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Raising cats and becoming better persons

In our house in Santa Ana, Manila, my maiden aunts once enforced a strict dictum: No to cats at all times.

This prejudice against cats had an undetermined cause that not one of them was willing to reveal despite the weight of my queries. But then a male puspin (“pusang Pinoy”) I named Catty managed to find his way to us; he had such “cat-abilities” that shielded him from the usual backyard chase and expert broom whacks by my aunts. When he and Blue Eyes subsequently produced six blue-eyed kitties, there came a gradual change that soon overshadowed the early aversion.

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Perhaps the kittens were too adorable to be ignored. Perhaps the cute repertoire common to kittens elicited in all of us increasingly feel-good feelings. I remember Catty and his brood making the back stairway their home when I was too stressed to look for the biggest box to house them.

It wasn’t easy to manage and care for the pack with office work also requiring concentration, so I took a respite from cat-caring. But then came an insistent question from a friend: Would I take in four cats, who would be homeless when the owners move to a condominium unit?

The four Burmese cats already had names: Blooper, Pipa, Pogo and Ewon. Blooper, frisky most times, lived in good health. Pipa carried his real name on the hospital record, but I had it changed to

“Dextrose” (or “Dex”) because of his frequent visits to the veterinary hospital on Legarda Street. The other two expired because of my mismanagement.

Then came a female Burmese cat we called Princess. She had “chocolate points” that instantly earned the oldies’ admiration. She was a standout and, therefore, an easy favorite; she was also a loyal companion to my aunts, especially when I had to leave home for work. Princess stole the attention, so to speak. She settled on my aunt’s comfy pillow in the afternoons when everyone was on full siesta mode.

Then another batch of cats arrived at the office—Pixar, a puspin; Blippo, a pure Japanese bobtail who had been neutered; long and furry but squirrel-looking Piccolo; and Stella, whose chocolate points were stronger than those of Princess. I could not say no despite an initial resistance. When the brood was handed to me one rainy morning, the cats meowed incessantly as though pleading for adoption. Ergo, all four went home with me to Santa Ana.

Integration issues are naturally part of “community organization,” but equal treatment is a great calmer.

Anyway, my research on Burmese cats revealed that they are exemplary for their gentle manners. They are dog-like in their loyalty to their humans, and are an intelligent lot. They reach out to their humans in different cat expressions of head butting, finger-licking and lap play. For example, when she needed food Princess knew how to purr her heart out to my 88-year-old aunt, who used to be the No. 1 anticat person. During my midnight monitoring, I would hear them engage in an intricate form of communication, a rare form of “talk” in which the cat had the final say. I would hear shrill pitches of meow monologue more dominant than the human voice. Yes, they would catch up with each other despite the language barrier, and they would be able to arrive at a decision (with Princess getting her way).

I, too, have had to grapple with my cats’ forceful meows, but there is no room for misunderstanding them. I pat or head-butt as a sign of approval to their proposal.

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Raising our Burmese cats is not confined to feeding them. The list of do’s and don’ts is as long as one wants them to live good and secure lives, just like us humans. Ernest Hemingway once described cats as “having absolute emotional honesty.” Indeed, they do not hide their feelings.

Cats (and other pets, for that matter) enhance a person’s humane component. They enliven that part which stores compassion, understanding and humility. They flex the rigor in us. They tell us what and how we are. They are a dead giveaway about our personhood.

I’ve been thinking about it and I’m now convinced that the cats’ entry into our lives was not an accident. It was meant to be, to enhance what we initiated in the past. Raising the cats have made us better persons in a society messed up by unforgiving instances. While the ambitious aspect of this is working to achieve a republic of good deeds, I guess the first thing to do is to become a republic of people who care for animals.

Maria Congee S. Gomez ([email protected] gmail.com) is a communication and resource mobilization officer of Norfil Foundation.

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