Stephen Dixon: You’re never lonely with a cat… and I should know

THE NEWS that having a cat is good for your mental health comes as no surprise to me and probably no surprise to any good cat owner. I have had cats in my life for as long as I can remember. My parents took in a stray called Olive in the 70s and nursed her back to health. She had been in a pretty bad way.

Despite the vet assuring them that she was too old to have kittens she disappeared from the house for a few weeks and came back from her “honeymoon” pregnant. Her two kittens, Patience and Charlie, were as much my mum’s as they were Olive’s.

They were hand-reared as Olive couldn’t feed them. Each was fed with a dropper and then given back for Olive to clean. It was a real partnership between the two mothers.

When the last of the cats died at the age of 18 the whole family was devastated.

Having a pet in a family setting has got to be a positive thing.We know it aids building up affection and helps children deal with death but as an adult I’ve also found having a cat has been a god-send.

I have been single for a very long time – not deliberately so, but after my partner passed away 20 years ago, I’ve found it very difficult to fall in love again.

We all know that a true loving relationship means you have to put yourself and your feelings in a very vulnerable position.

Having been so hurt by losing someone I loved in my 20s I have found myself unwilling to risk that sort of pain again.

But that doesn’t mean I am lonely.

Thankfully I am one of those people who is pretty self-sufficient and enjoys my own company.There’s a lot to be said for not being reliant on somebody else for company or for reassurance. I certainly don’t miss having someone to argue with.

In many ways, as a single man, I have found my circumstances ideal and yet getting a cat has changed my life.

Like most budding journalists I had found myself living in London, but being a country boy from the Lake District I knew I’d need to end up living somewhere greener and quieter so in 2011 I moved as far north as was commutable for work, buying a nice house with a big garden.A cat was somewhat inevitable.

I decided just to have a look at some moggies at my local rescue centre, but true to feline form, I was clearly the one on display, being paraded from room to room.

While I was worrying about which of these lovely cats I might want to take home, they were pondering which one of them would be brave enough to take on this particular human.

Eventually one was moved enough to take pity on me, making this known by miaowing at me until I picked him up.And the deal was done.

From that moment,Timmy has been my constant companion and friend.A bog-standard black and white cat with a stripe down his nose and coat that positively gleams, he has been a blessing.

I wish that all those who say that cats are distant, aloof, selfish creatures could spend time with me and Timmy.

He is the most affectionate cat I have known, following me round the house, never more than a few feet away, always wanting cuddles, often walking up my chest just to give my nose a friendly lick.

He even sits behind my head when I am in the bath, purring so loudly it drowns out the sound of running water.

To be fair to this human, Timmy is shown as much love as he gives. He is certainly a pampered cat. He is stroked, petted and gently talked to all the time.

It is relationships like this that I believe help those with loneliness and maybe for people like me, stop loneliness from developing.

Just having a living soul to talk to, being welcomed home, the sense of feeling appreciated. Cats reflect the love that they are given straight back to their owner, the more you give, the more you get.

It’s a great life lesson and a relationship that is full of rewards.

I’m sure that some who aren’t animal lovers will find all this very strange and wonder why humans value their relationships with pets just as much as they value those with people. It certainly is a strange dynamic.

It is hard to work out why this small creature threading his way through my legs is so important to me and such a big part of my life, but the sight of Timmy sitting on the doorstep when I get back home from work makes me smile.The fact he always wants to be picked up as soon as we get in the house warms my heart.And whatever the reason for these feelings, they’re worth having.

I am definitely a better person just for having him around, for having someone in whom I can invest love, care and time.

I’m not a lonely person, but should I ever feel that way, I always remember: “All you need is love – and a cat.”

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