THE kitten was lovely; an independently mobile ball of fluff that one minute was rolling on his back, the next climbing up your arm, tiny claws drawing blood as they clambered. I held him closely to listen to his heart and felt the resentment growing in his wee body. He positively quivered. Then there was building indignation. Then the hint of the rage and fury that was about to explode from within him. I let go. He had attitude alright. Fortunately, his attention was deflected when one of the children rolled a small ball across the consulting room table and he eyed it briefly before pouncing upon it like a lion, grasping it in his tiny paws before delivering the coup de grace with a single, purposeful gnaw of his razor sharp canine teeth. Someday soon he will be doing that to little human bare foot and it won’t be so much fun.

The family of five had all come in to get his first vaccination and there was great excitement among the children, the oldest of whom was perhaps ten years old. Then came the killer blow that all vets dread. As the designated spokesman, Dad explained, ‘He is our first family pet. The children have been on at me for ages to get one. They love him to bits already.’ I smiled, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t elaborate. But then he added, ‘Do you think we should let him out?’

I am sure that, in every job, there are questions that people really don’t want to be asked. And ‘Should I let him out?’ is mine. My smile became an inward shudder and I gathered my thoughts. I looked at the madly smiling juvenile sea of expectant faces and realised they expected sage words of wisdom from their veterinary surgeon. I started badly. ‘That’s a difficult one. There are pros and cons to be considered and you have to take a lot of things into account.’ Then I just made it worse. ‘It’s not really a question that can be answered in a simple way, especially when we haven’t yet established his full character and your circumstances. Then, as always, inevitably, the camp divided.

The little girl, blond and angelic in appearance but clearly a master of manipulation of older brothers, tilted her head tearfully and said, ‘I just want to keep him in and cuddle him. I don’t want him to go out and get his lovely coat dirty.’ Her brothers rolled their eyes as one and quoted simultaneously from the cat book they had read. ‘He is a natural hunter and this instinctive behaviour must be satisfied or he may have cykologistic problems.’ (I knew what they meant.) Mum got in on the act too. ‘We live on a very busy street and I couldn’t bear if he got run over.’ Dad, exasperated already, stared me up and down pointedly and said through gritted teeth. ‘I really, really, really do not like the idea of litter trays in the kitchen.’

Find out more next week…