Fur flies over fickle love of Ozzy the cat
Should cats be allowed to choose their owners? A bitter row has erupted in public over a majestic Maine Coon cat that started spending most of its time enjoying the high life away from home.
On a brisk morning in West London, Ozzy the cat slinks his way down the street. He is heading home. But which home will he go to today?
Ozzy has a clear choice. He can go to his official residence and his legal “parents” John Hall and his wife Jackie, a children’s art therapist. Very decent people. Perfectly nice ironing to lie on. Regular meals.
Or he can go to the rather comfy hotel he has discovered just 10 doors down the street. A very purrfect place. He would give it four stars at least. Maybe five. And a particularly delightful garden.
It ought to be, considering the establishment is run by the award-winning landscape gardener, Nicola Lesbirel.
Ozzy knows he is very beautiful. A pedigree Maine Coone, no less. Probably worth something over £1,500. He wants to be made a big fuss of. Nicola Lesbirel was very admiring yesterday. Mmm. Let’s try her again today?
Which is where it all started to go wrong.
In August 2018, the Halls realised that Ozzy’s forays were emphatically more than occasional when they noticed his collar had gone. In its place was a new one bearing Nicola Lesbirel’s phone number.
This declaration of war triggered a complex and bitter neighbourhood row, culminating in a £20,000 court settlement.
During the legal wrangling, Nicola Lesbirel claimed that Ozzy had been a “fixture” in her home for most of his life.
“He’s an extremely determined cat,” she told the Times last week. She said that Ozzy was so intent on staying in her garden that she had little choice but to step in and care for him.
Now, she has made a series of legally binding promises not to feed him cat food, tinned fish or meat, and never to remove his collar.
And Ozzy? On the advice of a vet, he is confined to barracks for several months to re-adjust before he is let outside again – and then only with a GPS collar fitted.
The drama has sharply divided cat lovers.
“Poor Ozzy. I think he’s entitled to choose where he wishes to be, and it’s sad that humans have to be so controlling,” said one. “A little laissez-faire would be much more neighbourly. We can’t demand that creatures cleave only to us.”
“I don’t agree,” retorted another angrily. “This seems a clear case of cat grooming.”
Beneath it all lies one of the most profound questions of existence: should cats be allowed to choose their owners?
Paws for thought
No, say those who believe that law is the ultimate authority. Legally, a cat is a possession like a car or a pair of earrings. If you own a cat, there are laws that forbid anyone else claiming it as theirs – for example, by removing a collar and replacing it with their own. Of course, a cat has a right to roam but must not be lured into setting up permanent camp away from home.
Yes, say those who believe that truth is more important than the law. The truth is that a cat – unlike a dog – still has a wild soul. No human has the right to “own” this wildness. We cannot own the waves or the wind. Just as Shane in the eponymous movie, climbs onto his horse at the end and rides away, these beautiful spiritual creatures may deign to share their lives with us for a season or two – but if they choose to leave, we must shed a tear and let them go.
- Do cats have emotions?
- Are cats better pets than dogs?
- Draw or paint your own picture of Ozzy.
- Write a diary entry for Ozzy now that he is under house arrest, recording his private thoughts and reflections on a single day. One side of paper will do.
Some People Say...
“In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”Terry Pratchett (1948-2015), British novelist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- In the UK, 24% of households own a cat; in the USA, the percentage is slightly higher at 25.4%. It is often thought that cats have a right to roam wherever they wish. This idea is based on the fact that dog and livestock owners are obliged by law to keep their animals under control, but these duties do not apply to cat owners. The law recognises that cats are less likely to cause injury to people, or damage property, than some other animals. However, cat owners do have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that their cats do not injure people or damage property.
- What do we not know?
- We really have no idea what a cat thinks or how it sees humans. Are we merely a source of food and attention, or a base for it to mark its territory?
- To move smoothly and quietly with gliding steps, in a stealthy or sensuous manner.
- Maine Coone
- A large, powerful cat of a long-haired breed, originally from America.
- An excursion, often into forbidden territory.
- Agreement on payments and undertakings.
- Permanent resident.
- Confined to barracks
- Ordered to remain indoors.
- GPS collar
- A global positioning satellite collar that allows an owner to find its cat more easily.
- “Leave alone” in French. A common phrase in English usage now, meaning to leave things to take their own course, without interfering.
- Stick to.
- Luring, or persuading.
- A famous and brilliant 1953 Western about a laconic gunfighter who drifts into the lives of some poor ranchers and, having settled some scores, drifts out again.
- Of the same name. For example, the cowboy is called Shane and the movie is also called Shane.
- Do something that one considers to be beneath one’s dignity.