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, panics 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.
She even pays relatives to put their cats in a cattery when she goes to visit.
Anytime she spots one she ‘freaks out’ and her heart starts racing — 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 touched a cat and even singing nursery rhymes mentioning the animal is off the table, she claims.
The phobia has gradually got worse over the years and makes everyday tasks difficult for Jean. She is now desperate to find help and overcome her fear.
Jean, who is currently unemployed, said: ‘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, originally from Durban, South Africa, moved to Reading 16 years ago and has had a fear of domestic cats for as long as she can remember.
She and husband Russell 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 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 a 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 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.’
Jean saw a hypnotherapist five year ago to try to overcome her debilitating fear. Unfortunately, she found the treatment ineffective.
She said: ‘People are scared of things like spiders, which are tiny, so why are cats any stranger? It’s not like fearing a caterpillar that you see once a month — I have to face them most days.
‘I hope sharing my story will show people that it’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.’