushed out of the way and scattered on the floor as you go scarfing for meat.

Where under your white fur, which incidentally is to be found all around the house, and on us too, do you keep that awkward genetic knot? If we knew we’d have you off down the vets in a jiffy.

But don’t fret for you are too long in the sharp tooth for all that. As perhaps are we. Your irreducible feline core is safe from intrusion.

The question of whether or not we should modify cats so that in the future they no longer attack birds received a lot of attention earlier this week. Our cat was on her phone, skimming all the stories and growling. Then she gave me a look which could be translated as: cats hunt birds, get over it.

Dr John Bradshaw is a feline behaviour expert, something he shares with most cat owners. The Bristol University academic told the Cheltenham Science Festival this week that domestic cats could be genetically engineered to remove their hunting instinct. Our cat bolted out the door when she read that bit, yowling: “You can keep your hands off my primitive urges.”

She didn’t stay around long enough to read the part where Dr Bradshaw said that the domestic cat’s propensity to hunt is probably determined by only 15 or 20 genes. If these genes could be identified, they could be removed to enable the breeding of more emollient animals.

“Emollient!” said Lucy, slinking back into the conservatory after chasing away the black and white cat that had been taunting her all day. “Emollient my furry bottom!”

Dr Bradshaw told the festival: “The distaste we have towards blood and flesh and death – most people don’t like it. If people become more offended by cats bringing prey into their home, then fewer people will want to have cats.”

He felt this was a shame as cats were such fascinating animals, and he did worry about our pets losing some of their ‘catness’ in the process.

Now I have always been outvoted when it comes to pets. So far the family democracy has resulted in ownership of a hamster or two, a couple of guinea pigs and two cats.

We’ve had Lucy for a few years now, after her predecessor died quite young – never to be replaced, according to my grieving wife, until approximately two weeks later when she was. Lucy is a pretty cat and affectionate, too; she seeks out company and greets family and strangers alike with purring equanimity.

She survived a bad accident once. Having disappeared all night, she came limping back in the rain, soaked and suffering a badly injured paw, possibly caused by colliding with a bicycle pedal, according to the vet. We feared she might be reduced to a three-legged cat after that, but Lucy recovered well enough to continue chasing down her unnecessary prey. We often find tiny dead mice near the house, and once discovered a lifeless rat on the lawn, which might have been put there by Lucy.

I guess we can cope with that, but the birds are something else. It is terrible to discover dead birds and to know that your cat was responsible. So when Lucy goes to that furry sofa in the sky, she won’t be replaced (the cat has just put her paws over her rather large ears). We shall have a bird table instead.

Dr Bradshaw says that cats do unnecessary damage to wildlife, adding: “We need to reserve those hunting territories for wild predators because they have nowhere else to go, whereas our cats have full nutrition.”

Ours certainly does, but still she asks for more. She gives you a look which we cat experts can translate as: “If you don’t provide me with adequate supplies of smelly meat, I shall go outside and chase one of those fluffy little birds you profess to so love.”

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