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SINGAPORE: It came to me during the wee hours of the morning last week. I had been rudely awakened by the unmistakable sound of something shattering into pieces – followed by suspicious scurrying.
I got up, half-awake, and nearly tripped on a furry shadow outside our bedroom door.
Two small eyes looked up at me. Our cat just knocked over a potted plant at 3am.
As I was cleaning up the mess, a strong whiff of poop wafted in from the kitchen, as if the world was telling me: "Hey, you’re awake! Might as well…"
At that moment, I thought to myself: How did I end up shovelling cat poop and sweeping pottery shards in the middle of the night?
“Meow.” Aww. So cute, you…
CHLOE THE CLUMSY CALICO
It has been a month since I officially joined the ranks of Singapore’s army of pet parents. Her name is Chloe and I am her hooman.
Chloe is an adorable female calico that my cat-loving wife and I adopted from a shelter. At eight months old, she’s roughly the equivalent of a 15-year-old teenager – and just as clumsy, restless and manipulative (she likes to nip you in the arm while you sleep because she wants a midnight snack). Oh, and did I mention adorable?
We first met her in February. My wife’s friend, who volunteers at the non-profit organisation Keep Cats, had been urging her to adopt this one young, affectionate kitten in particular. Chloe’s siblings and mother had all died and she was the lone survivor.
The shelter housed dozens more cats of all ages, shapes and sizes, rescued strays and abandoned ones alike – and, like Chloe, they all had their sob stories.
We stayed for a couple of hours and came out wondering why anyone would buy cats, when there are so many of them in shelters like these who need a home. My wife had already made up her mind about Chloe but we also decided to contribute a bit to the organisation, which like many shelters survive on donations.
Now at this point, I have to point out that until I stepped foot inside the shelter, the idea of adopting a fur kid wasn’t really on my list of things to do.
For the longest time, pets just weren’t really my thing. And my answer to the age-old "are you a dog or cat person" question had always been purely hypothetical. I’d normally go with cats, mainly because they’re smaller, they don’t smell like dogs, and I don’t break out into cold sweat in front of a Maine Coon. (That childhood incident involving a neighbour’s snarling, lunging Japanese spitz took years to recover from.)
CAT PERSON BY ASSOCIATION
But that was it. At best, I had always just thought of myself as a cat person by association. I had girlfriends and friends who kept one or two. And, of course, my wife, who is only on social media for the sole purpose of following more than a hundred cat-related Instagram accounts.
Her family has always kept cats, too. When I came into the picture, they had two gingers: The inquisitive and friendly Franny and the more cautious Wade, who would follow her jie-jie everywhere.
Meanwhile, community cats were treated like next-door neighbours. A typical dinner conversation at my in-laws’ place would often go like this:
“Have you seen how big Al is now?” “Yeah, I said hello to him this morning. I also saw Cally but she seemed in a hurry.”
So you could say the idea of having a cat slowly grew on me – and it probably helped that my wife played mind games for a whole year.
“It was 'inception'. Don’t you remember all those subtle suggestions?” she said, with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
I really don’t consider hearing the question “where’s my kitty cat?” on a near nightly basis as “subtle”, but it obviously worked.
There was also another reason why I eventually gave in. Last year, Wade had to be put down due to a very bad urinary tract infection. The entire family was devastated but my wife, in particular, was crushed. She had been particularly close to Wade and for a few months, you couldn’t get even get her to watch The Secret Life of Pets.
So when her questions started to become more frequent, I took it as a sign to finally give in.
For a first-time pet owner, every step has been an eye-opener. It turns out taking one home isn’t as simple as just dropping by and picking one out – organisations do background checks on whether adopters and their homes are suitable for the cat. Then there is all the necessary paperwork to get through and optional procedures like spaying and microchipping.
On top of that, there’s cat-proofing the home, and making it cat-friendly. That meant tidying up loose cables, closing off corners she may inadvertently squeeze into but not out of, making sure there aren’t poisonous plants around and, most importantly, installing grills on windows.
We also got a cat tree and scratching posts in the hopes that our cat would take its frustrations out on these instead of our newly bought sofa. Sadly, that hasn't worked out.
And while my wife already has experience living with cats, it was all, admittedly, brand new to me. Being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, I read up and Googled away on anything and everything to do with cats and having one.
I now know that Shakespeare hated them, you’d have a lower carbon footprint feeding a cat than a dog, and that living with one makes you 30 per cent less likely to die of a heart attack than non-cat owners. They’re also not as aloof as you might think – there have been incidents of cats saving people’s lives over the years.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS
The funny thing is, trying to learn more about Chloe has made me learn more about myself.
For instance, I’ve always known I was kancheong. I didn’t know I was going to be that kancheong of a pet parent.
During her second day with us, I woke up to find Chloe’s left eye swollen. “I think it’s serious. We should go to the vet. Like right now!” I told my wife. It was 6.30am on a Sunday.
She looked at me like I was an idiot and promptly went back to sleep. After more Googling, I read you should wait and observe for a day before properly panicking. By the next morning, Chloe was okay. I could save my panic attack for another day.
There are also the little changes one makes to the daily routine. It’s making an effort to set aside time for play – especially for cats her age – instead of immediately vegging out on the couch after a hard day’s work. It’s waking up at 4am pretty much every night because of a furry blur jumping on our bed. It’s dealing with the litter box (as the more senior cat person in the house, my wife gets to be the popular one who takes care of feeding time).
But it’s also the little things that make it worth it. Who cares about cat videos when you’ve got a clumsy cat slipping and stumbling while chasing a ball right in front of you?
We’re also lucky to have a rather affectionate cat. Every time she snuggles with us in the early morning, Chloe makes it a point to squeeze between me and my wife. It's an equal-opportunity manja session.
I might not have had a proper night’s sleep in a month – and I’m sure there will be more broken things to sweep up in the years to come – but it’s been a small price to pay for our very own furry purring machine.
Now excuse me while I go clean the litter box. Our kitchen’s starting to stink again.
Thinking of adopting a cat?
Cat Welfare Society (https://www.catwelfare.org)
SPCA Singapore (http://www.spca.org.sg/)
Kittens For Adoption (https://www.facebook.com/Adopt.A.Cat.Singapore)
Keep Cats (https://www.instagram.com/keepcatssg/)
Animal Lovers League (http://www.animalloversleague.com)
The Cat Museum (https://www.thecatmuseum.com.sg)