Copyright 2008, Sarah Hartwell

Some cats surrendered to the shelter are severely overweight. Unfortunately the proliferation of fat cat photos around the internet has led to a sort of misguided "fat acceptance" movement for morbidly obese moggies. Fat cats are unhealthy cats with a reduced life expectancy so shelters need to get obese inmates slimmed down to a more healthy weight for rehoming. This is where "light" formulation food comes in.

There were a couple of whoppers at the shelter, one so overweight there were rolls of fat at the base of her tail that stopped her lowering her tail. Joyce and I were sent to the pet superstore to buy a large bag of Iams or Techni-cal Light for the portly pussies in our care. The woman behind us in the checkout queue asked "have you got cats?"

Have we got cats? Whatever made her think that? Okay, so technically we were buying 10 kg of weight control food, a tray of kitten food and a few sundry items for the shelter but surely a whopping great sack of cat food is a dead giveaway? If anything, we have cats the way other people have mice. Being stuck in a slow-moving queue, Joyce decided to have some fun.

"No, I don't have a cat but I'm starting the Iams Light weight-loss diet again. It works just as well for humans as it does for cats."

Daft woman perks up.

"It's nutritionally complete and really easy. You just put a bag of the dry food in your pockets and every time you get a snack attack, you eat one," Joyce explains.

Daft woman is all ears. The checkout assistant has stopped serving and is also listening. Joyce is attracting a small crowd and starting to enjoy playing to an audience..

"It must taste awful!" one woman gasped, "Worse than that Brussels sprouts diet that was in the news."

"They're just like those salty biscuit nibbles you see on buffets - but much, much healthier," Joyce replied (and she wasn't even the one that resorted to nibbling the cat biscuits during a long day tin-rattling!).

"But it's CAT food," said a horrified woman clutching a bundle of hay and a bag of rabbit treats.

"Aaah, but cat food is made from ingredients that are fit for human consumption ... did you know that the BSE-infected bits were removed from cat food ages before it stopped being used in meat pies?"

"Really?" asked rabbit-treat woman.

"Yes really," Joyce said, because this part was actually true. Always pepper your tall tales with facts, even if human nature means your audience will disbelieve the facts and believe the fiction.

"Are those rabbit treats the ones that look like white chocolate buttons?" I asked mischievously. When rabbit-treat woman nodded I went on "My kid sisters used to eat those like milk drops," and watched rabbit-treat woman blush. There can't be many pet owners who haven't tried the milk-drop pet treats, which at least prevents the money being wasted when Flopsy or Kitty won't eat the treats but the children will..

Joyce picked up the thread again. "Because cat food is mostly protein it's a bit like the Atkins diet," she said with a smile, "You could call it the Cat-kins diet". None of her listeners were clued up enough to realise that dry cat food contains a lot of cereal. Diet cat biscuits are bulked out even more with cereal because cats can't digest carbohydrates the way humans can. Our audience probably thought it was made of dried meat.

"I suppose you end up with a glossy coat and wet nose," laughed the forty-ish bloke behind daft woman.

"Doesn't the Atkins diet make your breath smell like dog food?" asked daft woman slowly. You could almost hear the cogs turning in her head as she wondered if the Iams Light diet caused cat-food-breath, but she never got a chance to ask..

"How much did you lose?" asked the checkout assistant, who by now was being glared at by the customer at the till and the buggy-pushing woman in front of us.

"Last time I lost three stone ..." Joyce said, though in truth she has never been overweight.

"Three stone?" gasped daft woman, all thoughts of cat-food-breath forgotten, "three stone," she said more slowly.

"Really?" asked buggy-pushing woman, now too astonished to glare at us for holding up the queue, "I wish I could lose three stone. I haven't been able to shift the weight since having Josh," she added.

The checkout girl and other women in the queue clucked in sympathy.

"That much?" asked the man who'd joked about the glossy coat and wet nose. Scrutinising him more closely, he was suffering from middle-aged spread and had a basket full of Pal (large tins). He looked the sort that had an "I Love Labradors" sticker in his car. "Maybe I should go back and get some of that cat food."

"Wow!" said the checkout assistant, now handing buggy-pushing woman her change.

".... but I did wake up in intensive care," Joyce warned as the checkout girl totted up the cost of our cat food and sundries.

Although buggy-pushing woman had completed her transaction, she was loitering and rearranging her carriers bag in order to hear what dire side-effects the cat food diet had wreaked on Joyce.

"Oh my god! But I thought you said it was safe to eat!" daft woman squealed.

"You see, whatever they say about pet food being safer, it's for animals, not people," said dog-food guy in world-expert-on-everything tones.

"Oh there wasn't anything wrong with the cat food," Joyce said as we handed over our money and kicked my ankle to signify we get ready to leg it to the exit, "no, no, the cat food diet was perfectly fine, but after several weeks of eating it I ran across the road to chase a sparrow and got hit by a car."

We were lucky not to be banned for disrupting the shop.