The story of a cat

When I was 20 years old, my family got a cat. We'd been strictly a small-animal household up to that point, ranging from goldfish and stick insects to gerbils and rabbits, one of whom was still with us. The cat was a slightly off-the-cuff decision; someone at work was selling some accidental kittens and we sort of said to each other, "Shall we... Shall we get a cat?" And then we did. He is black and white, and a bit fluffier than he looks, and he completely changed our lives.

As a relatively recently-formed blended family we suddenly had a common goal, a shared focus outside of ourselves, and a new member of the family we were all equally related to. For a while it was just the cat, but as we adapted to medium-sized mammal husbandry we quickly cracked under my sister's lifelong campaign and got a puppy. He is also black and white, he's a cocker spaniel, and he's the most beautiful dog in the world. After a while, we thought he might like a companion. On balance we were probably wrong about that, but for the last 6 years he's had a little adopted spaniel brother to, well, largely ignore. He is black (are you sensing a theme?), a bit smaller, and the cutest dog in the world. They're somewhat reluctant friends but I like to think they enjoy each other's company... sometimes.

At that, one cat and two dogs, we thought we were complete. However, one day - completely out of the blue - my brother said he was adopting a cat. He was living at home with our mum at the time and sure enough he brought home a black cat from our local cat rescue centre. She was a tiny little thing, fully-grown but minute, about a year old, with a mysteriously blank back story. We didn't even know if she was a stray or had previously had an unsuitable home. 'Nervous' wouldn't do justice to her temperament when she arrived. Her huge green-yellow eyes were permanent saucers, taking in everything she possibly could, constantly on the lookout for potential dangers, like a creaking door or a rustling plastic wrapper, to send her hurtling to the nearest bolt-hole.

Tears were shed on several occasions, by several different people, when she seemingly went missing for hours at a time, only to be located in the smallest air pocket at the back of a wardrobe or just to saunter into the room, her whereabouts never to be discovered at all. Her three rowdy big brothers weren't much help - the other cat (who is literally double her size) was by turns afraid and belligerent, often swiping at her uselessly around corners and from safe vantage points, not exactly a threat but certainly not a friend either. The little dog was apt to chase her when he spotted her coming too close, but she could move like lightning, turning tail and climbing the stairs out of reach in a split second - and he never stood a chance. The bigger dog, sweet-natured and much calmer, would greet her with a nose-touch when she let him and otherwise paid her little attention.

Over time, and I mean years, she grew braver and braver, settling into her life with us. She and the other cat established their territories - basically she won the upstairs and the hallway, he won the kitchen downstairs and the garden and lands beyond. Our first cat was clamouring to explore the outside world long before he was big enough, getting incredibly grumpy if he was kept in for any reason, but she never seemed to want to leave. We weren't told by the rescue centre to keep her indoors particularly, but she would sit at open doorways looking out and never really venturing through. There was the time she fell out of the first-floor window to land, unharmed and undignified, in the bushes below, but we're pretty certain that was accidental! We (perhaps sentimentally) assumed that in her former life she'd had her fill of fresh air and once she'd found a safe home there was nothing more she needed to discover.

The landing and the hallway was her domain. The other animals were kept away from the front door when we went out, so the first one to greet you when you walked in would be her tiny face and huge eyes poking out between the banisters, squeaking a friendly welcome. Where our big male cat has a classic loud 'meow', she had a smaller but no less communicative voice. She could squeak a meow but she would also chirp in delight, or let out an accidental purr/meow/chirp combination when she couldn't quite decide.

Her being an indoor cat meant she was always around, somewhere. She hated being picked up but loved being around people, if you had time to wait for it to be on her terms. Her favourite thing was joining you in bed - especially if you really had somewhere to be that morning - and finding the highest point to settle into, like a bended knee, or a precarious hipbone. You could try to shift her by rolling over and she would just recentre herself as you moved around, keeping you pinned down in an adorably featherlight trap.

As such a homebody, it was easy to forget that she still had thousands of years of killer instinct in her blood, but she had a habit of reminding us every so often. If ever a hapless moth or crane fly made it into the house somehow, their life expectancy could reliably be reduced to about 30 seconds. Her saucer eyes would lock in, she'd wiggle her little bum and she'd snatch it right out of the air as it flew past. Her mightiest conquest was the time she took down an enormous hornet by herself... Or maybe the time she walked through my birthday party dangling a jumbo sausage roll from her jaws, the way a lion carries a tragic baby zebra. We were so vigilant at keeping the big brave boy cat away from the buffet but we never dreamed she would dare to venture downstairs into a loud party full of people. I guess the call of the sausage roll was too strong for her to resist, and, honestly, same.

A few months ago, we found out she was sick, very sick. We made the hard decision to try to help her live as long as possible while she was still happy and enjoying life. It's been a really tough few months, but there have been wonderful moments along the way. Over this long, hot summer we had, she suddenly developed wanderlust. My mum would send me unbelievable pictures of her exploring the garden that had been there all along. She became bolder than ever - this cat who never much cared for food was actually stealing dogfood out from under their noses! Making sure she was eating enough was vital for her wellness, so we were feeding her all the fanciest cat foods she was never allowed before and she was picking out all her favourite pieces and leaving the rest scattered on the floor in her wake. Our motto was that she should 'go down like a princess', so she became the most indulged, most well-cared-for and most completely loved cat you could imagine.

Last week it seemed like she was no longer able to be her old self, or even as close to it as she had been managing in recent months, so it seemed like it was time to say goodbye, which all the (magical, amazing, fantastic) vets agreed with. It was very, very sad, and it will be for a while, but it was the right thing to do.

So now we're back to our three beloved boys, like we were before she fell into our lives via my brother's wonderfully questionable decision-making. Her time with us was far too short, but it was perfect. She taught me about patience as a gift to others who might need it, the beautiful rewards of perseverance and that it's never too late to take those first few steps you always wondered about. If you think that sounds a bit too grandiose for one little cat, well, maybe you never got to meet Hattie.