Presenting Dinah Harper, also known as Dinah Stripes, Dines, Stripers, Stripey Pants, Tabs, Tabster, the Faithful Tab-Hound and the Mighty Battle Tab. She was a handsome brown classic tabby with soft, plush fur and a double row of black spots all the way down her beige tummy. She loved to have that tummy rubbed, although after a while, she would get a little bit wild-eyed and try to bite the hand that was petting her. Dinah was part of our lives for almost fifteen years. She was a real character and she made a lasting impression on everyone who knew her.
It was on a starry, frosty night in January 1997 when we collected five-year-old Dinah and her step-sister Molly from a farmhouse deep in the Fens, close to Ely. They had been born and raised in London but when their family made plans to move to the United States, we agreed to adopt them just as soon as we moved to our new home in Cambridgeshire. Both cats howled incessantly during a fraught 40-minute drive back home. Once we arrived, we stayed up half the night, supervising the beasts as they explored their new home. Dinah and her sister lived with us for the rest of their lives.
Throughout her long life with us, she regarded the back garden as her domain. She could often be found lounging in the sunshine, especially in the early morning, when she took particular pleasure in warming herself in the first rays of the Sun. And if the best sunshine was next door, she wasn't shy in claiming it. Often she would be seen reclining on the roof of the neighbour's garden shed. During the hottest part of the day, she preferred to find a shady spot where she could flake out and take a well-earned cat-nap.
There was always a bowl of water available for her (and any other cat visiting the back garden) but she seemed to prefer drinking from the watering can. She wasn't alone in this; her sister and their friend Kitty also preferred the watering can when it was full.
The shrub and vegetable borders in the back garden were edged with bricks, which allowed a fastidious cat a way to circumnavigate the garden without getting her paws wet in the dewy grass. On days with less than perfect weather, Dinah would often go outside, think the better of it, do one circuit of the garden on the 'kitty cat freeway', and then demand to be let back inside.
She wasn't quite as adept at finding shelter when it rained. Her sister knew all the best spots in the garden to keep herself dry during a rainstorm, but Dinah never really figured it out. On one memorable occasion, we came home after an afternoon with friends to find her sitting forlornly by the back door, soaked to the skin by a summer thunderstorm. She looked like the proverbial drowned rat, and we quickly dried her off with a towel and placed her on a blanket on top of a hot-water bottle to make sure that she didn't catch cold.
Indoors, she found many places to sleep. She had her basket in front of the radiator in the living room but she also liked to nap on the bed which she was content to share with Molly and even with Kitty 'The Wonder Cat' from next door, although when all three cats were in residence, they usually contrived to sleep at opposite corners of the bed. The spot under the computer desk (and directly above the boiler) was also an ideal place to rest, especially in the winter. Computer users had to be careful where they placed their feet.
Dinah also had a fondness for sleeping in cardboard boxes. For many years, we kept a large box in the living room just for her, complete with a soft towel to make it more comfortable. With the front flap removed and the remaining three flaps taped upright, it became 'Fort Dinah' from where she could watch the goings-on in perfect safety and comfort.
Dinah was a feisty cat. She certainly didn't take any nonsense from her neighbour Kitty. The 'Wonder Cat' once made the mistake of trying to pounce Dinah from behind. The tabby's robust reaction sent Kitty three feet vertically into the air! Dinah also had to put up with Molly's 'follow my sister' game: Molly follows Dinah as Dinah patrols the garden; Molly gets closer and closer; Molly pounces on Dinah; Molly and Dinah roll around the garden before breaking apart; repeat. Sometimes Dinah would turn the tables on her sister which seemed to really baffle the black cat.
She was a terror whenever she had to visit the vet, growling and hissing even before she had been lifted out of her cat-carrier, and generally making it very clear that she did not approve of being examined or given her annual vaccinations. If she didn't kick up a fuss at the vet, then we knew she really was unwell.
Despite her outward show of bravado, she could be a real scaredy cat. In her younger days, her dadcat occasionally took her for walks around the block. She was happy enough in her own garden, but by the time she was following him along the footpath out of sight of the house, her ears were flat, her eyes wild, and her tail was fluffed up to several times its normal size. As the house came back into view, she would break into a gallop in her eagerness for the adventure to end.
And then there was the infamous Cat Pot incident. In spring 2005, we bought a large terracotta planter shaped like a cat. It had a large round tail and an equally large round head with a cartoonish smiling face. We set it up on the patio. When Dinah emerged from the back door, she took one look at the intruder and began growling and hissing at it. It took several minutes before she plucked up the nerve to take a few steps towards it and investigate more closely. She warmed up to it once the catnip was planted in it, as did the rest of the Bar Hill Gang.
Dinah was never a much of a huntress but she did once manage to catch a bird in the back garden. Her momcat heard a terrific racket outside and when she went outside to investigate, she found Dinah with a small bird. There were also half a dozen neighbour cats sitting around watching plus a multitude of screeching birds dive-bombing the tabby. She played with the still-live bird for some time but during one of her 'release and catch' games, the bird got away from her, only to be grabbed by Kitty who carried it away in triumph. Dinah then spent the rest of the afternoon following Kitty around, trying to get 'her' bird back.
The high point of her hunting career came one summer when she saw a dragonfly darting around the front garden. With a graceful leap, she caught the insect in her mouth, its wings sticking out either side like an extra set of whiskers, and proceeded to eat it. Dragonflies are surprisingly crunchy. Then, as if to prove that the first dragonfly hadn't simply been a lucky fluke, she caught and ate a second one in exactly the same way. Dragonflies are agile creatures but they were no match for Dinah, the amazing flying tabby cat!
We discovered that Dinah was very fond of catnip when we found her rolling around on a plant in a neighbour's garden. The neighbour had unwittingly planted Nepeta cataria, apparently unaware that it was catnip. (The neighbourhood cats had the plant squashed flat within days and the neighbour replaced it with something else.) We bought Dinah a new catnip toy every Christmas and she went completely crazy over it, chewing it until it was soggy, and becoming increasingly wild-eyed and spaced-out. She also enjoyed the fresh catnip that we planted in the back garden, nibbling on the tiny purple flowers as well as chewing on the leaves.
She also loved to be 'snaked' with a leather shoelace which she would chase around the living room, often leaping into the air to catch it. After a few minutes of vigorous snaking, she would grab it firmly in her teeth and stomp off into the kitchen, dragging her 'kill' behind her.
She was a talkative cat. She had a wide repertoire of chirps, murphs, miaows, squeals and growls. She was quite adept at letting us know when she wanted something, whether it was food or petting or someone to open the door to let her out. If we didn't respond to her initial polite miaow with sufficient alacrity, she would turn up the volume. This tactic was particularly effective when she was outside, wanting to come in. Her loquacity (and volume) only increased when her hearing faded in her later years.
For reasons known only to her, she loved to camp out in the bathroom. The radiator was the warmest in the house, so that was no mystery, but she had a particular fondness for sitting on the toilet seat. This could be inconvenient since there was only one toilet in the house. One year we purchased a fuzzy toilet seat cover to put on it; it became an even nicer place to sit! Dinah took to jumping up on the toilet just as soon as she heard her momcat's electric toothbrush fire up in the evening. She apparently figured that since it only took one hand to use an electric toothbrush, the other hand could be usefully employed scritching her brainium.
The bathtub was an excellent place to get a drink of water and in the summer time, it was an agreeably cool place to lounge. An old-fashioned steel tub, it also greatly amplified purrs, earning it the sobriquet 'purratorium'.
Like her sister, Dinah was an autumn-born kitten. We didn't know the actual date of her birth so we designated Halloween as her 'official birthday' and celebrated with something special for her dinner. Unfortunately, Dinah enjoyed her cat food a little too much and ended up on a special diet of 'light' cat food for several years. It worked and she regained her youthful figure although she wasn't too impressed with the strict rationing of her crunchies.
As she approached seventeen years of age, we noticed that Dinah wasn't as alert or active as usual. A visit to the vet revealed that her kidneys were failing - not unusual in such an old cat but a worrying sign that age was catching up with her. Our wonderful vet prescribed a medication called Fortekor which helped her kidneys work more efficiently. She had to take a tablet every day for the rest of her life. Fortunately, they tasted pretty good so it was never a problem to get her to take them.
In time, she also developed high blood pressure and an overactive thyroid which were both kept under control with daily pills. These weren't so palatable so we had to resort to subterfuge to get them into her. At different times, her pills were hidden in pieces of cheese, Greenies pill pockets or chunks of dark chicken meat, irresistibly greasy. The pills were always laid out on the same plastic plate and her eyes would light up when she saw us approach her with it, knowing that there were 'treats' on it just for her.
She became a regular visitor at Village Vet in Longstanton, where Robin and Emma and their colleagues gave her the gift of three extra years of happy, contented life. They always seemed pleased to see the 'old lady' even though most of them had felt the business ends of her fangs at one time or another over the years.
September 2011 ended with an unexpected heatwave in southern England, and Dinah made the most of the return of the summer weather, sunbathing each day in her favourite spot in the back garden. A few days later, less than a month after we lost her sister Molly and three weeks short of her twentieth birthday, Dinah's back legs began to fail and she could no longer use the litter tray without help. With great sadness, we took her on her last visit to the vet, where she was put to sleep. The end was quick and peaceful and painless, and the last thing she saw was us.
Her ashes are buried with those of her sister in the garden where they spent so many happy hours.