A woman has a crippling phobia of cats that is so severe she cannot even look at a photograph of a feline without shuddering.
Jean Diffenthal, 55, panicks if she comes anywhere near a cat and even avoids the pet food aisle in case she spots a picture on tinned food.
Grandmother-of-two Jean is so afraid of moggies that she avoids watching certain TV programmes or adverts in case one pops up.
Jean pays her relatives to put their cats in a cattery when she goes home to visit to avoid seeing them.
Anytime she spots one she ‘freaks out’ and her heart starts racing – AND even the word ‘cat’ gives her the ‘heebie jeebies’.
Jean struggled to buy her house in Reading, Berkshire, because she refused to view a property with a cat in it or any kind of cat ornaments.
She has never even touched a cat and even singing any nursery rhymes mentioning the animal is off the table, she claims.
The phobia has gradually gotten worse over the years and makes everyday tasks difficult for Jean – she is desperate to find some help and overcome her fear.
Jean, who is currently unemployed, said: “I can’t be in the same room as a cat or even look at this without freaking out.
“I’ll avoid the pet aisle at the supermarket so I don’t seem imagines of cats on tinned food.
“I’m from South Africa originally and when I got home to visit family I’ll pay to put their cats in the cattery while I’m there.
“I’ve got a tiny garden, but I’ve got about six cat repellents out there just in case.
“I feel my heart racing and I break out into a sweat whenever I spot one – even saying the word gives me the heebie jeebies.
“I just tell people I’m allergic now to save time explaining the phobia because people just don’t understand it.”
Jean, who is originally from Durban, South Africa, moved to Reading, Berks., 16 years ago, and has had a fear of domestic house cats for as long as she can remember.
She lives at home with her husband Russell and they have to plan ahead before visiting friends and family in case they have a cat.
Jean has even visited a hypnotherapist, but nothing has helped her overcome her fear.
“People always asked if it began because of some traumatic experience but it didn’t,” Jean said.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve been scared of them and I have no idea why. It’s something about their eyes and they’re agile – they quietly dart about.
“I’ve never touched a cat because they look like they’re all skin and bone which freaks me out. Although it’s just domestic cats – I don’t have problem with lions or tigers.
“I think moving from South Africa to the UK has made it worse because there are so many more pet cats here.
“They’re often out roaming around and I don’t know where they’ll be hiding which terrifies me.”
Even choosing a property in the UK was difficult for Jean.
She said: “Buying a house in the UK was so difficult because of my deep-rooted fear of cats. I couldn’t go in a view some of them because they had pet cats.
“Even pictures of cats or cat ornaments – if they had anything cat-related I couldn’t go in. Most people don’t really realise how prevalent they are in everyday life but I can easily spot them.”
The phobia has gradually deteriorated over the years and it now affects Jean day-to-day life.
Even simple tasks like watching TV or spending time with her grandchildren, three-year-old twins Leyla and Renelan, has become a challenge for Jean.
She said: “I loved watching reality shows with my daughter Bianca but one of them had a resident cat on the show.
“I had to look away every time it was on screen and wait until it was gone and safe to look again.
“There so many adverts where they pop up and it sends my heart rate through the roof. I get sweaty when I see them and physically run away if I spot one.
“It’s also difficult for my poor husband and we have to make sure there are no cats around when we go to places together.
“Russell’s mum passed away recently but before, when I went to visit her in the care home, I had to get Russell to remove a cat picture off the wall in her room before I could go in.
“I make him ask his friends and colleagues if they have one in the house before we go.
“I ask my friends to lock them away in a different room, but on one occasion I heard one scratching at the door and I couldn’t stay.”
Jean went to see a hypnotherapist five year ago to try and overcome her debilitating fear of cats.
Unfortunately, she found the treatment ineffective and is still hoping to find hope and overcome her fear once and for all.
She said: “The therapist told me to pinch my fingers and think of something good whenever I saw a cat.
“But I couldn’t look or be near one long enough to try it. It’s really hard to talk about it because no one really understands.
“Although people are scared of things like spiders, which are tiny, so why is are cats any stranger. It’s not like fearing a type of caterpillar that you seen once a month – I have to face them most days.
“I hope sharing my story with show people that’s not that unusual. It’s really affecting everything I do and I want to volunteer for elderly care but often they’ll have pet cats in the house.”