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Looking back to the early 1990s when I first had cats - the Mark 1 kitties - I can't help but think that times were pretty primitive. These were the days before Frontline flea treatments, when the typical way to keep the little biters away was with sprays (that scared most cats) or with flea collars. These were also the early days of magnetic cat flaps which meant that if you wanted your cat to be able to go in and out of the flap, they needed to have a magnet hanging round their necks. As a result, collar wearing was de rigueur for the well turned out kitty of the 1990s and as a result, all three of my Mark 1 cats ended up with 'collar baldness' after a few years.
Time passes and when we got our Mark 2 kitties - their predecessors dying off one by one after long and happy lives - I planned to give my new furry friends the freedom of nakedness. My kitties would not wear collars. That was my plan. They would frolic through the garden as natured intended them to. Of course with cats things seldom go to plan. We bought an expensive fancy cat flap that identifies our cats by their microchips, letting them in and turning away uninvited visitors. Thus the need to wear collars to get in and out was done away with. We had long been using Frontline to control fleas so the old fashioned flea collars were no longer necessary. It looked like prospects were good for a collar-free life. And then Asbo Cat (aka Baloo - our Burmese killing machine) started to wander. And when I say wander, I mean 'go away for weeks at a time and never call home'. We realised that it was quite possible that somebody somewhere - probably someone at home all day and happy to have company - might be luring our boy away from us. We had spent a lot of time and anxiety trying to tame this savage beast and we weren't about to just let some sweet old lady persuade herself that our lad was a stray. He would need to wear a tag with his name and phone number to identify himself as not only far from homeless but also very much loved.
The realisation that tagging might not be such a bad idea came to me when my colleague Angela lost her cat Jasper. Whilst Angela fretted away the days to the delivery of her first baby, Jasper was nowhere to be found. Then 6 weeks after he first disappeared she got a phone call - he had been found in a garden centre more than 60 miles away. The finder knew to call her because he was wearing a collar and tag. She dispatched her husband to collect Jasper and started her labour pains, several weeks late. We all joked she'd kept her knees together until she knew he furry baby was safe. It was clear that Baloo was that particular breed of curious cat that was always likely to get into scrapes.
Ever since that time I've been buying engraved tags from a lovely online company called - predictably - www.collarsandtags.co.uk . I bought Baloo's first engraved tag - a dog sized one because he's a big lad and we wanted to give lots of info ' - in November 2009 along with a very handsome Red Dingo reflective safety collar. We chose reflective because we knew his road crossing was at times erratic and a safety collar because a vet had recommended that it would be the best type. My sales record on the site tells me that first collar had a design of sharks on it and was grey in colour - the prefect shade for a Blue Burmese, not that you can actually see his collar when he's wearing it as he's really a bit too fluffy round the neck.
The parcel arrived and we excitedly dressed our lad in his new collar and his new tag. He looked very handsome. We then took it straight off and removed the bell that came attached to the collar. Almost all collars have bells and are supposed to stop the cat killing so many critters by giving them an audible warning. Quite honestly it would take more than a bell to help the wildlife of our village to avoid a super-killer like Baloo who specialises in catching and killing squirrels. To attach a bell to Baloo would be like putting a bell on a sniper rifle - well-meaning but unlikely to be effective. I have read in the past that cats hate the tinkling sound of a bell so we took it off with a pair of tough kitchen scissors.
The design of the collar was really cute with little sharks all over the top fabric band which is reflective. This band sits on top of an extra strong high density nylon band beneath which is as tough and strong as Baloo himself. The collar could be easily adjusted for size and was held together by a plastic fish-shaped 'break away' clip. Our lad looked very handsome and we sent him off to continue his campaign of wildlife destruction.
It's fair to say that whilst the collar was very dandy and handsome, it turned out to be totally ineffective as reflected in my second order for a new tag and another collar which was made just two weeks after the first. Baloo's 'break away' clip broke away in just over a week whilst he was fighting with his brother. We put it back on again and within two weeks he came home naked. I was at first concerned that someone might be taking the collars off him so we tried again with a second Red Dingo collar before realising that it just wasn't going to survive and changing it for a more conventional collar without the quick release. That one lasted until April - so four and half months - before he managed to leave it up a tree or in someone's back garden.
We also realised that reflective collars were pretty much pointless due to the thickness of his fur - if you see any photos of Baloo you will notice his 'medallion man' tag but barely spot the collar.
I am aware that people think quick release is good for a cat's safety and I can see that could be the case if you have a slightly dim kitty that's prone to getting caught on things. It's not a great idea - or an economically viable one - if your cat behaves like Baloo. If your kitty thinks that a strenuous day is one when he or she strolls through the garden, takes a swipe at a few passing butterflies then returns indoors for a long sleep, then this collar is a fashionable and fun option. If your cat thinks life is a rehearsal for when he finally gets called up to play the first feline James Bond - 007 Licensed to kill small furry animals - then the collar is less than useless. We now tend to buy collars with standard buckle fastenings and elastic and set them a little loose. He loses these roughly once a year or we replace them when they get too shabby. Baloo is now on his fifth tag - we got him one with a Union Flag to celebrate Jubilee year - and still costing us a fortune.
Just in case you are wondering, the tag did its trick. About 6 months after the wandering started we got a phone call. "Have you got a big grey cat?" asked the man on the phone. Thank goodness I didn't answer as I'd have assumed he was dead in a ditch. My husband replied "Yes, sorry, what has he done now?" and so began our friendship with Keith and his wife Dulcie who lived about half a mile away and had a bungalow with a sunny deck and a lot of squirrels and water birds in their garden. Keith hated squirrels and love Baloo for killing them but he didn't want him hanging around and getting too settled as his home was for sale. Each time Baloo went missing for more than a week we would call Keith and when he turned up, he'd summon us round to collect him. It started to look like my husband was picking up the cat after a play date at Keith's house. Had we not collared and tagged him, I think the pair of us would have been demented with worry. Keith is not the only person who has rung to say Baloo is in their garden - we had a couple of other calls. Our lad charms humans but thanks to his collar, they know he's loved and wanted. His current collar says 'Please call my dad or send me home'.
If I've not put you off, these collars sell for around the £5 mark on www.collarsandtags.co.uk but watch out for the shocking P&P costs on top. Always try to buy a few bits and pieces to spread the postage costs.
Red Dingo cat collar with a cute Red Dingo fish motif collar buckle a reflective strap and bells - specially made for cats.