Friday, 04 July 2014


It’s official – as a nation, we are devoted to our cats. So much so that we have now taken to Skyping our beloved pets. And men are the biggest culprits, discovers Melonie Clarke

Written by Melonie Clarke
Type the word ‘cat’ into Google and you’ll get 491,000,000 results, including 297,000,000 cat videos. Coupled with the fact that there are 8.5 million cats in the UK, it’s fair to say that we are a nation of feline devotees.

But assuming you are a cat lover, just how far would you go to stay in touch with him or her when you’re away? Would you ask your husband, best friend or neighbour, for example, to put Felix or Fluffy on the phone when you call?

Many would. In fact, a report out this week shows that a third of us are prepared to go one step further and Skype to stay in touch with our moggies. But what is Skype, some may ask? It is a free, internet-based phone service that uses a webcam so you can have a spoken (and visual) conversation with people who may live in Australia or other far-fl ung corners of the Earth, via your computer screen. Or indeed, as it would now appear, with your beloved feline.

And, perhaps surprisingly, it is men who spend the most time calling home – to hear their pussycats purr.

Fifty-eight-year-old Phil Windeatt, for example, has had cats since he was 14 years old and currently shares his life with six. ‘There’s Christmas Kitty, so-called because he was a stray who came across us on Christmas Day, and Tubbs, another stray, who is over- weight. There’s Frank, who was a vicious old stray but he’s all right now, and George who’s named after George Galloway because he’s a ginger. There’s also a little kitten, a few weeks old, who we’ll probably call Joey and another stray that we got a year ago who’s ginger and white. He’s called Lou, after my dad.’

One of the things Phil likes about cats is that ‘they’re not such a responsibility as dogs.

‘It’s a misconception that they’re not friendly,’ he says. ‘If they haven’t been treated badly, they usually crave human touch. Some enjoy sitting on your lap, some don’t – that’s the variety of cats and I think that if you have more than one then you get the interplay between them, which can be very funny. In many ways, they refl ect our own behaviour – they like to sleep 17 hours a day and they please themselves and they like eating.’

Phil’s six moggies are certainly part of the family. ‘We didn’t have children so I suppose psychologists could easily say that these were all child substitutes,’ he says. ‘And they would probably be right.’

A cat is the choice of pet for a number of men because it is the nearest thing to a tiger or lion, according to 12 per cent of the men questioned by Hallmark Cards. I wonder what Phil thinks of that.

‘I’d prefer a lion or a tiger but that might be a bit of a problem… our cats are quite passive and prefer to sit in front of the fire than go hunting on the Serengeti.’

And now we get to the big question. Does he ever telephone his cats?

‘Usually if the cat’s purring, my partner will say: “Hang on, the cat’s purring” and then I hear this purring noise on the phone. That’s happened many times,’ Phil admits.

‘I remember I’d just gone away to Leicester University. I was 18 years old and I was stuck up in Leicester at these awful halls of residence. I was very, very homesick. I called my mum from a public telephone box, which you would have done in 1974, and I could hear the cat meow and it made me really homesick. I would have done anything to have been at home and the cat meowing made it worse.’

Clementine Vann-Alexander, who is currently studying Spanish and Portuguese at Bristol University, doesn’t get to go home much during term time. But thankfully Skype helps her combat homesickness.

She will often ask her parents to put her cats, Amber and Jasper, in front of the webcam or on the phone so she can hear them purr.

‘They’re my childhood pets essentially,’ says 19-year-old Clementine, ‘and Amber was my Christmas present 12 years ago. It feels a bit weird to use the adjective close because she’s a pet but we are very close. She follows me about the house when I’m home. I do miss her while I’m away.

‘I have in the past asked my mum to put her on the phone just so I could hear her purr,’ she admits, ‘but only every now and then.

‘I’m quite far from home because I live in the North and I don’t get much of an opportunity to go back, so it’s a bit of a comfort really… but obviously one can’t expect an animal to be particularly talkative over the phone. But she’s a very noisy cat, so normally something is picked up.’

Although Skyping your moggy may be a comfort to you, animal behaviourist Janetta Smith would urge owners to think twice.

‘Animals are quite social creatures so things like hand contact, smells and visualisation are all good. But if you have a screen and they’re on the other side, animals can get stressed because they can’t get actual contact. They can hear their owner but not make the physical contact they crave.’

However, she does believe that Skype has its advantages.

‘A lot of owners use it to record what their pet is doing during the day, just keeping an eye on them, rather than communicating with them.’

Janetta continues: ‘If their pet has a particular problem, say separation anxiety, a lot of the clients may leave the video rolling so they can see what’s going on during the day. Often there are trigger points for the behaviour so a video is quite good for seeing what those triggers are, such as doorbells or alarms.’

How do you keep in touch with your cat? Write to our Letters page at the Bedford Street address or email


  • More than 20% of cat owners take their cat on holiday with them.
  • 15% of moggy owners confessed to giving their cat specially made meals on a daily basis.
  • 30% of women and nearly 18% of men deem their feline a fully  edged member of the family, buying them a present or card on birthdays.
  • 37% of men have tried to teach their cat tricks, while 11% of those said their cat can do so many tricks they could enter them on Britain’s Got Talent.
  • 70% of cat owners likened their cat to Angelina Jolie, because like the actress their cats are ‘sexy, sinuous and just a little bit dangerous’. 

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