"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Mahatma Gandhi
We have a dog and four cats. Our latest is a three-legged Siamese-cross kitten that my wife and I found near our estate one night. One of her legs is just a stump (you can just see it in this picture) -- it's a clean break, so it wasn't natural. The vet thinks it was either a trap, or something (say, a bike) ran over the leg, or she lost it in a fight. We named her Mei-Mei -- she's almost 7 months old, and has really come a long way.
We found her only because we were feeding the community cats (aka stray cats) outside our estate. We heard the mewing as we were feeding the cats, and found her crouching in the shrubs, staring hungrily -- but fearfully and warily -- at us. We feel lucky to have found her. In fact, all of our pets are strays -- the dog was my wife's, picked up as a puppy from a drain, and our other three cats were all kittens found by other people and adopted by us. We've actually found another orphaned before, whom we fostered for a bit before we managed to re-home her with someone -- we found Coco's mother dead one day, for reasons unknown.
We feed the cats every night. There used to be a couple of ladies who would also feed the cats, but gradually they stopped (one moved away, I don't know what happened to the other one. Now it's just my wife and I, and another lady who comes around about once a week.
We started feeding them because we found them pitiful, or in local parlance, very "poor thing". (As an aside, I'd be keen to know if anyone has a "proper" English translation for "poor thing"!) They have to survive the rain, the traffic, this that the other -- we didn't want them to also have to go hungry or cause a nuisance when foraging for food.
As the cats became more familiar with us, they became so affectionate. The ones nearest our estate would wait outside our gate if we are a bit later than usual in coming out to feed them, and would scamper towards us the moment we open the side-gate and step out. In fact, sometimes they actually just sit and wait outside the side-gate!
They are not afraid of us, and will run along beside us (or more likely, keep running across our path and thereby trip us up) as we walk towards the designated feeding spots. Some of them would keep trying to rub themselves against our calves. And they all purr oh so loudly as they eat the food voraciously.
Very often, I wanted so badly to just gather up all of them in my arms and cuddle them. It will never happen though -- they are not used to it, so any attempt to do that will almost certainly just result in a multitude of scratches.
So we worry when they are hungry, because some of them are on the other side of a busy road and so sometimes try to run across the road when they see us coming. And we are very sad, when any cat we've been feeding stops showing up, because the odds are pretty much stacked against it. And we feel guilty about taking holidays, because what will happen to the (our) cats?
I initially saw the nightly cat-feeding as a chore. But after a while, I began to look forward to it, when I realised that it was actually good for me. It would calm me down however stressed I was, and it soothed me in a way that few things could. After feeding them, I would invariably feel glad in the knowledge that they were all safe and sound for another night. Small mercies can go a long way.
Not many people understand why feeders do what we do. Maybe that's because not many people feed. I firmly believe that only those who do it will truly understand. But even short of that, I think people should be able to understand the sense of compassion that drives feeders to do what we do. I will always remember what my then-new helper said, to my great embarrassment, when she found out that my wife and I feed the cats around our area: "Oh, you must be good people!"
I have tremendous respect for a lot of feeders, who go way beyond what my wife and I do -- they organise, they advocate for the cats they take care of, they engage with and mediate between town councils and unhappy residents, and very often they foster cats for rehoming. All for some furballs to whom they really owe no obligation or duty, other than a general sense that we need to take care of and protect the defenceless and those less fortunate than us, human and otherwise. All out of their own time and money. That is true selfless altruism, because there really is nothing in it for anyone.
And you know, while it is an extremely fragmented circle, the fact remains that animal welfare groups are a fantastic example of successful grassroots activism: completely ground-up, spontaneous and responsive, passionate and devoted to the cause, geographically-dispersed, well-organised and highly-networked, and most importantly and most strikingly of all, largely self-funding even if it is largely shoestring.
Siamese-y, Sissy Soo, Blackie, Phantom, and the Fuglies, thank you for brightening up my nights and lightening my spirits. I only hope more people get to enjoy such moments with your little furry kindred. And to Little One and Reverse Panda Eyes, I hope you are OK wherever you are, but if not at least you are in a better place. Yes, I know the names probably either don't make sense or sound completely random to anyone other than us -- blame that on us, not the cats.
PS. To feeders and would-be feeders, please do familiarise yourselves with the dos and don'ts of feeding -- you can check out the materials available at the Cat Welfare Society website and the Singapore Community Cats blog.