As a youngster, I had to be cat-deprived.

My desire for a kitten was not fulfilled. We spent about two-thirds each year in Canada’s north woods, and the cat would have run off and become lost. Who would take care of it?

These objections could not be answered.

I took my time.

I dreamed in my dreams.

My drawings as a six-year-old are festooned with flying cats, and my first book — a volume of poems put together with folded sheets and a construction-paper cover — was called Rhyming Cats, and had an illustration of a cat playing with a ball.

Margaret Atwood’s evocative and heartfelt homage to the cats in her life since childhood — and discover how their wicked cunning and high comedy made them her purrfect literary companions

Margaret Atwood’s evocative and heartfelt homage to the cats in her life since childhood — and discover how their wicked cunning and high comedy made them her purrfect literary companions

The cat was a sausage-looking creature, with whiskers and ears. But it was my early design days.

My months spent in woods became shorter and I noticed an opening. A friend of mine had kittens. Could I, would they, can’t I, why not? They were too big for me.

My father was never entirely easy about having an indoor cat — he was born at the beginning of the 20th century on a small backwoods farm, so for him cats belonged in the barn, their job was to catch rats and mice, and unwanted kittens were drowned in a sack — but he conceded that this particular cat was unusually agreeable and intelligent, for a cat.

This cat’s name was Percolator. This is a pun. I expect you noticed.) Perky was her nickname, which she lived up too, with alertness and energy.

She slept in the dolls’ bed in my room — never much used for dolls — or else on top of me, and I loved her dearly.

In those days we didn’t yet know that we should not let cats outside due to their devastating effect on wild bird populations, so Perky went in and out at night through my ground-floor bedroom window, and brought me nocturnal presents.

These were gifts she caught. They were often dead mice. However, several birds weren’t and they had to be rescued by a shoebox hospital.

If interventions are successful, the birds will be released the next morning. Otherwise, burials would take place.

There was once a rabbit who didn’t bite me. It gave Perky and I a wild chase and then got into my shoebox.

It was likely to have died of shock. (Grabbed in the stomach by a monstrous. Aliens have taken the captive. This is how distressing that could have been.

Rhea was our neighbour next door and she fed Perky every day when we were going to the woods. Perky seemed to do well outside.

She was close to an old orchard and could easily access a cemetery, which meant she had plenty of hunting ground.

All went well until the day of Rhea’s garden party. A large, low-set table was set for the ladies in flowered sunhats and dresses. On it was a plate of sugary stuffed dates. Oblong, moist.

Perky, to show gratitude, brought a gift — a dead mole, well-licked and smoothed, also oblong and moist — and laid it on the platter. Someone almost ate it.

Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford and Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne in the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a dystopian future series where a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship

Yvonne Strahovski plays Serena Joy Waterford, and Elisabeth Moss portrays June Osborne. The TV series is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It depicts a future where a woman must live as a concubine in a dictatorial fundamentalist regime.

I then had my first child at the age of twelve.

Perky was doomed by this event. When I returned from school, she wasn’t there.

She’d been caught licking milk from the baby’s mouth, and, fearful that she would sit on the baby’s head and smother her, my parents had ‘given her away’.

It was likely that this would have been a visit to the Humane Society followed by a quick death. However, I don’t think I knew.

Today there would be an extended family meeting and much emotional explaining. The cat would probably have been put to rest anyway.

It was as it was. This was a tragedy.

Was I angry at the loss of my cat, my first? Yes, I did.

Have I ever forgotten it? As you can see, I haven’t.

It is hard to believe that I was so cruelly taken from my animal daemon. It was.

Other cats followed, though much later: hard to have a cat when you are living in residences, rooming houses and rented apartments that said ‘NO PETS’.

After a while Patience arrived, got all stuck with burrs, then rolled onto the afghan that I had painstakingly knitted, followed by Ruby, our senior, tough and formidable, who would go on walks like a dog with us when we moved into a farm.

I suddenly had a little girl, who was also afflicted by a longing for a kitten.

For a brief time, the inevitable was delayed: there was already one mouse in the house.

You can’t say it was friendly. It kept going on and off with its exercise bike, biting fingers, and emitting foul olfactors.

The mouse then died. The mouse was shown to two boys and then a Monty Python skit ensued.

‘This mouse is dead!’

‘No it isn’t, it’s sleeping.’

‘Look! Dead!’ (Pokes mouse.)

Is there trauma? No. There was no formal funeral. (I expect chimney swifts.

It was finally reopened, and it was clear that no mouse had been found in the grave. It was hidden by the sod covering.

Two minutes later: ‘Now that the mouse is dead, can I have a kitten?’

A neighbour had some, and was more than happy to part with two, ‘so they will have someone to play with’.

The five-year old was given naming rights. Fluffy was a grey-colored kitten named Fluffy.

Blackie was the other short-haired, black dog.

Not sophisticated names, to be sure — no Oedipus, no Octopus, no Platypus, no Catatonic — but descriptive.

These kittens were remarkably patient, and allowed themselves to be stuffed into dolls’ dresses and wheeled around in a toy buggy. Perky had already done it, so I was able to do the same with Perky.

It was a rule that the costumes should be kept indoors as they can get caught by branches and become strangled on their bonnet strings.

They would sometimes escape and people would see them leaping from roof to rooftop wearing pinafores and flouncy caps.

Fluffy was kind and obliging while Blackie was a con man.

One of his neighbours used to let him sneak up on them and make mew pitiful, presuming that he was lost.

They allowed him to come in and fed him. They had to wait a long time before they realized that he was only two doors away.

He was quick to move to another address shortly afterwards.

Author Margaret Atwood in Tallinn, Estonia, in June 2015

Margaret Atwood (author) in Tallinn Estonia in June 2015.

Fluffy was meanwhile on the sidewalk, playing voluptuously and inviting passers-by to touch her stomach.

Ring of doorbell. Total stranger: ‘Please tell Fluffy I’m so sorry I forgot her smoked salmon today, but I’ll bring it tomorrow.’

Parents inherit their cats and children become adults. This happens faster than you’d think. Within a few minutes, I was able to have two companions.

Fluffy occupied the stairs and would fight Blackie for it. But Blackie was my master bedroom and would climb onto the keyboard to mess up papers and twirl the elastic around the manuscripts.

They were not hunters. Blackie would be tempted to chase the squirrels by bouncing off Blackie’s bed, but instead he would blink.

Mice would appear in the kitchen — they’d come up a drainpipe before we got that fixed — and Blackie and Fluffy would just stare at them. (‘Blackie! Fluffy! Do your thing!’ Looks of disdain: what were they, peasants?)

They were not without defensive abilities. I once saw the two of them watch an approaching and evil-intentioned raccoon — stock-still, tails twitching slightly — until the very last minute, when they flew at the intruder’s nose, all claws unsheathed.

It felt like something from a John Keegan strategy book on warfare: Stay together! You must hold the line! Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes! There is no retreat Attaaack!

It is likely that there were also encounters with other cats. The territory of a male cat in the wild is one mile. It’s no surprise that catfights are common in cities.

Blackie lost probably most of his fights. He was not a strong Achilles, but a wily Ulysses. He once returned home from a fight with a claw in his nose. (‘Blackie! What have you been up to?’ Heart-rending mew.)

Missing or damaged skin and ears had to be treated.

Writers and their cats — it’s a theme. Books of photographs have been written about it.

There are also writers and their dogs, writers and their birds (parrots and ravens feature) and perhaps (I’m guessing) writers and their snakes.

But I’d bet that the cats predominate. Interviews are a breeze for them, they project an aura of mystery while giving nothing away.

They remain still in front of the camera.

As all Romantics are, they’re independent-minded and Byronic about their disdain for authority. They’re always clean and well groomed. Are they Influences or Muses? They are Muses. Depending on how you measure, yes and no.

Their cats love stories and poetry, or have at least gotten to mine. Not always ‘my’ cats, however: sometimes the cats of others.

One cat — true story — belonged to a friend of mine. The ex kidnapped it and put him in prison with a metal trash can.

(Happy-ending rescue after a frantic search and some ‘help me’ meowing.) My wish-fulfillment piece called Our Cat Enters Heaven, which features Blackie disguised as God and tells us that God’s a large cat.

This would also be the way he/she would appear to a cat.

This was just one example of the many times I went through my mourning period after Blackie’s death. This is the down side to being a cat owner: Cats usually die before you do.

I’m not sure why I was so flattened after the death of this particular cat, but I was. 

We were not there to witness the incident. Blackie was a cat care worker for my sister.

The vet said that it can be treated. But Blackie would need to have his urine taken and a needle given twice daily.

How good were those odds? Zero. Blackie could have used one needle and not waited for the other.

He’d have been off to the shrubbery at first chance. As for the urine sample: ‘Blackie, pee in the bottle.’ Look of total contempt. This is the end of this story.

It was over. In tears, my sister called long distance to tell me that her brother had died. ‘Blackie’s d-d-dead!’

Dystopian: Elisabeth Moss in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale

Dystopian: Elisabeth Moss in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale

Me: ‘Oh no! What did you…’

She: ‘I wrapped him in red silk and put him in the f-f-freezer, so you could b-b-bury him yourself when you get back!’

It was a shared house, with many roommates. One of the visions of my daughter looking for hamburger in her freezer was illustrative. Freezer paper being unwrapped. What’s this? The Mummy Walks! Dropping of frozen cats, flying. . .

However, that has never been the case.

We concealed Blackie’s death from our daughter for several weeks — she was at university doing exams, it would be upsetting for her — then we got hell for it. ‘How could you do this to me? Next time you have to tell me immediately!’

We came to realise that what she was really afraid of was that one of us would develop a terminal illness, expire and possibly be stowed in the freezer, and she wouldn’t be informed until it was too late.

It is hard to trust a parent that behaves so duplicitously with regards to a cat who’s died.

I also wrote several poems in commemoration. I also re-wrote Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur, substituting cats.

Blackie is the dying king, Sir Cativere is his trusty friend, the three queens on the barge bearing King Blackie to the mouse-filled island orchard of Avilion caterwaul in grief (‘And on the mere the mewing died away ?. . . ’).

Yes. It was. Strangely, it is therapeutic.

Fluffy followed Blackie soon after but on a very different path.

Cat dementia developed in her. She couldn’t remember where she was and wandered the house, emitting ghostly howls at night.

However, more time is now.

After long periods of abstinence in which I thought I would never have another cat, and because I felt I might fall on my own stairs if they went down, I put myself on the waiting list to adopt two Siberian kittens. (Yes, my allergy has been there since childhood. But this type of cat tends to have low allergen levels.

They will be indoor cats, and they can be trained to walk on leashes.

Maybe I will build a catalina so they can enjoy the sun while still being able to see wildlife.

Cat hammocks will be available to me. I will also have scratching boards. Ich will not be disturbed by shredded upholstery.

If I’m going to be a mad old lady with a witchy reputation, I may as well equip myself with a couple of trusted familiars.

Company as one flies through the air on one’s broom, wouldn’t you say?

On Cats: An Anthology, introduced by Margaret Atwood, is published by Notting Hill Editions, available for £14.99.