The Gift of Cats and Dogs on the Frontline of Covid: A Love Story

So today, though somewhat late for Wednesday Appreciation Day, I thought I might say a very, very big thank you indeed to those furry friends who have been on the frontline, so to speak, in so, sooooo many ways during this strange and unsettling pandemic! Though they may not have the words to tell us how they love us in turn, so unfalteringly, wth their purrs, their barks, and most importantly their waggling and waving tails (for wasn’t it the Greeks who renamed the Egyptian cat god, Bast, as ‘ailuros‘ meaning the tail that waves?!) and cuddles, they have said it so, so many times over… That it truly goes without saying!
     It seems sometimes that obsessive animal lovers can be a little mocked in some social customs (queue the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype!), while in other cultures they are in fact venerated. In Italy, for instance, they even revere such figures with a word exquisitely carved entirely out for that so-called crazy cat lady! In their culture, the little elderly sweetheart who spends her days feeding the village’s stray cats is celebrated with the title of ‘gattara’. And I would gladly be a ‘gattara’ one day, given half the chance!

      Even further, in the medical world, they are uncovering more and more all the potential and also very real mental and physical benefits in pet therapy, otherwise known as animal-assisted therapy, from cats and dogs, to horses and pigs, and who knows, perhaps even in the companionship of your pet lizard, George! From simply helping to create a reason to get up and outdoors to walk the dog as some semblance of routine for those afflicted by depression, to the benefits of purring from comforting to actually physically healing… The subtle joys they bring to our human selves are plentiful, with so much yet to discover and explore. This is certainly Whiskas for thought.

When I consider my own journey with my animals as a freelance writer from home for many years now, and also with a history with depression, I sometimes wonder if it is I who saved my kitties or them me. My Zafira has come such a long way since she was first discovered, discarded in a box on the side of the road, with all her kittens. Barely any fur left on her and stringy as a bean, focussing all her nourishment and love on her boxful of a litter. Fostering them, in turn, has been the best thing I could ever have done for myself. While homes were found for all her kittens, barring the little ginger boy, a mommy’s boy if ever there was, who I simply could not bring myself to separate from her. Oliver, or Olly, the ginger is still so very much a big, big baby, demanding cuddles from either of his two mommy’s (Zafira or me) any chance he can get! As for Zafira, she has blossomed into a fine cat, with an illustrious coat and no longer skittish like she was for so many months, now being able to accept cuddles in a most dignified, demure way it must be said, from any and all who she learns to trust. But ultimately, in all earnestness, I think it is ultimately very much them who saved me. Especially in the most stringent regulations of lockdown, on our wintery shores, for all I thought I’d be better prepared as someone who has worked in loosely enforced self-isolation for so long.

Of course, it was not without its challenges. They did not take too kindly, once used to my perpetual presence at home, for instance, when I worked into the wee hours of the evening, following me to the bathroom and nudging at the edges of my laptop, sitting on the books laid open for research purposes. “We need more cuddles! It’s just not enough!!” they seemed to implore on these occasional evenings, sometimes making it all but impossible NOT to cuddle them instead of work.

Then there were the evenings of binge-watching Showmax on the sofa under the covers, where they insisted on sitting on the arm of the sofa that was mine, blocking me from reaching my mug of hot cocoa or glass of red wine on a cold winter’s eve. Initially I used a pouf to block their advances to jump on the arm of the sofa. While Zafira relinquished, the battle between my ginger and me continued. Perched in stalemate on the other side of the pouf on the floor, he’d eye me, with a spring in his stance, threatening, eyes slit so menacingly he’d have given Clint Eastwood in his prime a run for his money, tumble weeds tumblin’ on by. Eventually, sick and tired of the whole thing, feeling every day like I was stuck in some hellish overbooked economy class between two overbearing arseholes, I gave up, and moved to the other side of the sofa. Though I’m admittedly a creature of habit (bordering on OCD), some fights are just not worth fighting.

Jokes aside, I think back on my waitressing days, in college, when we used to serve a fine wine indeed, a red cultivar. The bottle had a dog on the label. And Faithful Hound was its name. A gem from the estate of many delicious wines, Mulderbosch. The story on the back of the wine, told the tale of a very faithful hound indeed, who waited patiently on the homestead, a cottage, for his master to return, and who died there, for his master never did. For myself and a friend, both avid animal lovers that we were, this story brought a tear to our eyes. For truly there can be no purer a love, and never will be, than that man’s best friend feels, whether he or she take the form of cat or dog or goat.

So today, let’s raise our glasses to all the faithful animals who have kept so many fears and anxieties and stresses from our doors and from inside our guarded homes and fearful hearts amidst all the confusion and panic. Thank you, thank you each and every one and all, for loving us, serving us, like you do. I will not for one, single day feel foolish when I play at karaoke, just me and my cats, and I sing this song to them, a song I feel so genuinely, my tribute to them with Teenage Fanclub’s lyrics:

I don’t want control of you
Doesn’t matter to me
The very heart and soul of you
Are places I wanna see

Everyday I look in a different face
Feelings getting stronger with every embrace

My feelings really do get stronger and stronger with every embrace. And I don’t know what I would have done without my Olly, and mommy, Zafira. Thank you for things, so simple it would have seemed, but things that have proven, were we without, life would have been less worth living. Touch. Love. And affection.


Boy, Diesel, and golden girlie, Savannah (both American Staffies and brother and sister from different litters)… Much beloved by swinging crooner, Francois “Franky” Malan, wife, Karin, and their mini-me daughter, Mia!
The utter perfection that is le chat noir with Ozzy, the 4th and latest adoption addition in the Baer family home! 
My dear friend, Kerri-Lee’s, housemate’s feline, Max, while she awaits the safe passage of her own beloved furries to be relocated to fair Scottish shores…
Another one of Kerri-Lee’s many furbabies… This particular brand another ‘rental’ but no less loved, Flash!
My best buddy, Bugsy’s, latest adoption on American soil… Meet Foxie! Straight out of the Wes Anderson casting line!!
My Italian/South African ‘mama bear’, Renata’s, bosom besties all the way in from Cornwall: the deaf but nonetheless utterly darling Poppy Koneko (lucky lefty) and Rosy Mizuki (regally right)… Both adoptions of a fine breed indeed with their fluffy coats… All the better to cuddle you!! 
“But we’re still sleeping, mommy! Beauty sleep is crucial to our kind!” (Fun fact: the average cat dozes for 17 hours a day!!) 
“But snuggles are better together!” Mrs Claw’s little local celebs about town, Maxi and Snowi… Tintin, eat your heart out!! 
The motley misfit Shelly, a former foster who thought herself a dog… Better known as ‘Smelly Belly’ for her whoppingly devastating, though silent, farts!!
The ever elegant Siamese cross, Poe… Another foster baby bestowed upon my good friend, Pierre, and ever spoilt happily ever after!
My mate, Michelle, and her “little, but feisty,” Lily! 
Lily’s ‘partner-in’crime’, the adorably kooky culprit, Jude! 
Michelle and one of her very big baba’s of the equine variety this time… She’s something of an animal hoarder it has to be said! 
“Make way in the flower beds, mommy!” Meet poet friend, Linda’s, ‘Lullaby Ragtime’ or ‘Lully’ for short! 
Whatshername… The latest in a longstanding hotdog adoption  in the Hosten household line
from Watchit, Wheatie, Wiccombe and Widget!
The marvellous Miss Molly,  captured here in modest repose by my equally charming friend, Theresa, architect and self confessed maker of things, mother, lover and child… AND, it almost goes without saying, feline custodian! 
Cue a fine lesson indeed from the feline art of zen… Theresa’s Cirri stopping to smell the first fledgling fragrant flowers
of a slowly emerging Spring! 
And the chat de resistance of Theresa’s feline trinity… Meet fanciful Felix with his white shirt and cosy cotton socks, cuddles afoot! 
“Winter is thawing out, Mommy! We want to play outdoors!!”
Tabita’s loveable Lily… “But mommy, puuuhleeeease come back to bed!”
One of the many puuuurfect specimens of strays who have come to appreciate the finer things of life at my hairdresser’s, Jigsaw!
Salon owner of Jigsaw, Annette, and her sculptor hubby, Wehrner Lemmer’s, mutually almost exclusive mutts… Their “two clowns” (!!) enjoying the winter warmth of a rug on a chilly day! 
And small though he may be, his personality packs a punch! Let’s not forget my cousin, Johnny’s, ‘lil’ buddy, Reg the Heg
(otherwise known as Reg the Legend)!! 
My two babies, or bookends as I jokingly call them! 
Featured image:  “The young girl and the cat ′′ by Franck Legendre
Full Lyrics from the album, Songs of Northern Britain:
I don’t want control of you
Doesn’t matter to me
The very heart and soul of you
Are places I wanna see
Everyday I look in a different face
Feelings getting stronger with every embrace
I don’t want a world of pain
Staring at every tear
Don’t want this love to stay the same
Growing with every year
Everyday I look in a different face
Feelings getting stronger with every embrace
Tired of situations
That mean nothing to me
You’ve been an inspirational figure for me
Everyday I look in a different face
Feelings getting stronger with every embrace
I don’t want control of you
Doesn’t matter to me
I want this love to stay the same
Growing with every year
Everyday I look in a different face
Feelings getting stronger with every embrace

10 thoughts on “The Gift of Cats and Dogs on the Frontline of Covid: A Love Story

  • Thank you our beautiful and most special and ever trusting and forgiving animals. Thank you, for I too, would not have managed Lockdown 2020 without you. Thank you Jo, this has been a delightful treat of a read.

  • Thanks Jo!
    They sure have been a helping hand. On the reverse side, I’m not sure how happy they’ll be to see us all go back to work. We are loving being together.

    • Thanks so much for the ever constant patronage, mommy dearest! I’m taking most excellent care of our furbabies while you’re in the UK amidst all of this… But I know they miss your cuddles and love and affection too! xoxo

  • Hey Jo, (as Jimi would say),
    your piece was like a before scheduled sunrise, bathing the comparative bleakness and chill of my early morning awakening in warmth and light, thank you.. although, I do know that Bengu would be thoroughly pissed off that a photo of her hasn’t found a place on your post yet

    • Thanks so much, Ally Wally… There you go with your own wordsmithery putting mine to shame! haha. Lots of love to you and Bengu… Who will feature in this particular labour of love yet! xoxo

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