Last week, I had my darling boy cat Darcy put to sleep after a brief battle with an aggressive terminal cancer. After 15 years of love, companionship, derring do with squirrels and hilarity, it was an agonising but right decision to make.
As so many of my friends loved him too, I posted a somewhat devastated Facebook update later that day saying he'd passed away, illustrated with a few favourite photos of him and his twin sister Eartha, who died last year.
However, on more than one occasion since in the comments, I have been disparagingly called a 'crazy cat lady', albeit in a supposedly jokey manner. It might seem like a minor thing to you, but I am sick to the back teeth of the thinly-veiled, pervading misogyny when it comes to women who keep pets - particularly cats.
Darcy, right, and Eartha pictured together last year
Just because I am a single woman who happens to like animals, I get this kind of sexism all the bloody time. A man in similar circumstances would never be described in this way.
I know many single men who have or have had cats. Are they ever called 'crazy cat men?' Are they chuff. Oh no, they're seen as caring, sensitive sorts who will make great partners because they love and care for their cat buddy (or buddies). Some 90% of women agree.
The implication of course is that a 'crazy cat lady' is a barren old spinster, who will be permanently single because she treats her feline charges as 'fur babies', probably dresses them up for fun (if she can avoid getting her eyes scratched out, cats are not fans of fancy dress) and has a squalid flat overrun with moggies and mouldy tins of Whiskas. That they are doomed to grow old with a purple rinse, hobbling up and down the high street with a trolley overloaded with cat litter, stinking of cat piss. That they are waiting to die alone so their feline charges can nibble away at their corpses until the authorities are called because of the smell.
But with men? Even back in late Eighties, at the height of macho culture, there was a famous advert featuring a hunky bloke waking up one weekend to realise he's run out of milk for his cat's breakfast, so he dashes to the nearest Halifax cashpoint to get some money. Milk bought, back in his trendy apartment, he settles back with his happy feline friend on his lap to read the papers to the tune of Easy Like Sunday Morning. He was depicted as the ultimate modern man - women swooned, men wanted to go down the pub with him. His cat probably got diarrhoea though, what with cats being lactose intolerant. Hope he bought some extra litter too.
And nowadays, a bloke like Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick is portrayed (rightfully) as a hero, despite dedicating his life totally to his fluffy charges, both feline and canine. A single man, he calls his dog Keira his 'little fluffy wife.' Whither the 'crazy dog man' label?
Russell Brand famously took his cat Morrissey with him when he moved to Los Angeles as he loved him so much. Ricky Gervais has even given his cat Ollie his own Facebook page. Does anyone call them crazy? No.
How about this? Like many men, I just happen to love animals and choose to have a pet. When I bought my London flat 16 years ago, the first thing I thought was that I could finally have one (I grew up in the countryside looking after my dog, horses, goats, tortoises etc). Initially, I wanted another dog but my job means having one isn't feasible. Then when my then boss's cat had kittens, I went to have a look - and came away with Darcy and Eartha.
Darcy and Eartha as kittens - like Ant and Dec, it was always tortie Eartha on the left, black Darcy on the right
I've had plenty of relationships and the chaps have all liked and even loved my cats. We've not split up because of them. But though those men have come and gone, my cats remained as a constant. And what's so wrong with that? They were animals, and they were treated like animals - not baby substitutes, not replacements for a relationship.
I just happen to like having felines in my life. I'm not obsessed with buying things with cats on them (and don't even like being bought things with cats on them). I don't have cats miaowing as my ringtone. I don't post up pics of cats every day or even every week on my social accounts, and Darcy and Eartha certainly didn't have their own Instagram accounts. But my pair were my little unit for 15 years, so it's no surprise I'm heartbroken that they're gone.
It's not exactly breaking news that for tens of thousands of years, pets - and cats in particular - have provided a unique kind of love and companionship that's totally different to that provided by a human (unless your partner regularly throws up hairballs behind the telly). It's a responsibility, but pet ownership is worthwhile, fun and has scientifically-proven benefits, not least as a stress buster (though not when you're clearing up those hairballs).
And if you're lucky like I was, you can have cats who are exceptionally affectionate, funny and the biggest characters - for example, Darcy would physically enforce spooning in bed, where he'd headbutt your spare arm upwards so it landed in the right position to hug him. He'd then push backwards, quite forcefully, until his purring head was firmly lodged under your chin. He'd also run to the door like a dog everytime I came home.
Hell, I shouldn't even have to defend myself for loving cats. In fact, I'm going to get two rescue moggs soon so I can do some good in the memory of my old pair and start the whole cat ownership thing all over again.
So call me a 'crazy cat lady' if you like. But only if you start pointing the finger at 'crazy cat men' too.Suggest a correction