The Story of FurCats; From Teaching to Tiny Tigers
I’ve been in education since I was 3 until I was 38 – a whopping 35 years! There was no fancy-pants gap year – it was a straight run. I attended college after I’d finished school, then University and then completed my Teacher Training before going straight into teaching in 2000 and completing 15.5 years. I was an English Teacher and for 6.5 of those years, I was also a Head of Year.
In my head, I was going to be a teacher forever. It was what I always wanted to be and despite not being confident as a child at school, it was something I was just going to do. There was no grand plan – I’d visualised it from day dot, so I’d just get there. Call it driven, or deluded, but I was satisfied in the knowledge that that was where I was going to end up!
In September 2015, I fell ill. I was stressed and this quickly morphed into a depression that I failed to initially recognise. In fact, I found it difficult to even acknowledge at first. It was around this time, my partner mentioned how a stray cat had had a litter at a garage he knew. I hadn’t grown up with pets – and embarrassingly, I was a little bit terrified; they’re unpredictable and bearing no resemblance to the human form, I believed I could never relate to them. But something told me that a kitten was exactly what I needed.
I was struggling to be in school and was initially off sick in October which was when we both went to visit the litter. I’d pulled the sleeves of my hoody over my hands and imagined claws and teeth of gargantuan-tiger-proportions; terrified I was going to get eaten alive (or scratched/ bitten, at least, by these ‘ferocious felines’)! I was still a bit scared of Tian when I brought him home on the 3rd November but he clambered into my heart almost immediately and I had very little say in the matter; it was fixed. I didn’t know at the time, but my life was set to dramatically change.
I returned to school in November and managed to stay until February 2016, but every day was a challenge. My intention was to always go back to teaching – it was what I was; my identity. I didn’t know anything else. I guess I was so institutionalised, the idea of not teaching was impossible to imagine. Like Pavlov’s Dog, bells dictated what I did and when I did them. My comfort blanket was slipping and the longer I had away from teaching, the further and more unreal it felt as an option to return to. Day by day, my world dramatically shrunk and having been in a world where I was speaking to hundreds of people in a day, during my absence, I was speaking to a handful of people in a week! Time became loose, vague even and I spent months in bed. Knowing kittens can sleep for up to 20 hours a day, Tian was my perfect companion to assist my duvet days.
I would force myself to leave my bed at least once a day and naturally I’d been food and toy shopping for my kitten. Reflecting on how frustrating it was having to go to different shops to buy him things, I happened to drive past the trendy dog-boutique in Chorlton, Manchester, called Betty & Butch. And that was the moment I’d decided I was going to set up a cat equivalent – it was, for me, serendipity at its most magical.
I didn’t know much about cats, but keen to learn whilst away from school, focused on exploring food with high meat content. The strapline for my shop is ‘Healthy Cat; Healthy Owner;’ because in the same way he was helping me recover, (there’s tonnes of research out there on how cats (and dogs) are therapeutic; healthy to have around, good for you), it was important that I looked after him by meeting his funadmental (dietray) needs. I wanted my shop to focus primarily on excellent quality cat food, after all, ‘we are what we eat.’
Conscious, that despite my enthusiasm, I knew nothing about running a business. Fortunately I came across a couple of brilliant courses; Women in Business and Pop-UP Business and whilst searching for a shop in Chorlton, signed up to do some Maker’s Markets too. These were weekend stalls in and around South Manchester that helped me shape and visualise what I wanted to create.
I get asked what I’ve learnt during this transition. It’s such a tough question, so broad. I’ve learnt so many new skills whilst dipping in and out of my ‘transferrable skills’ toolbox (which I’d initially accepted as empty). I’m learning a different value of money – where money used to be (relatively) easy-come, easy-go (certainly guaranteed), the latter still rings true; the former happens, but less predictably. Having my own business monopolises my thoughts, but I have free space and free time to reflect on it, despite being open six days a week. I don’t have that constant wave of panic I used to either. I love my ‘job’ (differently to teaching), I love my catshop, I love what’s being created here. I love the spot it’s in and the fact it feels part of a wider cat community where people happily come in to chat and share cat-vulnerabilities, cat-stories and cat-love (occasionally with their dogs)!
And I’ve learnt that I also love being my own boss. Working for me, dictating my own pace with my own expectations – allowing my business to grow organically without any external pressures. Yes, I sometimes have quiet times in the shop, but ultimately, I’m happy and healthy, in charge of me and my shop and in (relative) control of the immediate world that surrounds it.
One year on, it has felt like a monumental journey. I regularly get asked if I miss teaching – of course I do. I miss the buzz and excitement and pressure and camaraderie and enthusiasm; the highs and lows of the job. It’s something that can’t be replicated I don’t think, in any other line of work. The rewards are vast; incredible even, but for me, the penalty was just as intense. I do still feel umbilically attached to teaching; loyal to the joys of it, loyal to the memory of actual teaching, loyal to the children I taught and the staff I taught with over the years, but I’m slowly accepting it as something I did, as opposed to something I do. Having FurCats is definitely the best thing I could have done for me and it’s the best thing for me to do at the moment. We all have a pain threshold, but sometimes ignore things escalating until we collapse; metaphorically, or in a more physical sense, we give up our chance to choose differently. I didn’t choose FurCats – it chose me; in the same way a cat chooses its owner.
Sometimes we get so scared that the conventions you think you should be living by don’t really fit; or you’ve moved in a different direction unwittingly against a ‘norm’ you were supposed to have adhered to. We’re so scared to break away, we inadvertently restrict and police our own movements; our own potential even. We’re often more frightened of a regret we might feel if we did make a change, than a regret we might feel if we didn’t. I was seduced by a salary and was terrified of what may happen without it. It’s scary as hell, but if you were flirting with the idea of a change – be it drastic or more subtle, I would suggest you embrace it! It might just be the best thing you do for yourself!
I’m really pleased with what I have built so far. My plans for the year are to create my own brand of food as well as arranging a Community CAT-ch up. There’s a definite dog community out there and although virtual cat communities exist, I’d love to host a physical meet-up location for cat-people. Un-prompted, people keenly share pictures and stories and worries of their FurBabies and it would be (ahem) purrfect to have a meet-up where cat-people (male and female) could do that. My intention was to create a place, borne of the love I have for my own cat, that would be understood and mirrored by a wider cat community. I hope I’ve achieved that – or at least on my way to achieving it.
FurCats is next door to Tiny’s Tipple in Chorlton (ironically named after Tiny, the little Jack Russell, adorable but definitely not a fan of cats). It’s a wine merchant/ bottle shop, run by Ed and Alex. Ed seemed to be counting down to my First Birthday; “before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your FIFTH birthday like we are.” Well, chin chin Ed, here’s to the next few years.