I was wary when I sat down to watch The Woman with 40 Cats on Channel 5. Wary that it was going to be an exploitative display of people with problems, like hoarder programmes have a tendency to be. Not just, “This is John, he keeps all of his ticket stubs from the cinema in a scrapbook”, but “This is Jean. You can’t get in or out of her house. We’ve plonked a counsellor in the show so it looks like we’re being caring”.
Don’t get me wrong, my first reaction when I saw the trailer for “The World’s Fortiest Cats” as my boyfriend accidentally called it, was to simply clap. Clap, check my diary, tell like-minded cat-loving friends, tell the cats, and clap a little bit more. The last cat programme we had was the Cat Diary thing that spent 40 minutes showing you a village hall and some computer screens before announcing that when cats go out, some of them wander far and some of them don’t. I shrugged at my cats and my cats shrugged back.
I sat down to watch this documentary as others watch Grand Designs. To me, it was aspirational. Some day. SOME DAY. My cat flaps (sounds oddly rude when plural) are highly technical and it says on the box that I’m allowed 29 cats. I’ll probably just get one a year as that way my fella might not notice, and also at some point it will level out and just stay a constant number.
The programme makers sneakily added a subheading – And Other Pet Hoarders – so we didn’t just get an hour of a woman trying to negotiate the furriest staircase ever seen. We did see her bathing a cat, which reminded me of the time I had to bath a cat after it had been stuck up the chimney and the grey and white bugger was just grey. She did seem to spend a lot of time combing all of them. Why was she so against short-haired cats? That question amongst others – does it smell in her house? How many pictures of them are on her iPhone? – was not answered. I have 6,000 pictures and only two cats.
The Other Pet Hoarders were a man who loved reptiles (his daughter complained of the sound of crickets). She was too young to know that that’s like living in Club Tropicana. She probably thinks that’s where the orange juice is made. There was a nice woman who nursed hedgehogs back to health (who knew you could stroke a hedgehog?). There was a lady who rescued as many battery hens as she could get in her car, giving them space, love and a bit of singing.
My favourite was the amazing woman who took in dogs, be they maltreated, dangerous or just abandoned. What a hero. The forums on Channel 5’s website were chock-a-block with people wanting to help her, financially and with their time and love. How smashing. I hope she gets that help.
So instead of poking fun at those who need help, it celebrated the enormous hearts of a nation of animal lovers. I beamed at my cats and my cats beamed back. And mewed back at a lot of the cats on the telly.
Sarah Millican is a guest on The Jonathan Ross Show, Saturday at 9.30pm on ITV