Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting my cats out

I found her in a cardboard box in my Society building a week after I moved into my flat in Bandra. She
was a newly-born black and white kitten with two black and white siblings. There was no sign of a mother.

My cat as a newly born kitten living in the compound

At that time, I did not realise kittens were born to strays on every street corner of Mumbai, and thought it was unusual. I tried to call the SPCA (equiv of RSPCA) hoping they would send someone to rescue the kittens, but they only spoke Hindi and slammed the phone down; I told my watchmen - gesticulating in broken Hindi - but they just looked through me; I told the poor cleaning lady who collects rubbish and occasionally throws water over the communal floors - she spat on the ground. No one seemed interested. Finally an ugly brown cat that looked like it was full of worms turned up and the commnal cleaner told me this was the mother. I shoved her in the box, and rather disinterestedly she licked the kittens.

The mother cat fed her when she was a stray in the society

After I started feeding this worm-ridden hardened stray, she took more interest in the kittens, as she smartly linked food with hanging out with her offspring. This meant the kittens were at least getting breast milk. After two of the kittens died (one from worms, the other from being paralysed by a child in the Society who threw it in the air like a tennis ball when I made a short trip to London), I rescued the final one, and she moved into my apartment. I kept the door open to see if she wanted to go back to her mother. She didn't. That night the mother left the Society and never returned. In fact initially I thought I had rescued the kitten, but it soon became clear, as the loneliness of living by myself in a city like Mumbai, and having to navigate my way through the rather terrifying P 3 party scene, as well as make friends, took hold, that she had indeed rescued me. After some time she became my best friend, and was the thing/animal I would think of all day long and who I could not wait to see after work. In fact I used to phone my maid three times a day and ask her how my kitten was. (Had Sunday lunch with some family friends at the weekend, one of whom is a counsellor. He told me that it was common for people to 'project' feelings and value on to objects (eg photos and paintings) or animals, that to others had no value at all...and this reflected √≠ssues the person was grappling with. So maybe, I projected a 'roommate' onto her, as that is what she became. Maybe, I should not have lived alone...)

My kitten plays with random items discarded in the compound

Anyway, she soon went on heat and got a boyfriend. The stray worm-ridden black tom cat would come up every night to see her. I fed him as well, afer all I had to be was her boyfriend after all. I planned to get her sterilised, but the vet went on holiday. I waited till he got back, but by that time she was pregnant. I had caught her having sex with the black stray on numerous occasions so it came as no surprise. After growing incredibly fat, and looking like she would never pop, she finally gave birth to three kittens one Easter Saturday. I found a home for one with an American expat, one died a few weeks after being paralaysed following a fall from the 6th floor, and one was left, so I kept the remaining kitten and mother, as they were able to keep each other company.

A year ago, I started thinking about what to do with the cats if I were to leave India...My vet said to me: "If you had two children and had to leave India, would you consider leaving them behind? No. Well, these cats are your children."

I was pretty sure anyway that, had I put up a poster saying: "Adult cats available for adoption", I would have had no response. In fact, once I sent an email to all the animal charities, saying "Cat wanted for adoption", (this was before the mother gave birth,  at a time that I wanted to get her a companion) and my phone did not stop ringing for three days, some people even turned up outside my apartment block with kittens in hand without an appointment. I did not take any as I was so freaked out by the overwhleming response .

From my various involvements with animal charities, and the animal hospital in Mumbai, I soon realised that they were all inundated with 'dumped unwanted pets.' I did not want to become another like that. If the cat I rescued and her daughter were to stay in India, they would have to have a good home. But there clearly is and was no demand for domestic shorthaired Indian cats (read: stray or as my Dad says feral cats) in Mumbai. The only pet people seemed to have in Maximum City were pedigree dogs. Cats were not kept as pets. So, I had to take on the vet's view, which was, regardless of the cost, I had to fly the cats to England, and then pay for them to go in quarantine for 6 months...if I ever left India

I had absolutely no idea what was required, but knew, that being India, it would be complex, and possibly impossible to fathom. And it was.

With no idea where to start, I took a cab to the air cargo complex at Mumbai airport a year ago, with a plan of visiting the airline offices inside who dealt with cargo. I wandered inside and was promptly jumped on by security and walked to a room, where I was searched. Then , since noone spoke English I was marched to the office of the head of cargo, or similar. An Indian bureacrat who staff referrred to rather over-politely as 'Sir' was inside. Papers were stacked everywhere and timid men queued outside to see him. I was taken straight inside. I explained to him that I had two Indian cats I may want to take out of the country. "These are Indian cats!" he bellowed. "You are not allowed to take India cats out of India." That seemed like an absurd statement to make, since if I did not take them with me, where would they go? Be put back on the streets? I made a mental note that, if anyone ever asked me I would not say the cats were Indian. After all, who was to know!

He then muttered on about how complex it was and apart from a million other things, that I would need to get clearance from a single doctor, based most conveninetly in Navi Mumbai, who didn't have a phone or address and was only open three days a week, and I couldn't make appointments with and who would only issue a certificate six days before the flight...without which the cats couldn't fly..It was more complex than getting a work permit or a passport it seemed... And that was only the beginning of the labyrinth awaiting me..

The stray kitten I rescued as an adult cat


abhishek mathur said...

Hi Naomi

I am writing to you after a really long long time , It is because I jst read your last blog on HT website today as even I had a big transition in my life.
I was working in Dubai and everything turnaround and now I am in Newzealand doing my masters.

I just wanted to say tha you blogs were really really great , I was always thinking that whenever I come to Mumbai I would come straight to HT office and ask to see you and meet you as you are a really really good write but now since you are so far from India and me too .

I wish you good luck in life

Naomi Canton said...

Hey Abhishek, That's so sweet of you and thanks so much for your comment. I wish you had come to the HT office to see me! How are you and how are getting on in New Zealand? Where are you exactly? I have been to Auckland and Wellington...Btw how was Dubai? Would be curious to hear...Naomi