x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Wild cat encounters

Expat life Monette, hitherto such a friendly and affectionate cat, sinks her teeth into Colin Randall's index finger.

Indulging a lifelong fascination with big cats and other wild animals, my elder daughter is about to interrupt a perfectly good career to spend three months on an African game reserve. She knows how to worry her parents, and it took my perusal of her travel documents to alert her to the need for rabies injections. But her surprise at this, well, unsurprising precaution was nothing compared with her shock on learning that I, too, was being vaccinated against the disease after being bitten by the family pet, a rather smaller cat than the ones she hopes to be seeing soon. And grateful as I am that the professionals at the Ittihad clinic near The National's offices insisted on taking no chances, it does seem slightly alarmist to imagine such a trivial domestic incident leading to madness, convulsions, foaming mouth and death.

The drama had begun innocuously enough with our cat joining us on the balcony at the end of a meal. Monette, as some readers may recall, once lived happily confined to a Parisian apartment, but later became accustomed to the outdoors, in the south of France and then London. Now she is part of Abu Dhabi's feline expat population and here, I was warned by the vet, cats are best kept inside, to avoid contact with strays. Monette loathes cat leashes, so was on my knee, my left hand gently restraining her as I fed her morsels of fish.

At some point, she became unhappy with this arrangement and tried to wriggle free, whether hoping to eat her scraps on the floor or in startled response to car brakes screeching before the hump outside our home. I got a fair idea of her displeasure at being stopped when her teeth sank into my index finger. This event inspired little by way of family sympathy. True, my daughter sighed: "Poor thing." But she didn't mean me. "Monette must have been terrified to do that," she went on.

Ignoring blood spurting from finger, my wife had merely said: "You can tell you didn't do your national service." This instinctive response neatly combined French disdain for the namby-pamby English (conscription having continued in France until 2001) and every woman's certainty that men exaggerate illness and injury. In fairness, the sight of my wounds 36 hours later as I changed the plaster did prompt her to say I should show them to a pharmacist.

A doctor's opinion seemed a better idea still, and I ended up having a detailed examination, replacement of plaster with elaborate dressing and the first of what will be five anti-rabies injections. And Monette, hitherto such a friendly and affectionate cat? I have looked in vain for signs of contrition. My daughter explains that this is normal, since cats "don't do remorse". But then, she always did like the description of Monette offered by a friend: "She's really beautiful, but look into her eyes and you see straight into the jungle."