Rebecca Armstrong: One small cat snuffing it has affected me deeply

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I can say without a moment's hesitation that it was the best £65 I've ever spent. Less than 70 quid bought six years of affection and fun, even if it also paid for fur balls and countless fatalities among the local mouse population. My cat Mitten, who my husband and I adopted as (you've guessed it) a kitten from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, died last week after being hit by a car.

Mourning a pet is a new experience for me – I remember being sad, aged eight, when my hamster died after the dog got hold of it. I was sad 10 years later when the dog passed away (but less sad than I would have been if he hadn't slain my hamster, I reckon). But Mitten was my buddy, my companion and a member of the family, and now that he's gone I don't quite know what to do with myself. Compared to the injustices and tragedies of the world, one small cat snuffing it doesn't add up to much, but it's made me realise the importance of two things. The first is empathy. Before I had Mitten, I remember reading columns that Tracey Emin had written about her beloved cat Docket and thinking she was a bit of a mad cat lady. A couple of years after becoming a cat owner – all right, a mad cat lady – myself, I wept at her account of Docket becoming seriously ill. Having my own pet has made me understand what I had previously dismissed as soppy anthropomorphism can often be the central relationship in someone's life.

The second thing that's been revealed to me in the past week is how small acts of kindness can make an enormous difference. A neighbour who I'd never met before spent hours trying to find the owners of the black and white cat that had been killed outside her house in the middle of the night so that we knew why Mitten hadn't come home and at least knew what had happened. The elderly couple who live upstairs appearing with a bunch of flowers. The freeholders to our flat sending a short email telling us how much they'd miss Mitten lolling about the place. Gruff work colleagues who usually tune out my wittering about my cat saying they were sorry for my loss.

Of course, over the years, Mitten ended up costing a hell of a lot more than Battersea's very reasonable fee. The little toad would only eat the most expensive cat food, was constantly getting into scraps with other cats and urban foxes which meant costly vet bills and endless collars that would last all of 36 hours before he managed to wriggle out of them. I didn't mind any of it. The only thing I wish I'd never had to pay for was getting him cremated.

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