A Cat Called Dog by Jem Vanston is an unputdownable read. The pace is set from the very first chapter as a little kitten-cat who doesn’t realise he’s a cat chances upon the garden wall of old George. George has high standards of feline behaviour and is appalled at Dog’s uncatlike behaviour. So he makes it his mission to teach the little kitten-cat all that he needs to know to become the best feline he can be.
With an eclectic cast who help to ‘heducate’ Dog, one-eyed Cockney Eric, the stray, Francois, the widely travelled French cat, and Madame Fifi, whom George, Eric and Francois are all in love with, all help George in his seemingly unending task to undoglike Dog to make him more cat like.
According to George, the Holy Trinity for felines is washing, eating and sleeping and there are very strict rules which must be adhered to in order to ensure they are carried out properly.
George’s Lady has her head turned by a new man friend whom George takes an instant dislike to, with good reason, as it soon becomes apparent that the man is up to no good. First he begins by making sure that George isn’t given access to the cat flap and then he starts doing things which – eventually – the cats are able to show the Lady to help her realise that this is not the man for her.
It’s a wonderful story and Jem told me that the characters are composite of cats he’s known throughout his life. Eric is based upon his own mother, not that she is a stray, you understand! She had a cataract operation which went wrong and it left her blind in one eye.
Jem’s innate understanding of cats has enabled him to draw five wonderful characters, all totally believable and their behaviour is totally credible. We learn why Dog is called Dog; we learn that Eric is not really a black and grey stray cat, when after an accident which finds him immersed in the fish pond, his fur is suddenly fluffy, black and white – resembling that of a Persian. Suddenly he has a pedigree despite his happiness at rolling in the nasturtium bed and lying on slugs and worms.
There are some great observations which George shares with Dog about how ‘two-legs’ live; shocked at the smell room (bathroom) and horrified at the way two-legs wash themselves by lying a bath of water, and many other wittily observed behavioural traits we humans knowingly or unknowingly, show to the master superior race – the Feline!
Underlying what appears to be a simple story of a confused little kitten embarking on a journey to become a fully fledged cat, there is a subtle sub text about acceptance, good and evil, and a whole host of other moral issues. It is incredibly well done and all credit to Jem for a really good and funny book.
This is a feel-good book with a happy ending and I can’t wait to read more about George, Dog, Eric, Francois and Madame Fifi.