“Hey Jaz, let’s go for dinner after work and watch a movie.”
“Sorry, I have to be home by 6pm to feed my 14 cats.”
“Oh, that’s too bad th- Wait, what? 14 cats?”
That’s just one of many conversations I have with my friends when I tell them about the cats I have at home.
Cats have been my family’s furry friends for as long as I remember. Nevertheless, nurturing 14 cats living under one roof is no ride in the park.
Here’s how it all started…
[Source: Jaz. Our 14 Rescued Cats]
It was 15 years ago when my family first rescued a cat
We were living in Kota Kemuning, and I still recall that night like it was just yesterday.
There was a thunderstorm that night. It was close to 10pm, and we were about to go to bed when we heard a cat’s loud meow right outside our door.
We opened the door and there it was by the corner: a multi-coloured cat drenched in rain water.
It cowered in a small, tight ball, with its ears flattened back and pupils dilated. It was trembling due to the cold and fright.
Concerned by its well-being, me and my brother, Hadi, persuaded my parents to take it in.
“But only for the night,” Dad said. “In the morning, we’ll find its owner.”
[Source: Jaz. Tinkerbell, a Maine Coon Breed. 3 Years of Age in 2007]
Mom dried its fur with a towel, and Dad took out a box from the store room. He lined it with another towel and gently put the cat inside. Within minutes, it fell asleep.
The next morning, we woke up in a fright as we heard mom screaming. Hadi and I ran to our parent’s room and couldn’t help but laugh.
Apparently, the cat had sneaked into the room and left a ‘gift’ on the bed while they were asleep.
Dad helped Mom to clean up while Hadi and I went looking for the cat, who was cowering under the stairs.
We played with it and soon after we fed it, we went around the neighbourhood to ask if anyone had lost a cat.
Sadly till late in the evening, no one admitted to having lost a cat.
Nevertheless, we kept trying for a few more days. After the fifth day, the cat became comfortable with us and we too grew fond of it.
So we decided to adopt it as our own. We named it Tinkerbell, after the fairy from the classic film Peter Pan.
Every kitten we rescued was in some kind of trouble
As the years went by, the total number of cats in our home kept adding on. Each time, they were in some kind of trouble.
Cadbury was found scavenging for food at the huge garbage area located quite close to the main road, where cars were rushing by dangerously.
[Source: Jaz. Cadbury fitting in to a bin]
Patches was a white cat with black patches with an injured leg.
[Source: Jaz. Patches relaxing with its toy tiger]
Bella is a white kitten who was abused when she was little.
[Source: Jaz. Bella, the two-eyed colored kitten]
Snowbell and Nay Nay were found beneath pallets in the warehouse where Dad worked, with forklifts going to and fro.
The one that I’m really attached too is Snowbell. As a kid, I always wanted a white cat with blue eyes. He was the first ever white cat we had.
Costs of taking care of 14 cats
The expenditure to care for more than one cat is quite steep. For food alone, our monthly expense is usually close to RM600, which is about RM43 per cat.
We purchase both dry food and wet food for our cats. Our cats’ food has to vary in flavour, or they will get bored of the same food every day. Around 4am they would start meowing away for food; but aside from that, our cats are rarely active at night – they would usually sleep in.
We send the cats for vaccinations annually, and it costs between RM50 to RM100 per cat, depending on the clinic.
[Source: Jaz. Momo @ Momo Chan, ginger cat, with Eevee, white kitten, after it was rescued under a car of a bustling shop lot area.]
Kittens, on the other hand, have to take their first vaccination when they are about 6 weeks or older and followed by a second vaccination that is usually scheduled one month after.
As our kittens mature, we will have them neutered, which costs about RM150-RM200. Other medical requirements such as deworming and anti-flea will not cost more than RM100 combined.
All in all, the healthcare fees come down to RM300-RM400 for the first year and RM50-100 every subsequent year per cat.
[Source: Jaz. Fredo’s first day with us after it wandered into our home one morning. Treated it from a severe case of fleas, flu and sores.]
People ask me if they should get a cat – my advice is, it would depend on a person. If they are a frequent traveller, I won’t recommend to own a cat.
When we’re around, they’ll show that they couldn’t careless about us, but if they don’t see us for a few days, like when my dad and mom went back to Taiping for a short vacation, these cats actually started looking for them.
The common misconception is that people assume cats do not care about us as compared to dogs. But they actually do.
Financials wise, if you do not have too many liabilities or financial commitments, and you have more than enough money to sustain yourself till the end of the month, then you could own a cat.
Each cat has its own quirks
So, is there any adjustment required to balance our time with work and family when having cats? No, not really.
Cats require attention — in accordance to their time. If they want our attention, they’ll look for us.
For those who are not familiar with cats, the correct way to approach them is: Do not force yourself on a cat. Let them come to you instead or give your hand so that they could smell it.
If they seem receptive and don’t run away, you can try to pet them on the head. And watch their body language. Tail between their leg shows that they are afraid / anxious. A swishing or flicking tail is a sign that they are angry.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that hard to train a cat not to poop on your pillow. If a kitten starts scratching at a corner, or start smelling the floor, we’ll immediately grab them and bring them to the toilet. We place them on a pan and lock them in for awhile. Do this a couple of times, and they’ll get used to it. Adult cats are easier to train, because they would find the ‘scent’ of where to poop.
On the other hand, puking up a hairball is uncontrollable. It’ll happen anywhere, and if it does we’ll just clean up after.
Our cats have their own personalities and characteristics. Tinkerbell will wipe its bottom on our bathroom foot mat by dragging itself along the floor like a dog.
Snowbell wants to be hugged constantly. I’d put his paws between my neck and his back paws on either side of my waist. Usually when I’m heartbroken, I tend to be quiet. Surprisingly, throughout that phase, Snowbell would constantly sit on me, lay himself on my chest and purr. When he does that, I felt comforted and automatically it makes me happy.
[Source: Jaz. I love the sound of Snowbell purring in my ears during every morning hug.]
Bella loves to play fetch with a paper ball, just like a dog.
[Source: Jaz. Bella playing fetch with me]
Momo has the habit of “massaging” or “kneading” soft toys on a daily basis. According to experts, kneading is either a way of expressing happiness or content, or as a way of claiming its territory.
[Source: Jaz. Momo ‘massaging’ a soft toy]
There are times that they sneak out, especially Cadbury. One time we couldn’t find him, and knew that he ran out and this was at 8pm. So we all went on a frantic search and manage to find him in the drains, meowing with fright. For days he hid under the bed.
We never get used to saying goodbye
The most heart wrenching part about caring for cats is saying goodbye to them forever.
We experienced four deaths till this date. The first was Tinkerbell somewhere in 2009.
It had been experiencing constipation for the longest time. We’ve sent it for several surgeries, yet the problem still persisted.
[Source: Jaz. Tinkerbell in 2009, loss of weight due to its illness]
A week went by and it didn’t pass motion. Then one night, it refused to eat or even drink.
We tried to approach it, but it growled at us instead. Then it went under the bed to sleep.
We planned to bring it to the clinic the next day, but the following morning when we woke up, it was stone cold.
Tinkerbell had left us.
Mom was so heartbroken as she loved this cat very much. She couldn’t eat and even cried for weeks.
Since Tinkerbell came into our life, we were blessed. Our family was in financial ruin, and my dad was struggling to get a job.
But 2 days after we adopted Tinkerbell, Dad was called in for any interview and he was hired on the spot. It may be coincidence, but who knows.
Angel was only having issues urinating at first, but it was still healthy as a horse and reacting positively to medication.
One day as it was playing around the house, it suddenly went frenzy and hit its face on a hard surface.
After the incident, it started drooling badly and uncontrollably. I checked its mouth and noticed that its bottom left fang was missing. Angel’s tongue was sticking out too.
[Source: Jaz. Angel. Rescued from a poorly maintained house with collapsible roof tiles that could fall any time]
It was having difficulty eating and drinking and just as we were about to bring it to the clinic, Mom told me that Angel wasn’t responding.
I went to check on it in the cage. Its eyes were rolled up and its tongue was blue. Angel was gone.
I held it in my arms, with my head still in the cage, and cried my heart out.
Losing a cat is a similar experience to losing the one you love. You share your days with them, go through happy and bitter times, and create an everlasting bond.
Despite the agony of having to let go, we cope by accepting it, we improve our role as caregivers to our remaining cats and we allow time to heal us.
Takeaways from our experience
As cat rescuers and caregivers, we do admit that taking care of cats requires us to put aside our own wants and needs. (Not forgetting the scratches on a daily basis.)
Yet out of it all, we’ve gained some lifelong values: Empathy, compassion, and responsibility.
Whenever we witness the pain and suffering of other animals or even people around us, we feel it too.
[Source: Jaz. Bella sleeping in my arm]
Humans have been taught to be responsible for ourselves since we were young. But when it comes to being responsible for another’s life, it’s something different altogether.
Domesticated cats are dependent on us. Hence, their life and their well-being are our responsibility.
And indirectly, just by learning from my parents’ example, I was able to take responsibility at a very young age to take care of my parents.
Finally, my family and I learnt the value of giving to others, especially the less fortunate. Without realizing it, we find ourselves helping people whenever they are in need.
Rescuing and caring for cats have changed and developed who I am as a person. If you were to ask my family and me whether we will continue to rescue cats, we will say, “For sure.”
For more stories like this, read: We’re Muslims And We Love Dogs — Here’s Why It’s Not Haram and 3 things I Learnt After Working in a Pet Shop for Two Months.