At the risk of depriving many stand-up comedians of their routines, the difference between cat and dog people is a simple one. Dogs are low-status and adoring, for people whose central need is to receive affection; cats are high-status and aloof, for those whose need is to give it.
I've always been a cat person; my family acquired the first pair when I was five and have had a regular overlapping parade of them since then, some adopted from friends, some just wandering in.
A couple of months ago, Skittles, our cat for the last ten years, died. A few weeks later, my housemate heard of a work colleague who'd developed an allergy and was therefore looking for a good home for Matilda, tabby, long-haired, four years old, and beautiful.
We installed her initially in the back room. Used to living in a flat, she tended to stay indoors most of the time, only exploring the back garden when chivvied out. She quickly found a preferred place to sleep, lying at the top of the stairs, one paw languidly outstretched. When stroked or tickled, she'd stretch across the floor, lashing her tail like a dog.
Last week, my housemate came downstairs in the morning to discover Matilda lying in her habitual place, warm and dead. She'd lived under our roof for a little less than a month.
The vet told us that she died from a rush of fluid into her lungs, consistent with either an undetected heart condition or a sudden infection - in other words, it wasn't our fault. My housemate had ordered some cat treats by mail order. They arrived the day after her death.
Increasingly, I find that the things that cut me up are less to do with man's inhumanity to man (that's just depressing), and more with the occasions when people mean well but still get nowhere - couples who love each other but can't make their marriages work, projects that fail despite the commitment of all concerned. I remember as a teenager being very affected by the chapter in 'Far From the Madding Crowd' where, after Boldwood's death, his wardrobe is found full of clothes meant for his intended wife, and labelled 'Bathsheba Boldwood'. The combination of love and pointlessness still upsets me.
I do realise that there are many events more tragic than the death of a cat, even a beautiful long-haired tabby. But still, I feel a sadness, and it'd be dishonest to deny it. In an era of obsessive positive thinking, it's worth remembering that, sometimes, things go wrong, and there's nothing we can do about it. Sometimes, in small things as much as great, life's a bitch.