Terry Prone: He was just a pet cat but it was still painful to watch Dino slip away

Dino veered between affection for his sister, Specs, and impatience with her, the latter expressed in sudden bites

19th Feb 2024
Share this blog post:

Originally published in the Irish Times.

That he was named after Dean Martin testified to the black cat’s intrinsic cool. He was in charge right from kittenhood, a definitive cat, right down to the stalking. He would sit in front of my husband, tail curled around himself so he was a perfect fur statue, waiting for Tom to finish eating, looking at him with such concentrated intent, it would intimidate a man who wasn’t intimidated by much. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Tom would ask him. “You’ve been fed. Gimme a break, would you?” Dino would listen to him, never taking his green gaze off the prospect of eating his leftovers, and Tom would abandon hope and put his plate on the floor for feline devouring.

Dino was black with a little white Roman collar on him and one white whisker. That was sixteen years ago when he arrived. As he aged, he got more white whiskers. Also a split ear because of a fight with Invader Cat. Invader Cat is a slow learner who always hopes he’ll get away with invading our garden, and Dino was super-committed to evicting him. The battles between the two of them were spectacular.

Whenever anybody from inside the house went out for a walk, whether down to the pond or up to the post box at the gate, he would accompany them, marching behind them like a police officer. That’s the thing about cats. In still pose or from the front, they are elegant and graceful. From behind, they’re Mr Plod the Policeman. Once Dino’s Garda-on-the-beat walk around was complete, he’d be up on the sea wall, gazing at the waves.

Living in a Martello tower that’s open to the public on weekend mornings offered him limitless opportunities to socialise. He would hop up on the kitchen surface during the introductions to the tour and I would scatter him and try to convince the visitors that this unhygienic incident was rare, although they knew damn well it was constant. From that position, he graciously allowed the cat lovers to stroke his head and admire his motorbike purr.

They could try to secrete themselves behind other visitors, but he outsmarted them every time, doing figures of eight sinuously around their legs while they closed their eyes in terror, and then — to make them open their eyes and admire him properly — head-butting them enthusiastically.

He would sit on the spiral staircase during the health and safety speech: “Please remember that these stairs were built for soldiers who were the products of nineteenth-century British slums. On average, they were five foot six inches tall, stunted and skinnied by poor diet and too many cigarettes.” The minute it was over, up the stone steps he went, leading the way to the first floor and finally to the roof where the cannon used to circle on its great wheel.

It was on the roof he would do his tour de force, leaping up on the edge of it, often in defiance of winds that could have swept him right into the sea, parading up and down the slant of it, causing visitors to look reproachfully at me for not taking better care of him. Sometimes, when we headed back to the interior warmth of the tower, he would come with us. Sometimes he would instead take the high-risk route back to ground level to say farewell to the visitors in the garden as if coming off the roof of a fortress was easy peasy.

He was a birder of terrifying prowess, which led to an incident I recorded in this paper three years ago:

'I hear a chirping. Like a bird in distress. Inside my home. Accompanied by the triumphant bellowing of a cat with prey. Rushing out into the main room, I encounter the rear view of Dino, who is settling down to a repast. Without registering one crucial detail, I kick him with a socked foot, yelling profanities at him. He is affronted by this, moving away but not far and gazing at me with concentrated enmity. The detail I missed was a long tail. No feathers. Just the kind of long tail you get on an oversized rat. I panic that the rat may attack the socked foot with which I kicked Dino, but the rodent doesn’t seem to have any attack left in him. I apologise to Dino and invite him to get on with the meal I interrupted. He gives me a long “That’ll teach you” look and exits, leaving the rat as my problem.'

Click here for the full article.