Crazy about catz and dogz

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The Independent Online
At the age of 11 Caroline Simpson has finally been allowed to have a pet. Ginger is exactly what she wanted: a Siamese kitten who loves to play, and purrs like mad when petted. She feeds him daily and has even acquired a mouse for him to chase around her home in Tonbridge, Kent.

The odd thing about Ginger is not his colouring (not many ginger-coloured Siamese about) or the fact that he takes catnaps on command and doesn't need a litter box. What makes Ginger special is that he exists only on a CD-Rom. Computer Catz and Dogz originally came from California - providing the best way yet to avoid strict rabies regulations - and the nation loves them. "It has just been crazy," says James Morris, a manager of the software firm Mindscape.

This lends a whole new meaning to playing "cat and mouse" - players can shout "Cursor!" instead of "Curses!" - but Mr Morris says he's more a dogz type of guy and has a virtual cocker-spaniel named Jack. "Both catz and dogz appeal to people who love animals but cannot go to work with them," he says, "and also to kids who aren't allowed to have a real pet."

This is Caroline, and now she and her friends have a total of 13 kittenz. Like the real thing, they grow up, hate water, love catnip and get fleas. And, like the real thing, if you are mean to them, they are mean back.

Not all catz are as well-fed as Ginger. "Look, he's starving," exclaims Caroline as Felix, a scraggly black kitten, comes out to play.

What's next? "We don't know what could be coming up next year. We're looking in to the possibilities of Birdz and Blokez or Girlz and Boyz," says Mr Morris. But is this really a good idea? Virtual boyfriends will be unable to erect shelving or provide the intellectual refreshment of arguing who is to be designated driver. And boys already think girls are unreal: this would only encourage them.

The possibilities are enormous. For example, this really could be the Tory party's chance to go nuclear about the family. Every single parent could have a spouze and every child would have two parentz. Want a big sister or brother? No problem. Feeling broody? Babiez will cure that soon enough.

Evidently, Mindscape's newest project is something to do with aliens. Get real! What those of us under pressure to provide rodents as Christmas presents want is something called hamsterz. They will need a wheel, a personality, a burrow, lots of food. And when the child loses interest, us grown-ups don't have to feel guilty that we secretly want the rodent to die. Nor will we have to provide cardboard boxes for the inevitable back garden funeral. Instead, one switch of the computer and petz are no longer with us. Bliss.