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Issue 06


William Olhausen

William Olhausen lives and works in Dublin as a minister in the Church of Ireland. He is also a trustee of the Kirby Laing Centre. 

Photographs by Fiona Olhausen who also lives and works in Dublin.  Since 2021 she has worked for the accountancy firm, Grant Thornton.

I lead a weekly assembly at our local parish primary school. I told the children I was writing an article about our cat, Percy, and I asked them what I should talk about. The hands shot up and there were lots of great suggestions. Where did Percy come from? What sort of cat is he? Why did we call him Percy? Are there any good stories about him? How does he contribute to family life? So, here is something of Percy’s story.   

Franz Marc, Three cats

In 2018 our daughter Fiona wanted to mark her 21st birthday with a kitten. She loves cats.  I think it’s fair to say that I am a late convert! Angie, a young woman who rescues unwanted animals, said she had two kittens – brothers – who needed a good home. Only several weeks old, they were adorable. 

We called them Percy and Hector. “Percy” is short for “Perseus” (Fiona has an interest in the Classics!). When they were small, Hector cried and shouted for attention all the time and loved to be held like a baby on the shoulder and patted – something the more timid Percy came to appreciate too! Percy occasionally tried to say something, but nothing would come out and he seemed happy to let his more robust and confident brother do all the talking. 

Hector (left) and Percy

The first time he ventured out of the garden Hector was killed instantly by a car. We were heartbroken. He was such a character and the way the two kittens interacted was a joy.  When we had brought Hector’s body back into the garden, we laid him down on the lawn and Percy spent a considerable amount of time attending to his brother’s lifeless body. What sort of ritual was this? What sort of trauma was Percy experiencing? It is difficult not to attribute human-like feelings to an animal at times like that. Whatever the truth, Percy’s world had changed – and to a lesser extent so had ours. We were now his only family. As she recovered from surgery, Fiona had time to lavish care, attention and love on Percy. Consequently, Percy is very relaxed around people. As one distinguished visitor (Craig!) commented: you can tell Percy has only ever experienced love. I think that’s probably right!

Percy became a constant presence in our lives through the pandemic – growing more confident, and more affectionate by the day. He also found his voice! Like his brother Hector, Percy is now well able to demand attention and affection. Of course, sometimes he just wants some food or a drink. And sometimes he wants to play. When I reflect on this friendship with Percy it raises some interesting questions: to what extent do cats experience emotions? Why does Percy want to be with us? Why does Percy seem to want affection? Why does he want to play? And then there are the more mysterious sensibilities that Percy and other cats and animals seem to possess like knowing when death is near, or a person is about to have an epileptic seizure. The older I get, the more I find myself being thankful to God for the comfort and friendship of pets like Percy. “O, brave new world that has such cats in ’t!”

William relaxing with Percy