Died aged 16, 1992

In a houseful of teenagers, it was early-rising Dad who found her. Tina, the grizzled panther of a cat who stalked through my childhood, was a wanderer, hunter – and seasoned sofa-lounger. This time she was missing for weeks. We were fretting. The nights were cold, he was nearly 16, and there were no signs of the usual midnight pigeon-mutilation in the garden.

No matter, we told ourselves – Tina was a superhero cat. One wintery morning, a beautiful hoarfrost twinkling outside, Dad went through his ritual. Kettle on. Back door unlocked. Dog out.

Only something was blocking the door’s outward swing. Dad inched the door open to find a perfectly curled up – and completely frozen – cat on the doorstep. It was Tina, home at last, but thwarted by the lack of a cat-flap.

She could get in through any window of the house, and had once, in true Tom Kitten-style, found her way down a chimney. We’d never needed a cat-flap. Until now. Dad was upset in a way I’d never seen before. He wept copiously, cradling the hard, cold mass that had been the supple warmth of our cat. He retreated to the garden, clanging his way to a grave through the frozen ground with a spade, Tina wrapped in a blanket beside the growing pile of cold soil.

I took him a mug of coffee and found him still sobbing, tears dripping off the end of his nose. We hugged and cried together over the body of our beautiful cat. I’ll never forget it – the day my childhood pet died, and for what I shared with Dad.

They could be someone’s only companion –