"I can't believe you said that."
"Well... she's. I mean she's great She's friendly and everything, but she's not exactly attractive is she?"
"That's really mean."
"You said yourself, she's a bit gray..."
"I can't believe you're bitching about our cat."
"Well, all I'm saying is there's a reason why no-one wants to adopt her."
The following conversation came back to haunt me when I surprised my foster cat in the act of tearing out the fur on her head. The scratching was so fast tempo it sounded like the whir of a desk fan on the highest setting.
"Stop it puss. What are you doing to yourself?"
Small clumps of white hair polka-dotted the red blanket we'd laid over the bed to save the duvet from her claws and her cat litter footprints. She looked up at me, non-plussed. It wasn't feeding time, so she only kicked in the low-level purring when I put my hand to her face.
It was only when I got back from the theatre that night that I really saw the full extent of what she'd done. Her white head was slashed with red, where the ahir had been pulled up by the roots. She seemed to have forgotten all about it, whickering happily enough while I clumsily dabbed it clean with water and toilet paper.
I opened the bathroom cupboard, but the plasters and the antibiotic cream seemed all wrong. Wouldn't she just rip and lick off anything I tried to put on the wound, poisoning and chocking herself on my good intentions? I also thought about emailing the woman who had dropped her off. Did she need to go to the vet (and the selfish follow-up, and who would pay)?
With an internet connection like ours (purloined, unreliable) scouring is really the wrong verb for what we can do to the web, but I brushed up against a couple of cat behaviour sites and chatrooms looking for answers. The results were inconclusive, but one theme was repeated, in various hysterical and professional keys.
Our cat had low esteem. And it was all my fault.