Graveyard for ‘pusakal’
ON JAN. 22, 2015, “Queenie,” the most beautiful cat among our 14 feline friends, died of pneumonia and diabetes. She was confined for two days at a veterinary clinic somewhere in West Avenue, Quezon City. The attending veterinarians did their best to save her, but in the end she passed away quietly, showing that all the talk about cats having nine lives is just that—all talk.
Over a period 12 years, my family has nurtured and cared for a total of 60 cats. Like humans, they all differ(ed) in behavior, likes and dislikes. Some are (were) temperamental and understandably catty (no pun intended!), while others are (were) meek as lambs. There are (were) also the playful, “sipsip” and sweet as chocolates. Some are (were) good in follow-ups, while others were passive as couch potatoes!
Instead of throwing those who had died into deep ravines, raging rivers and garbage dumps, we have provided them decent burial at the Himlayan ng mga Pusa (Resting Place for Cats, i.e., our front garden). There, they get the rest they deserve under the cool shade of a full canopy of a thousand red bougainvillea flowers.
Indeed, we owe so much to our departed cats, all faithful friends through their entire stay with us. During the happy years of caring and loving these beautiful creatures, their example of serenity and contemplation influenced us to be calm and collected amid our own trials as a family. They threw us into laughter as we watched them play, and brought tears of joy to our eyes when they hugged each other on cold nights.
All our cats are “pusakal” (pusang kalye or stray cats. Not one of them was purchased from a pet shop. They are either “foundlings” or “refugees.”
The “foundlings” we rescued from under thick bushes, inside discarded old tires and under the chassis of abandoned and rusting vehicles. Abandoned and without mothers to suckle them, they were hungry, afraid and shivering when we took them in. A few of them had slim chance of surviving; but some we snatched from the jaws of death.
The “refugees” are the cats—older than foundlings—that walked into our compound. With no owners to look after them, they were usually emaciated and dirty. Some of them had open wounds
inflicted by other cats during fights over food. They lived by the hour, surviving only either through luck or through the generosity of good-hearted people, or by rummaging for food in garbage dumps and in places near hotels, restaurants and public markets. How they found our place isn’t clear at all. I can only surmise that they must have heard about available free “board and lodging” from some of our cats who occasionally ventured outside our compound.
We treat both foundlings and refugees equally. Everyone gets the same kind of food except that the young ones get canned tuna once in a while as a concession to their age. Everybody gets proper medical attention when they fall sick. And when they give birth, my wife, who is a nurse, attends to their needs.
The strong water supply we have ensures that they stay clean and that their “mess” gets properly disposed of into a drainage system specially built for the purpose.
At present, there are 11 cats resting in our “Himlayan ng mga Pusa.” Two of them—Mimi and Grace (Mimi’s offspring)—are difficult to forget.
Three months after I retired from international consulting work, I suffered from depression brought about by the loss of income and the absence of meaningful activities. There were days when I would be alone inside our house (with my wife at work and my sons in school).
Every morning, when I’d slump into one of my favorite easy chairs in the living room battling the feelings of extreme isolation and loneliness, Mimi would jump on my lap, sit there in perfect stillness as if she felt exactly what was going on within me, absorbing my depression and sharing my sorrows until she would fall asleep. I must admit that with her on my lap, I felt a little relief. Some days she’d watch TV with me and try to “catch” the cursor on my laptop screen as I worked.
Mimi gave birth more than 10 times. But her kittens had a very high mortality rate in spite of the medical care we provided them, though Mimi was an ulirang ina (model mother). She, in fact, put to shame some human mothers who habitually neglect their young ones in order to play mahjong, tong-its or video karera. She’d skip her meals just to attend to her young. There were nights when she’d stay awake, suckling and cooing her little ones and (I think), putting them to sleep by humming the song “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan.”
Mimi died due to a complicated pregnancy. She left four lovely kittens that we could nourish only for a while; they all died one after the other.
With Grace having a small body and missing a front leg, we initially worried how she would cope with the other big cats during meal times. In her pack belonged big cats like Goldie, Prince, KC, Blue Eyes and Big Mouth. Any one of them could have easily trounced her and deny her even a morsel of bread. But unlike in the world of human beings wherein being big and wealthy are often used as tools to crush poor and “small” people, in the world of cats, the word “panlalamang” (taking advantage) does not exist. In fact, in the case of Grace, being tiny and handicapped entitled her the protection and favor of the strong.
What a different world from the country we live in!
Like her mother, Grace also died while giving birth. Both are now resting in our Himlayan ng mga Pusa—in the company of other cats who had gone to cats’ heaven.
Carlos D. Isles, a writer, a poet and a professional harmonica player with a degree in philosophy from San Jose Seminary (Ateneo de Manila), was a consultant of the World Bank and for ADB-funded community development projects in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines.
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