A friend once asked me, “Why do you call yourself the ‘human’ of your cat? Why not just call yourself his owner? I mean, you own him, right?”Great question. It’s one which reveals how we define our relationships with the animals we love.Having lived with Merlin—the black cat who has taught me more than I’ve ever taught him—has opened my eyes to how people relate to animals.

I used to believe that a person will either be compassionate to animals or not.

I now stand corrected: We show a spectrum of emotions when we deal with other breathing, living creatures. The degree of empathy we have for our furry companions can be plotted on a scale, with some relating more strongly to them than others. The question therefore is not, “Do you love your cat?” It becomes, “How much do you love your cat?”

Queen of the world

Loving and caring for a cat more than just property is something that Weng*, an administrator of Cat Care Philippines’ Facebook community, understands very well. She is the proud human of Queen, a cat rescued by Philippine Animal Rescue Team.

Queen’s two hind legs were amputated after being rescued two years ago. “She also suffered nerve damage that left her unable to pee and poo on her own,” Weng shares. Instead of giving up on Queen, she decided to nurse her back to health. She
had to manually express her bladder and bowels three times a day.

“When I took in Queen, I was told it would be very difficult to take care of a cat with her condition. I wouldn’t say now that it is difficult but I do have to remain committed to the responsibility. [If] I fail, she [will] surely get sick and possibly die.”

Short of legs, not of love Weng was determined to give Queen what she needed, against all odds. “The entire family, including my helper, recently went on a vacation. The biggest problem I encountered then was that we could not leave Queen behind. I managed to make a no-pet-policy resort allow [Queen into the premises].”

Queen shares a home with other ambulation-challenged felines, including King and Captain Jack. “[King] used to be a stray at the Guadalupe Market. [The] story was that he stole fish from a vendor who hit him so badly that he suffered a fracture on his hind leg.” The leg eventually had to be amputated.

As for Captain Jack, the bones of one of his legs were exposed when he was rescued. Also having undergone amputation, he is a tripedal, just like King. Weng’s friends call her home an animal version of Tahanang Walang Hagdan, an organization that empowers people with ambulation issues. Through her story, she hopes people will realize that cats like Queen, despite being
different, should still be given a chance to live a happy, normal life.

“Vets said to just put [Queen] to sleep because of her condition. [They said] she won’t live long, anyway. We proved them all wrong as Queen is now one happy and healthy cat. I can truly say I am her happy, loyal slave.”

Welcoming unexpected family

Pam Luber, a 22-year-old digital marketing professional, is also no stranger to going above and beyond being the owner of a cat.“[She is] my bunso (youngest),” she says, referring to her daughter cat, Aicee. “We found her at a time [when we weren’t ready to adopt another cat]. Our neighborhood tricycle drivers brought her to us, saying that a car ran over her and that they knew I’d know what to do.” “The first time we found her, her right hind leg was [affected] the most. She would sit upright and drag that leg,” says Pam.

Feeling sorry for Aicee, she and her boyfriend, Earl Andrew, brought her to a clinic. They had initially planned to pay for her vet bills until she was strong enough to wander again. However, they got so attached that they finally made the decision to welcome Aicee to their feline family. Aicee slowly showed improvement. No longer dragging her leg, she would then limp from one place to another.After three months, she finally walked like a normal kitty.

Facing unexpected challenges

A day after Christmas in 2014, the vet told Pam and Earl that Aicee had bone cancer.“At first, we were in denial.” Pam confesses. After Aicee had finally relearned how to walk normally, Pam thought she was already out of the woods, especially because she had not shown any signs that she had a malignant growth in her bones.Pam admits to thinking, “Of all the kitties, why her? We were so sad but we decided to fight and have her go through chemotherapy.”

Aicee underwent four chemotherapy session, with each chemotherapy session costing her PhP 2,500, not including expenses for other drugs and overnight stays at the clinic.Pam wants to reassure others not to be afraid of animals with special needs. “We see the disability, but the cats [don’t] – they live life to the fullest! A differently-abled cat will teach you great things about how much you can love another creature.”Aicee celebrates her first rescue anniversary on September 26, 2015.

Property vs propriety

Going back to my friend’s frustrated query, why not just call myself a cat owner and get it over with? I do own a cat, don’t I? According to the law, I am a pet owner—in other words, I technically “own” a cat. I do not resent this fact. The law holds pet owners accountable for their cats, helping to protect my and other cats’ welfare.

However, the answer to the question above does not have to come from just two choices. It doesn’t have to be a matter of A versus B, yes versus no, I own a cat vs I don’t. There is, after all, always dark-horse option number three: I am Merlin’s human, as much as he is my cat. Saying I own him is an incomplete, ersatz statement of the truth. Our relationship goes beyond that of possession. After six years of Merlin giving me leg rubs when I come home, morbid gifts (read: cockroaches and other insects) that I find beside me when I wake up, and head butts that many people who have never had a cat will never understand, it has to.Besides, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s my cat who owns me, not the other way around.

 

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2015 issue.