Mandy's taken a house in the country for a month, but doesn't know what to do with her dependent cat. Should she take him with her and risk him running away, leave him at home with someone popping in to feed him, or put him in a cattery?

EVER since Rudyard Kipling wrote The Cat who Walked by Himself, a myth has grown up that cats are cool, independent characters, the sort who, were they human, would wear mirrored shades. But the truth is that most cats are tremendously dependent and pathetically fond of their owners. Whenever I so much so open the cupboard under the stairs to get out my suitcase, my cat, Corky, is yowling around me, purring and nuzzling me, anything to persuade me to stay at home. He then, rather sadly, sleeps on my head, hoping this will effectively stop me getting up to catch the train.

Most cats crave company, but whether it's your company they crave or any old company is doubtful. That's why I'd say Mandy should definitely not leave her cat to be fed by a stranger every day. If she has to leave him, she should get a cat-lover to come and live in the house and give her puss several strokes and cuddles a day.

A cattery hardly seems an option, because most cats are effectively kept in small prisons with tiny runs that make them feel miserable. At a risk of anthropomorphising, how could Mandy feel pity and sympathy for Terry Waite or John McCarthy, which I assume she did, and subject her own cat to just the same appalling stresses - imprisonment in small space, lack of stimulation, and no idea when it will ever be let out? If one year is seven cat years, one month is seven cat months, and it's a hell of a long time to be left by yourself with no idea when or if you'll ever be released.

When I'd left a cat of mine at a cattery he was so pleased to see me on his release that he suddenly started to moult all over me, as if he'd been so scared he'd been unable to let so much as a hair free when he'd been in captivity. When we got home I looked like one of his relations, whiskers and all.

I think Mandy should take the cat with her. Cats adore the country, and why shouldn't the cat have a holiday alongside its family? If she keeps a good eye on him in the garden for the first few trips out, he's unlikely to stray - he'll be as frightened as her of getting lost - and he'll thoroughly enjoy a rich supply of new birds, shrews, mice and general wriggly, scampering and crawling things.

Whenever you take on an animal or even a plant - yes, I go that far - you take on responsibility for its happiness and welfare. Living things are not there to be abused or treated like inanimate possessions. "A dog is not for Christmas" but nor is a hamster, a budgie or a cat.

This responsibility is the tremendous curse of owning animals. If you take them on, sometimes you have to sacrifice your own wishes or compromise, in order to fulfil the function of caring owner. Sometimes, when they are terminally ill, you may have to have them killed. You are mother, father and God to a dependent animal, and if Mandy can't bear to take her cat away with her then maybe she should cut her holiday down to a couple of weeks. The cat's welfare is far more important than a month's holiday, and if she doesn't feel like this about her cat I really don't think she ought to own one.

Biased? Not me. But I've just got to rush home to Corky.

what readers say

Of course you must take your cat with you. A house in the country for a month! He'll have a lovely time. He won't get lost. He will know you are living there. Cats are very bright, they take in situations quickly.

Over the past 13 years I have stayed in an old mill in the Lake District for two weeks every year. I have taken four different cats with me - they have all got back safely. Just be a bit careful the day you leave. You may have to confine him while you pack up or he might be off hunting just as you are ready to go. - Wendy Buttin

Mandy should take her cat with her, making sure he/she wears a collar with an identity tag with both home and away phone numbers. Also carried in a properly secure cage or basket. A month is a long time to leave an affectionate and dependant cat, even with the attention of kindly neighbours or in a cattery.- Diana Chapman

Take your cat with you. We took all our cats (one at a time!) with us from when they were kittens, camping even. Apart from them depositing samples of the local shrew population at the feet of our sleeping bags each night, a good time was had by all. - Gaynor Darbishire

I have cat-sat on many occasions. On every occasion, no matter how reclusive a cat was reputed to be, after a couple of days it has become obvious that they were desperate for human company and wanting someone in the house.

I would say that leaving the cat at home with a visiting carer for more than a couple of days would be very cruel. Possibly even more so would be taking it on holiday, just to leave it alone in a strange house while the family go on day trips. A cattery run by someone who loved animals and spent a lot of time talking to and playing with his/her feline guests would probably be the best and safest option.

- Elizabeth Pullan

next week's dilemma

My mother-in-law is spending a few days with us on our fortnight's holiday. True, she can't stop talking, but I get along quite well with her. I can see she might annoy people but it all washes over me and she's good at heart.

My husband, however, just can't stand her. He feels it's our duty to have her along. And he's forever sighing and snapping at her. She doesn't seem to mind as much as I do, but I can't bear to see him making frightful faces behind her back, not replying to her and behaving intolerably rudely. The result, unless I can change my husband's attitude, is that we'll have a dreadful holiday. - Daphne

Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will receive a bouquet from Interflora.

Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside at: Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.

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