How My Dog Obsessed Family Got A Cat

Kitty at one month. © Rita Banerji

The rule is, you are either a dog family or a cat family. We are a dog family.  When I was growing up, there never was a time when there wasn’t at least one dog in our family.  And we had all other kinds of pets too: rabbits, fish, birds that fell out of their nests and their mamas wouldn’t have them back, and also a deer.  But we never had a cat — until recently!!!

When Kitty (seen in the picture here) landed on our doorstep she was probably about 3-4 weeks old. No bigger than a scraggly little squirrel. She went from floor to floor crying at the door of every apartment in our building, rolling pitifully on the feet of people she encountered. Some quickly shut their doors, while others offered helpful suggestions on what was to be done with her. She was obviously part of some feral cat’s litter, and while there are many feral cats that loiter around our complex and are shooed away if they enter the building, this one was a kitten and refused to go away. Someone suggested, that the cleaning man could “get rid” of her if we paid him a small amount – sort of a ‘Terminator’ plan. Someone else said, “Put her in a plastic bag, tie the mouth and go dump it in a far away public park, so she won’t come back.” I listened to these suggestions with distress.

I’m not a cat person, or at least that’s what I always said. But I could never conceive of such thoughts looking at a live creature – like that sorry little kitten!! How do people think this way I wonder?

But then in the villages in India people regularly kill their baby girls. They watch their own flesh and blood grow to full term in the womb, watch her take her first breath, suckle her, watch her smile, grow, reach out with her two hands, and then — feed her poison, strangle her, or drown her. I wonder what kind of psychological numbness that kind of task takes? I fear for the numbers of adults in India, in the thousands, that have killed their infant girls, and are walking around psychologically anesthetized. Are they normal people I wonder? Has this psychosomatic aberration become the normal state for us?

So I said, “No thank you!” to all those helpful suggestions, “we’ll find a home for the kitten.” Being dog people, of course all our friends are dog people too! It is weird how we congregate so. Did anyone know of any cat people who would happily provide a caring home for a cute, little white kitten?

While we waited for a response, we made a “box,” lined with cushions and blankets for the kitten in the garage downstairs, and provided her with milk. We did try to bring her into our apartment once, when the night was too cold, but she howled so much that we hurriedly took her back to her box downstairs. After a few weeks, we decided that ‘Kitty’ – the name that was meant to be a temporary reference, but became her proper name, would just stay with us in the garage, and we’d feed her and try to take care of her the best we could. She seemed to like it. She’d play in the garden, try to climb the trees, chase butterflies and squirrels, and periodically, in-between her mealtimes if she got hungry, she knew just which apartment to come to. We’d hear this plaintiff crying at the door sometimes and we’d think she wanted some more food. But we realized what she really wanted was to check out our living arrangement. With each week she got more daring. She’d climb on every table and bureau in the house, and get into cupboards and cabinets. She loved getting under the sheets and nibbling on our toes. And before we knew it, she had moved in with us!

By the time Kitty was 6 months old, she has a vocabulary of 4 words ‘Kitty’, ‘come’, ‘take’ and ‘no.’ But she has a mind of her own even when she does understand! She loves smoked cheese, pizza, chicken, ice-cream and scramble eggs. She has learnt to eat vegetables (by force and negotiations). She hates the t.v. – rushes at it when it’s turned on and smacks the screen silly. But loves the air-conditioning, and prefers the room where we keep it on. She knows her food comes out from the fridge, so when she’s hungry she rubs herself affectionately against it. And contrary to what I thought of cats before, she is attached us and has her own way of showing affection, usually by biting on our toes and tugging at our hair.

Does she belong to us? I wasn’t sure. Sometimes she cries to go down and play around freely. But whenever she’d see us, she’d come running back up with us, bouncing up the stairs before us.

Then there was an incident.  Another family in the building with a dog, would take it for a walk around the building complex,  allowing it to dirty the place.  When they were reprimanded, they pointed a finger a poor Kitty.  If we could let our cat out in the compound, they would let their dog out too!  Well, as we discovered, cats especially if they are feral, like Kitty was, are not trainable.   But then, she was very discreet.  She’d go into a bush and cover up her things when she was done.  She wouldn’t dirty the garage and complex as such.  And then there was no way we could take her out on a leash either!  But one night when we let her out, she didn’t come back in the morning as she normally did.  She never ventured out of the gate, because she was terrified of people and traffic. The gate was otherwise locked too at night, and the walls are too high for her to climb.  We searched everywhere, in the compound, in the neighborhood  and couldn’t find her.  I was heart-broken.  And then through the grapevine we learned that the dog-people downstairs, out of sheer pettiness, had their staff dispose of her!!  I was outraged.  What did they do with her her? Did they kill her?  Did they go dump her somewhere?  I couldn’t believe that people can be that inhumane! But then I though — yes, I can believe.  People in India do that to their baby girls.  What’s a cat to them?

Almost two weeks after Kitty disappeared, one day, we spotted her quite unexpectedly prowling around the neighbor’s garden!!  She looked thin and dirty, and we couldn’t be sure if it was her or some other cat.  So we called out her name, and she lifted her head –and to our absolute delight– responded with a cry! The way she always responded to her name!! We raced across the street and she came running to us.   She was traumatized for sure.  Earlier she was quite friendly.  She’d go to the staff in the building — the gardener, security, janitors etc., sit with them.  But after she came back, she avoided the staff.  Specially the men.  It is amazing how much animals tell you by their behavior and how they respond to people

After that episode, we are very careful about keeping her inside the house.  She resents it.  One time she jumped down from our second floor verandah! But funnily, our fear about letting her out to do her jobs was quite smoothly resolved. She picked her own bathroom corner in the house  — in the corner of one of the bathrooms! And we’ve developed an interest for an animal we thought we didn’t quite fancy.  We now assign a personality to each cat we encounter on our streets, in the market, and also the ones on t.v. and magazines!! And of course, our Kitty always out does them all in every way!

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4 Comments

  1. even if she never comes back (because human beings are cruel / or because cats like to be free):
    you’ve written a wonderful tribute essay for her! for example:
    She loves smoked cheese, pizza, chicken, ice-cream and scramble eggs. She has learnt to eat vegetables (by force and negotiations). She hates the t.v. – rushes at it when it’s turned on and smacks the screen silly. But loves the air-conditioning, and prefers the room where we keep it on. She knows her food comes out from the fridge, so when she’s hungry she rubs herself affectionately against it.
    +
    of course I am not surprised about the fragment:
    in the villages in India people regularly kill their baby girls. They watch their own flesh and blood grow to full term in the womb, watch her take her first breath, suckle her, watch her smile, grow, reach out with her two hands, and then — feed her poison, strangle her, or drown her. I wonder what kind of psychological numbness that kind of task takes? I fear for the numbers of adults in India, in the thousands, that have killed their infant girls, and are walking around psychologically anesthetized. Are they normal people I wonder? Has this psychosomatic aberration become the normal state for us?

    Reply
  2. A Bonneau

     /  October 5, 2012

    Lovely story! I have heard that animals choose their masters/mistresses and it certainly is the case with you. Indians, in general, do not choose cats as pets and it is always heartwarming to find someone who loves cats. Is it not a paradox though how people can be cruel to animals especially since India is the land of ahimsa and cows are supposed to be sacred to the Hindus!

    Reply
    • People always think of Ahimsa as a Hindu concept but it was not. It was a Buddhist concept developed in resistance to Hinduism by Buddha! Hinduism has a rationalization of violence built into its core philosophy like no other religion I know of except Sikhism (particularly from when Guru Gobind took the leadership role). Hinduism’s most important books — the Mahabharata and Ramayana are centered around the bloodiest wars which are spiritually justified.

      Reply

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