A few years ago, when our family moved to Davao, we had with us a male Chocolate Burmese cat. He belonged to my eldest daughter, Danielle, then in college. He was a cuddly ball of white when he was sold to us for a song by a family friend. Danielle promptly called him Forrest, after the protagonist in the movie “Forrest Gump.” They bonded instantly.
Forrest grew up to be a majestic tomcat, grumpy and aloof, but fiercely loyal to his mistress. He never responded to our remonstrations of affection, preferring to ignore them with a haughtiness fit for aristocracy. My son was rather testy with him, and Forrest would often return the compliment with a spray of urine on his newly pressed shirts. My clothes were mercifully spared from the amber showers, probably because I tolerated his snootiness.
Forrest became the proud sire of a superb line of Chocolate Burmese/Siamese cats when we bought a female Siamese named Marble from Hannah, a veterinarian who, like us, came from UP Los Baños. Marble was frail and asthmatic, but she and Forrest produced, with amazing fecundity, litter after litter of lovable white kittens. (The brown in Chocolate Burmese/Siamese would appear a little later, starting from the points – ears, tails, paws and nose – before spreading on to their bodies and darkening as they grow older.)
Very soon, the feline population in our household grew by leaps and bounds. Quite, literally, in fact. Inside the house, they would jump from the top of the cabinets to the television set, scattering picture frames and breaking figurines. We had to cage the more excitable ones.
I asked Hannah to fix all the males to keep from filling every household in our subdivision with Burmese/Siamese cats. We gifted friends with kittens left and right, settling on only five for ourselves. By this time, Forrest had gone on to feline heaven, having died of a lingering illness at the ripe, but not exactly old, age of eight years.
Despite the lure of breeding them for sale, I made a solemn promise to my family that I would not add more cats to what we already had. After all, I would rather give away the kittens to genuine cat lovers rather than sell them to status seekers. We learned later that our gifts had become attractive magnets for thieves, who could sell them for an easy hundred or so. In a shop recently, I saw a Burmese/Siamese kitten selling for P8000.
Happy as we were with our high-bred brood, that is not quite the end of the story. Enter one stray named Miming into the picture.
As all our Burmese/Siamese cats eat cat food, we usually have leftovers from previous meals. After dinner, I would place a bowl outside the gate for any hungry cat or dog to enjoy. The strays came and went, all except for a fawn-colored cat that we soon called Miming. She was thin and scraggly at first, but she later put on weight and became tidy.
Miming became a regular. Every morning, she would look at me with pathetic eyes and greet me with a soft, gentle meow. She refused to move away from the food bowl. The dinner bowl became a breakfast bowl too. She soon claimed proprietary rights over it, snarling at other strays who would try to share it with her.
Later, I noticed that Miming’s belly appeared distended; I dismissed this as the effect of overeating. Her teats appeared to be a bit swollen; but I chose to ignore them. After all, did I not make a promise to keep only five cats?
One morning, she came with a surprise that would test my resolve. As I stepped out of the house to bring her breakfast, I heard the soft, intermittent cry of a kitten. When I looked out the gate, I saw what looked like a dappled blur of fawn and black creeping close to her. A kitten! It had probably been born and nurtured elsewhere as it was now ready for solids. I now knew what I had denied to myself long before. Miming was pregnant, and since I had adopted her — sort of — she was taking her kitten home. The firm resolve that I had earlier believed to be as impregnable as Gibraltar dissolved into pity, affection, and tenderness towards this mother cat who seemed to know instinctively where her kitten would have a future: with a sucker for animals like me.
I drove our dogs away and let her in while I carried her little treasure with me to our enclosed terrace. I found a suitable box for her and her kitten, and brought in Miming’s breakfast bowl. Soon, they were eating from the bowl together, easily adapting to their new surroundings. I named the new arrival Uling, as the fawn in her looked like it had been dirtied with charcoal. I told myself that another stray wouldn’t hurt, anyway. We had not had kittens for quite some time. What could one more hurt?
The next day, I thought I heard again the tiny mew of a kitten and concluded that it was Uling who had sneaked out of the terrace. Looking out of the gate, I could not believe what I saw. It was Miming again, but this time, she had a tricolored kit. She looked at me like she was again expecting me to take it in. My love for animals, long hard-wired into my system, overcame the earlier practical decision. I took the new kitten to the terrace, her mother jauntily following, as if proclaiming to the dogs that she could always have her way with the mistress. I named the kitten Tingting, as she was female. (Incidentally, nearly all – or all? – tricolored cats are female.)
I thought that Tingting would be the last in the brood. But two days after, I heard the loud, agitated meow of a kitten, also out of the gate. This time, it was a white and fawn male with a crooked tail. I stared hard at Miming, and like a fool, felt I had to ask: “Miming, how many kittens do you really have?” She looked up at me with those soft brown eyes of hers, pleading for sympathy and understanding. That was all that she had to do. I carried the terrified, struggling Minggoy (the name we gave him) to the terrace to be with his siblings, his confident mother following. Her brood was now complete – finally.
Miming and her brood stayed in the terrace for quite sometime. The kittens were jumpy and fidgety at first, and later became trusting and confident. Sometimes they would clamber up to me, as I gently swayed in the hammock. I placed a litter box lined with old newspapers for all of them but Miming, ever the independent mind, chose to squeeze her slim body through the screen partitions to get out. Thus, the days drifted by peacefully for her whole family – and mine, too.
Miming’s kittens grew into frisky, affectionate, and demanding adults. They are always together, whether basking in the sun or awaiting their meals. A big aluminum pan with a missing handle has replaced Miming’s small food bowl. When chow time comes, all four sit near the gate, their eyes riveted towards the entrance door where they know the manna from the kitchen comes from. From where I am they look like a quartet, with Minggoy as the self-appointed tenor. He lets out a continuous, high-pitched meow that will only stop when I step out of the house with their food.
Before my regular jog, I pat each head, or let my hand slide down the short clean fur of their backs. They return the favor with the kind of unconditional love that only animals are capable of. When we give animals a lot of tenderness and affection, they give us more in return.
I remember a dear friend telling me jokingly that she loves animals because she does not have to send them to school. Myself, I love them for what they are, incapable of betrayal and deceit. Sometimes, I look like the Pied Piper of Hamelin on my morning and evening jogs. There will always be one or two of this cat family – if not the four of them – trailing me as I do my rounds. When I get as far as about three houses away, I shoo them away, afraid that they might be run over by heedless tricycles. They rush to my side when I open the gates, stopping only because the dogs greeting me.
Do I regret having taking them in, a family of four cats that are an added responsibility when I should be cutting down on expenses? My answer is a resounding No! I see in Miming and her family a story of love, and of what a mother – even feline – will do for her litter. We have four dogs, but Miming, slight of build, has always fought them off. Others may interpret her courage only as part of an animal’s instinct to perpetuate the species, but I see in Miming the protectiveness and the affection that we believe all mothers must have. In this respect, she is better than some human mothers.
Am I sorry that I am soft of heart, weak of resolve, and undependable in my promises where animals are involved? Again, my answer is No. If we human beings are truly the stewards of this planet, then we are the stewards of everything on it. The way we treat animals shows how much of this collective responsibility we have taken to heart and how far up in the scale of humanity we have gone.
Sometimes, I flatter myself with John Grogan’s observations in “Marley and Me,” a tribute to Marley, his beloved Labrador. Animal lovers are a special breed of human, generous of spirit, full of empathy, perhaps a little prone to sentimentality, and with hearts as big as a cloudless sky. Every story between an animal and a human being is a love story, and I am blessed that I have mine to tell.