“I CALL him the stealth elephant. I particularly laugh at the memory of him, large as he is, thinking he was creeping up on a bird on tree branches that could barely take his weight, when the bird was well aware of him.”
John Breen is telling me all about his 13-year-old black cat, Noah, in this latest installment of My Pet & Me.
“He’s also known as Banana, HM the King of the World, World’s Greatest Puss, and The Man, among other nicknames,” adds John.
Noah entered John and his wife, Sheree Borge’s, life in Ballincollig when a neighbour’s daughter, home from Oxford, found him soaking wet outside her back door during a storm, and assumed he belonged to the ‘crazy cat people of the neighbourhood’.
“Sheree answered a knock on the door to find Aoife holding this kitten rather awkwardly, asking ‘Is this yours?’ Sheree was about to say ‘no’ when he twisted in Aoife’s hands, and stuck his paws out towards her with a look only a kitten can give, and that was that - love at first sight,” says John.
“He was somewhat traumatised, but he bonded with Sheree very quickly.”
John and Sheree had two other cats at the time, Buachaill and Popeye, both found by John when they were kittens.
“He bonded with Popeye, and they became bosom buddies, playing and sleeping together every day. The oldest one, Buachaill, was a beautiful but quite aloof cat who pretty much just tolerated the other two.
“We have had four cats in the past 20 years, but I can honestly say I have never met another like Noah. As Sheree says, he will do something every day that will make you laugh.”
John loves that a cat’s behaviour can change and surprise you over the years.
“You think you know them and then suddenly they start doing something completely new that they’ve never done before,” says John.
“We have two armchairs and a sofa - a chair for each of us - and the sofa is reserved for Nibsey Man (another nickname for Noah derived from His Nibs). But the thing is he now actually prefers the armchairs and will often hop onto yours before you’ve fully vacated it.
“I left Sheree chatting to a visitor in our living room a few years ago to do something upstairs, but when Noah heard me coming back downstairs a short time later, he appeared to bolt awake and leap across to my chair in two seconds flat. The visitor was laughing his ass off and took great delight in telling me that Noah was perfectly happy with Sheree until he heard me coming back.”
John and Sheree have ended up having quite different relationships with their beloved cat, Noah.
“Sheree encouraged very physical play from a young age so every night he will sit on her lap, and they play boops where she taps his nose, and he swats and bites at her hand. It is play but it gets quite violent at times,” says John, who favours a softer approach.
“I didn’t encourage the physical play so much, so when he gets on my lap, he wraps himself around my hand and I rub his belly.”
Noah has turned out to be ‘an extremely affectionate animal’.
“He’s very clingy and doesn’t like to be separated from us for too long,” says John.
“I love the fact I am greeted by him most days when I get home from work. That is pretty unusual for cats, I think. If you try to put him down before he’s ready, he will cling to you upside down… and he’s not light.
“When he was younger, he would actually launch himself from a few feet away and cling on - it was a case of ‘ready or not’. He loves his hugs even if it means waking you up at 3am for them.”
Over the years, Noah has developed an extensive vocabulary of sounds for different situations.
“Cats develop their vocabulary from interaction with humans and given that we’ve been addressing him directly for 13 years it really is like a conversation,” says John. “But he still thinks he is a kitten sometimes and still has the mad half hour where he’ll run around the house for no apparent reason.
“I happen to share a house with the world’s greatest puss, who is also the world’s cutest wrecking ball.”
Having had pet cats in his life for so long, John can’t imagine not having an animal around.
“It’s an absolute essential in my life,” says John.
“I think respect for nature makes us better as humans. Animals make us better people.”