I’m writing my column this week from Mumbai – I’m here for the Tata Literature Live! festival and have been excited about this trip for a while. It is my first time in India and I had made a long list of places I wanted to visit and restaurants I wanted to eat in.
I think I’m amongst the very few first-time visitors to this incredible country who managed to become ill BEFORE I arrived. So far all I have seen of the world’s largest democracy, of this beautiful, complex land, is a hotel room which has its purple blinds drawn. I haven’t even looked out of the window. I’m sure it’s very nice and hope to venture out soon. What I miss the most when I am away, especially when I’m poorly and feeling a bit sorry for myself, is my bed and more specifically, the warm bodies of those I share my bed with… my cats.
A recent poll of 2000 pet owners showed that two thirds of them share a bed with their cat or dog. To some, this is gross. Understandable. I would never put out-door shoes on my bed or rub traces of fox poo on my duvet, but I will allow my cats who roam around barefoot all day, gathering filthy particles from the outside world, to jump on my bed and curl up beside me.
Sharing your bed with other mammals is utterly human in my view. I recently upgraded my bed to a super-king size, to accommodate more comfortably my six-year-old daughter and my two cats. (My son is now 12 and denies all recollection of ever sharing a bed with us. He did though, for much of his childhood. I have photographic evidence.) In the dead of the night, when I drop out of sleep for a moment, sensing these warm little bodies around me gives me the deepest sense of comfort and contentment. All of us, humans and animals, breathing love, in and out.
Not everyone has the bustle of family and friends around them. The companionship of animals can’t be underestimated. You mind less about germs when you have a mate who never minds if you’re late home, are grumpy, and is just delighted to see you.
My tabby cat, Oscar, was my only pet when my youngest was born (my fluffy black cat, Lil’Puss, is a rescue who joined us a few years later). I had my daughter without a partner and those early, blissfull “bed days” with a new born were spent with my then five-year-old son and Oscar sleeping with us. He’d never slept on my bed before. But once I had a new baby, he kept me company during night feeds and never left my side. I know some will think, “He’s just a cat” but in the post-birth months, Oscar was my guard, my constant companion and anyone who has ever loved a cat knows that the complaints about them are merely feline bigotry (when will we start taking that as seriously as other forms?) When I have guests, Oscar sits at the dinner table with us. He is the alpha in our house and never lets us forget.
Last year, a big soppy Golden retriever joined our household and the reason SHE doesn’t sleep in our bed is because Oscar would murder her in the night. I have no doubt about that.
I’m looking forward to the day Oscar does eventually accept the dog as a co-sleeper. I keep faith he will. The hissing and spitting at the dog has massively subsided and the other day I came home to find they were both lying on the sofa near each other. Neither was relaxed: the cat looked fierce and the dog looked scared but it was a breakthrough nonetheless.
There is no getting away from the fact that dogs are filthy. They really are. They eat their own poo, sniff eat other’s bottoms then try and lick your face. I love my dog so much; I’d do anything to be stroking her silky ears right now on my Mumbai sickbed (I’m milking this, it really is just a cold). But there is no getting away from the fact that since I got her, nothing will be as clean as it once was. And there are pongs that were never there before. Life with a dog involves more time scrubbing floors, hoovering hairs and squealing “EWWWWW!”
But it’s a small price to pay for the silky ears and devotion. There are few things I love more than cuddling the dog and snoozing on the sofa. They get it. They are pack animals and so are we. One of the saddest and sweetest sights I’ve seen was a homeless man on a cold night fast asleep on a pavement, his arms around his big sleeping dog, cuddling him close. They give us pure unfiltered love; they get us through the night in so many different circumstances. So sod the hairs and germs: sleeping alongside your pets will not kill you, but it can make your life more beautiful.