Cry of the innocent stray cats

Stray animals rely on the sympathy and kindness of strangers for survival. Photo: Filepic

My three children are easily moved to tears at unpleasant sights and events, and perceived injustice. Many kids, because of their innocence, are like this – and we adults have a lot to learn from them.

It’s been some months since we moved from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru.

One day, I heard my five-year-old daughter crying in the night, and I wondered what had happened because her weeping was of a different type than the usual when kids quarrel or fight. I discovered she was weeping because our neighbour’s cat had been crying outside our house and her Mummy would not allow her to bring the cat into the house.

Apparently, our elderly neighbour had travelled out of town without making any arrangements for her outdoor cats (aboutsix to 10 of them) that she usually feeds.

This cat particularly, which is about the youngest among them, had always had a tendency to run to our house and follow us about, ever since it was a kitten. In hunger, desperation and loneliness, it decided our house was her “second home”, and was crying out to us for help, hoping to get some food. The other cats, which were older, had strayed away to other places to fend for themselves.

The cry of the little cat broke my daughter’s heart; she felt very sorry for the hungry, lonely cat outside the house in the cold of a rainy night.

I later made arrangements to buy some cat food from the shopping mall, and we started feeding it and the other cats that come around to our house. It has become a routine for us to feed the cats with whatever we can afford.

Cats are smart and loving, and friendly companions to their owners. They are good “alarm clocks” in the home; they wake you up in the morning with a tender loving brush against your body or a nice “meow”. They are good “supervisors” of everything going on in the house, such as cooking, cleaning, washing and even the playing taking place among the kids in the house. They lie down on your newspapers so they don’t get blown away by the wind. In addition, cats can keep away nuisance rodents and reptiles from your home – free of charge and in an environmentally friendly manner!

I drive around the city of Kota Bharu almost every day. Usually I go to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiti Malaysia Kelantan in Padang Tembak, Pengkalan Chepa, on weekdays (Sundays to Thursdays in Kelantan). It is always an interesting and enjoyable drive except for one thing: I encounter dead cats, knocked down and crushed by motorists, almost every day! It has become a common sight in the city.

Last night at a junction, while waiting for the traffic lights to change, I watched helplessly as a little cat was hit and run over by a car. It wriggled in pain and died an agonising death in the rain!

This morning, I drove past another carcass of a cat, also killed on the road. Nobody seems to care that precious cats get wasted every day through no fault of theirs. I have always wondered how many cats get killed this way, every day, in the towns and cities in Malaysia.

The words of Leonardo da Vinci come to mind: “The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”

By my conservative estimate, at least one cat gets killed in Kota Baru every day by automobiles, implying at least 365 cats killed in a year, and almost all are stray cats. Many of them are stray because nobody took them in or someone abandoned them along the way.

By my estimate, Kota Baru may have about 7,000 stray cats walking the streets of the city, with their favourite colonies being around the pasar malam, restaurants and food courts, school dormitories, institutions, houses where they get food once in a while, some rubbish dumps and even in places of worship.

Other cities that are bigger than Kota Baru would likely have a lot more stray cats. I also estimate that we have about 10,000 house cats in Kota Baru, with more than 50% of them coming into contact with stray cats at some time. This means there is a risk of transmission of diseases between strays and house cats and, ultimately, the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to humans), thereby endangering public health as well as animal health.

According to the 2010 census from the Statistics Department, there are 53,126 households in Kota Baru, 57,660 living quarters and an average of 4.8 persons per household. If only 15% of the 53,126 households in Kota Baru today would adopt just one stray cat, there wouldn’t be any stray cats left on the streets anymore.

I believe measures should be taken to control the stray cat population, for these reasons:

1. Obstruction of traffic that can lead to accidents, when motorists attempt to dodge the cats.

2. Inhumane killing of stray cats by automobiles, as already mentioned.

3. Risk of zoonotic diseases being transmitted to humans and other animals.

4. Cats being a public nuisance at restaurants and other public places.

5. Numbers of sick, unkempt and unattended cats.

6. The psychological impact on society, especially on children, when they see stray cats being maltreated.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I would also like to suggest the following:

1. Launch the Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) programme nationwide. How it works: Trap the stray cats, get them neutered at a clinic, and return them to their colonies. This has been successfully done in cities such as New York City, to humanely reduce the population of stray cats.

2. Provide more cat shelters in all state capitals and the federal territories.

3. Conduct mass vaccination of stray cats to control some cat diseases.

4. Encourage the adoption of cats by citizens en masse.

5. Increase cat awareness programmes in the communities so people can better learn about responsible cat ownership and other relevant issues.

We cannot afford to be complacent or silent on this issue. The blood of the innocent cats killed every day on our streets, whose only sin is being stray, may be crying out against us and pleading for justice and compassion from the human race!

When we close our eyes and pretend not to see or hear what is happening, we become accomplices in the ill-treatment and death of innocent creatures of God.

I conclude with these lines that I first read over 20 years ago and have not forgotten:

Be kind to animals:

Unseen they suffer, unheard they cry.

In agony they linger, in silence they die.

Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?

– Anonymous

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