How a cat can change your life

Melanie Whitehouse / 08 September 2015

Melanie Whitehouse on the cat who adopted her, wound her round his paw and inspired her to write a novel.



Gus was the cat I never meant to have. In 2003, I had recently arrived in the Sussex village of Ditchling and was intending to get a basset hound puppy called Myrtle, but this wily black beast had other plans.

After escaping from his cat basket the day his owners moved house, he staked me out. I had no children, husband or other animals, so I was clearly a good bet. 

Half Burmese, half moggy, with a sprinkling of human, he jumped onto my sofa one moonlit August night, lay down with a huge sigh and gently pulled my hand towards him with his claws. My dog-loving heart was lost and I named him Augustus Moon – Gus for short – after the night he moved in.

Becoming top-cat

Learning to live with an adult cat was an education. His main mission was to change my ways to his. I started to take his cat food upstairs at night to beat being jumped on at 5am because he was hungry. He expected morning and night-time cuddles, and glared at guests who stayed past 10pm because he wanted to go to bed. With me.

He seemed to think he was the man of the house and saw off any male with macho displays of behaviour. Once he jumped 10 feet diagonally upwards to land, swaggering, on the flat roof where my mate Simon was looking out of an upstairs window. If Gus could have put his hands on his hips and said, “Beat that, big man,” he would have done.

Another time my friend Nick was barbecuing some chops in my garden when Gus returned with a dead rat and threw it at Nick’s feet. He never did that when I was barbecuing.

It took me a while to get used to his dominating ways but, as the years passed, I fell more and more in love with him. He was always there when I opened the front door, waggling his elegant tail in the air as greeting, miaowing his daily news and rubbing his plush fur around my legs. A fearsome killer of birds and mice, he had given his wild heart to me and was the gentlest soul.

As the years went by, we learned to communicate – something I think you can do with most cats and dogs if you give them enough one-to-one time. That inspired my novel, The Tail of Augustus Moon (Book Guild, £9.99) – a story about a woman who’s looking for love and learns a lot about independence from an opinionated black cat.

A brave end

He was to inspire me again with his courage and fortitude after he was diagnosed with diabetes and pancreatitis in May 2013. I had to learn how to inject him with insulin twice a day, which initially I found terrifying. It was as if he knew I was helping him, because he’d never allowed me to apply his flea treatments without a major fuss.

Then last year, aged 16, the vet discovered he had a heart murmur, a blood parasite and – more disturbingly – thrombocytopenia (low platelets). He faced bleeding to death and I had to choose between attempting to prolong his life with a chemotherapy drug which he hated taking with a passion and which had no guarantee of working, or giving him a shorter, happier end. After days of tears and soul-searching, I decided it had to be the latter.

Eleven years to the day that he moved in with me, on August 25, 2014, Gus collapsed. He hadn’t eaten for days and was clearly distressed and in pain, so I made that final, terrible decision. He is buried in the back garden, pushing up a beautiful rose called Summer Sweetheart, and I will miss his love until the day I die.

Unexpectedly, I found I couldn’t bear life without a cat in the house so last October I took on a pretty blue Burmese called Maisie. She’s old, rotund and sweet, although very different to Gus. I think he’s ruined me forever as a dog owner!

The Tail of Augustus Moon is published by Book Guild, £9.99, and available on Kindle. 

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