So, what do I need someone to build for me..? What would improve my quality of life, leaving me free to enjoy the lifestyle to which I wish to become accustomed? In one word: athingtolookaftermytwocats. Yes, my poor, decrepit cats, left in my care after the departure of m'Ex1. Two cats; 25 years, three eyes, three hips, 58 teeth and roughly 1.2 brains2 between them. Bless 'em. Now, just to make it perfectly clear, I'm not trying to palm them off entirely onto some mechanical monstrosity. Far from it. I'm more than happy to take care of the lap-sitting, purring, string-dangling, furry-mouse-chasing3 parts of cat ownership. No, it's the less life-affirming aspects of feline fostering that I'd be happy to delegate. But what functions would a cat-caring contraption require? Let's take a Stretcher-inspired tour of the blueprints.
Without question, the first function that would be handy would be the ability to print money. Between the cost of food, cat litter, vet's bills, furry mice and pet insurance, my finances are even less healthy than the cats. And as we shall see later, that's saying something.
Furniture is Overrated
Ah yes. Claws. My cats will not be subjected to the cruelty that is declawing - even though this would probably be a relatively simple function to build into the machine - but it would be nice to have something to persuade Cat #0.2 that he should use one of the two scratching posts available to him rather than my sofa/coffee table/kitchen cupboards/bed/office chair/leg4. There are two options for my machine here. I could build a scratching post into it, and then have it follow Cat #0.2 around, inserting said post between claws and furniture at the slightest sign of attack. Alternatively, I could just add a couple of arms, and program it to pick Cat #0.2 up and take him to the pre-existing scratching posts instead. I'll let the engineers argue over which would be more practical.
Now, I love my cats, but by god they can eat. Twice-a-day I have to remember to get the cat food out of the freezer5, unwrap it, chop it up, put it in the bowls, ignore the sneers and general disdain of the clientèle6, and then clean up all the gloopy mess when they've finally finished7. How difficult can it be to invent a machine to prepare and serve two meals per day to two cats8?
Cat litter. Bane of my life, along with all the other banes detailed herein, naturally. Here, there are three major issues. Firstly, Cat #0.2 prefers to use litter trays to the nasty, dirty old outdoors. Two or three trays per day, seven days per week, with only the occasional respite when he's caught short while outside and can't make it back to the infinitely more sanitary facilities indoors. Issue two: Cat #0.2 prefers nice, clean litter trays in which neither he nor Cat #1 have recently been. Therefore, every tray location has to have two trays, just in case he needs to perform both... erm... emissions. Thirdly, there is only one shop within about 10 miles that sells Cat #0.2's preferred form of litter. Needless to say, I buy in bulk as infrequently as possible. And always keep an emergency bag in the spare bedroom. A litter-tray-cleaning function on my machine would be marvellous.
Hair Today, Hair Tomorrow
Picture a scene. Not on a flat photograph, but in a three-dimensional, fully rotatable view with zoom function. It is a house. There are the usual accoutrements one would expect in a house: furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, books, CDs and so forth. You zoom in on the bedroom. The bed has a dark green duvet cover on. You zoom in closer. At higher resolution, it becomes clear that the duvet cover is actually light green, with a covering of fine, black hair. You move the view to the living room. The sofa is dark... no, wait... light brown, with a covering of fine, black hair. You move into the kitchen and open the virtual freezer. Beneath the bottom drawer there is a layer of fine, black hair. You select a CD from the rack and open the case. There is a layer of fine, black hair. You take a book from the shelf. There is a bookmark between pages 12 and 13, and fine, black hairs between pages 3 and 4, and 5 and 6, and 7 and 8, and 17 to 136 inclusive. A man stands in the room wearing a layer of fine, black hair. There is a certain air of resignation about him. He would like someone to build him a cat-hair remover. Please?
Sleeping With Cats9
I have a double bed. It's called a 'double' bed, because it has enough room for two cats. It also has room for one human, provided said human is prepared to sleep in a sort of elongated S-shape. Head on pillow, upper half of body curved to the left around Cat #0.2, lower half curved back to the right around Cat #1. And my osteopath wonders why my hip is knackered. I've no idea how my machine would solve this problem - without just turfing the cats out of the bedroom, which would be cruel, if effective - but I really wish it would.
Sloth, Sloth, Quick, Quick, Sloth
They might have more than three toes, but my cats can certainly teach Bradypus variegatus a thing or two. Normally, I'm quite happy for them to sleep through most of the day and then go and prowl round the garden at night. The fun starts when they decide - quite sweetly, I suppose - that they'd like me to prowl round the garden with them. At 3 o'clock in the morning. Like toddlers, I feel they need to be tired out during the day so that they will sleep at night. All my machine needs for this is a pointed stick with which to poke them the second they show signs of falling asleep between the hours of, say, 11am and 3pm. That should do the trick.
No Laughing Matter
My cats are very old. Particularly Cat #0.2, who is probably about 14-15 years of age (his actual age is unknown, as he was acquired from a cat rescue centre by m'Ex about 11 years ago). Naturally, at their advanced years, a few health problems are to be expected. With Cat #1, these are generally mechanical, and probably the result of the car accident (before he came into the possession of m'Ex) that left him with one eye, one hip and fewer teeth than would be ideal. Cat #0.2 is gradually developing the typical ailments of the elderly cat: hyperthyroidism and perhaps a little kidney dysfunction so far. As a result, I have to grab him unceremoniously every morning and persuade him to swallow one or more pills. A machine to do this for me would make my life easier, but I'm not sure Cat #0.2 would feel the same way. In addition to the pills, I also have to take regular urine samples so that his kidney function can be monitored. The vet told me - somewhat naively in my opinion - that this should be reasonably straightforward. Just put him in a room overnight with a litter tray full of plastic cat litter, then siphon up the urine the next morning. Simple. In a normal cat. In Cat #0.2... no. My first attempt took four nights, a cage, and large amounts of cleaning fluid. I'm so looking forward to the next time.
If a machine could indeed be constructed to carry out all these functions, then I might, one day, perhaps, be able to go on holiday. It's a crazy concept, I know, but maybe... I mean, do you honestly think I could ask some poor, unsuspecting neighbour to deal with all this? Or entrust Cat #0.2 and his myriad foibles to a cattery10? Nope, unless m'Ex is available to cat-sit, I'm duty bound to be there every morning to shove Cat #0.2's pill down his throat. Poor thing11.
To be honest, until m'Ex and I (and Cats #1 and #0.2) got together I'd always seen myself as a dog person. We'd had dogs when I was growing up, and I never really saw the point of cats. Now, of course, I'm a convert - though would love to have a dog or two one day - and, on reflection, perhaps the machine I've designed above isn't for me. OK, it would be nice to have a device that fed and watered my furry friends, and cleaned their litter trays, and gave them their medicine, and protected my possessions from their claws and hairs, and made room for me to sleep, and, perhaps most usefully, took urine samples when needed. But, then again, how could I have anything in my house that is going to take the piss out of my cats? That's my job.