The problems of moving house with pets

Buying a new house takes on a different dimension if you're a dedicated animal lover, says Tom Co

Wednesday 04 March 2009 01:00

Relocation was part of the rhythm of life for me when I was growing up. I'd arrive at a house, begin to meet some new friends, then, a year or two later, my mum would come into my bedroom with a regretful look on her face and announce that it was time to pack up my Beano annuals once again. On the wall of my childhood homes hung an illustration, etched by my dad, of a goat craning its neck through a fence to munch on the turf of an adjacent field. In its margin, he had written the phrase "The grass is always greener", which perhaps explains their six house moves during my childhood.

And as an adult, I have been a victim of the Cox moving gene. Up until summer 2004, when I signed the mortgage contract on my present house, I had moved eight times in less than six years. There was the house – now preserved for ever in my mind under the moniker "Devil's Cottage" – with the noise problem that my wife and I had offloaded on to us by the "nice", relieved couple. And there were the 15 months that we took to make an honest, reduced sale of it, having been driven into rented accommodation by repetitive beats. And then there was that brief period when I started making scrapbooks from Country Life and Dwell on the sly, having snuck the magazines into the house inside my coat. But I've thought long and hard about this, and I have decided there is another reason for my property addiction, more persuasive than all others, and that is my cats.

I can understand that blaming years of domestic upheaval on innocent, fluffy creatures could be viewed as irrational, but that would be underestimating the willpower of animals that, deep down, seem aware that they were once worshipped as gods. When, like me, you own six of the beasts, that willpower can be a commanding force. When I look at a house for prospective purchase, the first question I ask myself is not "What will the resale value be like?" or "Any dry rot?", it's "How will it suit the mogs?".

What I've primarily learnt is that if you're a bit of a sop, as worried about your cats' safety as you are about your own, and don't also happen to be a millionaire, finding the perfect house to suit a cat's needs isn't easy. My current three-bedroom, early-1960s home initially seemed to fit the bill quite well. It's set on a rare and lush Norfolk hillside – ideal for roaming, but not subject to the animal traps and pesticides of a more rural environment. While abutting a major road, it's built skilfully into the gradient, requiring that small paws make a heroic climb of many, many feet and perform some seriously agile fence-jumping to reach the tarmac. When my wife and I had an additional, taller fence built in 2005, we naively presumed that might make reaching the road out of the question for our feline marauders. Our calculations, however, failed to account for the fact that our oldest cat, the Bear, is a wiry force of nature and has foot pads made of reinforced donkey hide.

He's so used to moving now that every time a new cardboard box appears in our house, he gets visibly antsy. Like me, the Bear seems to simultaneously love moving and hate it. We've both had to suppress our urges in the past few years, but we're managing. The Bear's annual spring wander has got progressively shorter, and I've come to accept that while there might be a perfect house out there for him and my other cats, I'll probably do them more harm than good trying to find it. Not, of course, that I've taken off my bookmarks or cancelled my updates from; it's just that, like the Bear's, my hunting has a bit less intent about it these days.

Staying put makes sense in the current climate. Since I've turned off the part of me that's always thinking about the next house, I've also had time to reflect on how hard we've worked to transform it from the tired virtual shell it was when we bought it, how much we've spent, and how nice it is to take some time for once to sit back and enjoy it. And the furry lodgers can't complain: how many other unemployed freeloaders have the luxury of living in a place big enough to each have a room of their own? And while, yes, I did get quite excited about that all-glass bungalow just outside Norwich recently, I am forced to ask myself one important question: Where on earth would you fit the catflap?

Tom Cox's book, 'Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man', is out now in paperback published by Simon & Schuster, £7.99

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