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Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 11:05 GMT
Life as a feline foster parent
Mark Devenport
Mark enjoys a quiet moment with Melinda
Approaching his last few months as the BBC's man at the United Nations Mark Devenport is trying to work out what he should do about a small but energetic New Yorker who he has picked up along the way.

I want to start with a confession - if you happen to be listening to me on the airwaves and I suddenly stop making the kind of sense you normally associate with a BBC correspondent, it may well be that Melinda has just decided to sit on my head.

I had better quickly make it clear that Melinda is a rather young, unquestionably mischievous, beautifully marked New York cat.


On more than one occasion, I've been live on air with a cat on my head

If there's one thing she doesn't like, it's being ignored and when I put on my headphones and grab the microphone to broadcast from home, she feels particularly excluded.

To avoid interruptions I generally try to lock her in another room, but in my rickety apartment the doors don't stay shut, so, yes, on more than one occasion, I've been live on air with a cat on my head.

I was never a paid-up pet lover. So how I ended up sharing my broadcasts with Melinda I find hard to explain.

But I think it says something about Manhattan's obsession with animals, a disease that has definitely infected me.

Urban jungle

Melinda: Good company, but picky
Melinda: Good company, but picky
In this most urban of jungles, built on an island, they say you are never more than a few feet away from a rat. But don't worry - two dogs and three cats will undoubtedly be in closer proximity.

This is a world of dog walkers and cat sitters, canine gyms and pet therapy classes, and I am a somewhat bemused hanger-on.

Last year my girlfriend, over on a visit from Ireland, told me she'd discovered a local shop full of cages of stray cats up for adoption.

My immediate response was no, no and no - our apartment was too small and what about the six months quarantine required whenever I returned to Britain?

A couple of days later my girlfriend came back with another ploy. The woman at the shop told her we could foster an animal that needed extra care during the week, returning it in the hope that someone would adopt it at the weekend.

Creature comforts

So that was how I became a cat foster parent, and every weekend for the next few months we chased Melinda around the apartment, sticking her in her carrier before taking her back to the shop.


She refuses to touch cat food, insisting on a bizarre diet of tuna, broccoli, yoghurt and tomato

Increasingly reluctant to leave her comfortable foster home, Melinda put off potential adoptive parents by sulking in her cage or, if extreme measures were needed, threatening to bite them.

Three months came and went with no takers. Eventually my girlfriend had to return to Ireland and I faced a dilemma - what to do about the other female now in my life?

You guessed it. I'm a sucker. Melinda moved in full time - and you're right, it is a stupid name for a cat.

Melinda's good company but she can be a bit picky. Despite having been abandoned in a cellar below a shop, she resolutely refuses to touch cat food, insisting on a bizarre diet of tuna, broccoli, yoghurt and tomato.

Anything I eat she wants to eat, even pasta and potatoes. Together we have survived an eviction and a traumatic move to a new apartment.

European sucker

And then there was the time Melinda was sick and I took her to the local animal hospital where the vet mistook me for another obsessed Manhattan pet owner.


Whenever a story breaks outside the city, I run to get keys to the cat sitter before I run for the plane.

After an examination, the vet couldn't tell me what was wrong but said he intended to do a battery of blood tests, put Melinda on a drip and keep her in overnight for observation, a service for which he wanted to charge me rather more than the price of a transatlantic air fare.

I reminded him that, although I am a sucker, I do remain a European sucker - he did the minimum and Melinda got better.

The New York cat experience is more solitary than the New York dog experience - walk past any fenced off dog run in a Manhattan park and you realise that for many New Yorkers their canine friend provides them with a complete social life.

Us feline types don't have the same networks, but having to get someone to feed Melinda when I'm away has meant that I've developed a little coterie of people who do me favours.

Now, whenever a story breaks outside the city, I run to get keys to the cat sitter before I run for the plane.

Quarantine dilemma

But I still haven't solved the big dilemma - what to do when I go home. I'm not sure that Melinda will survive the six months quarantine that the UK still requires for American animals.


There the hope of finding that elusive nice grandmother in Manhattan looking for a pet who eats broccoli

All sorts of far fetched schemes are being investigated - there's a loophole in Irish law which allows you to do five months of the quarantine yourself.

However to benefit from it you really need to own a barn in the south of Ireland, and ideally be the ambassador from Washington who negotiated the clause in the first place.

There's the possibility of a six-month holiday in rabies free Hawaii, an option which sounds enticing if it didn't clash with rather more vital commitments I have at home.

There's also the hope of finding that elusive nice grandmother in Manhattan looking for a pet who eats broccoli.

Then there's the chance of persuading some kind Western European to give Melinda board and lodging for six months so I can take advantage of the new British pet passport scheme.

So far I have had no joy on any front. Until then, please forgive me if I don't make sense - I may be broadcasting with a New York alley cat sitting on my head.

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