Love and M&S: It”s all I need to keep my soul mate alive
The world was a very different place 24 years ago. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. I had just seen Fatal Attraction. I was a lot younger, too, although I probably looked the same, given my facelift earlier this year. T’Pau were at No 1. And my cat Squeaky was about to be born.
She will be celebrating her 24th birthday next year. I don’t suppose she is quite the oldest cat in the UK (a friend has a tortoiseshell now in her late 20s) but she is certainly the most vocal, interactive, opinionated, lazy, licky and loved feline in the world.
She is very active, in good health (bar a few lumps in her breasts, which we’ve decided not to investigate) and is still able to leap on to my bed – though she occasionally miscalculates and I see her big eyes appear briefly on the pillow beside me before, ears flat against her head, she slides back down again, like an extreme mountaineer.
Long-running relationship: Liz Jones with her 24-year-old cat Squeaky
On Friday I was sad to learn of the death of Pusuke, the world’s oldest dog at 26 years nine months. Poor Pusuke appeared normal until the day before he died, when he turned down his breakfast. His human companion (I never use the word ‘owner’), Yumiko Shinohara, went out to the shops and, five minutes after her return, the dog died at her feet.
‘I was with Pusuke for 26 years and I felt as if he were my child. I thank him for living so long with me,’ Ms Shinohara said, adding that she felt her dog had been waiting for her return from the shops before he expired.
Alongside this grave announcement, The Times published a table showing the life expectancy of various animal companions. This graph showed that dogs generally live until 13 while cats can live until 14. I haven’t shown this cutting to my cat, obviously, as I really do believe these charts are nonsense.
Until recently I had a 40-year-old thoroughbred horse and one of my collies is now 16 – and enjoying a new lease of life. Despite her cataracts and extreme deafness (she jumps out of her skin if you stroke her without warning), she loves to bark at cats in the distance. I also know a cow in Somerset, called Milly, who is 15.
So, what is the secret of Squeaky’s longevity Well, she had, until a few years ago, always been obese, even as a kitten (she would occasionally get stuck in the cat flap and come yowling to me, wearing it as a sort of plastic tutu, to be released). I could never get her to lose weight despite giving her all those dreadful low-calorie pouches of swill and diet biscuits you buy at great expense at the vet’s. She hated the swill and would spit out the biscuits, leaving damp little balls all over the house.
Cat food: But Liz gives her pet the same food she eats herself
And so I decided I would give her only human food. Human coley, human prawns and human cod, all line-caught and organic from Marks & Spencer. And she has never looked back: she has all her own teeth, whereas most ancient cats and dogs suffer from gum disease, and is as svelte and shiny as an otter.
This transformation got me thinking about the morality of feeding our dogs and cats other animals – usually all the awful parts that don’t make it into the human food chain. I expect our ‘pets’ are eating all the older animals, too – the ewes and the spent dairy cows.
I remembered an amazing piece in American Vogue, of all places. The author had a retriever, started feeding him dog food and realised that if he found the smell disgusting, then surely the dog, with far superior olfactory powers, must do so too. And why feed an animal the same thing, day in, day out
So I started cooking for my old collie German shepherd cross, who came to live with me aged 14, when her owner was made homeless. She was obese and could hardly make it up a couple of steps. Now, a couple of years on, having lived on home-cooked food featuring lots of fresh vegetables, rice, eggs, tofu and pasta, she is slim and agile again.
And before anyone tweets about the cost of shopping for your companion animal at M&S, home-cooked dog food is cheaper than any pet food, and I surely save on vet bills, too.
The key to Squeaky’s long life, though, is that we love each other. Through a divorce, several house moves and job changes, Squeaky has been the one constant in my life. She always says hello when I enter a room, which is more than could be said for my husband. She is my familiar, my best friend. Better than a child or a boyfriend.
She’s psychic, too, and knows when I’ve boarded a plane home, waddling to sit on the door mat. I honestly don’t know what I will do without her.