The Sunday morning sunshine fills the Malate Church courtyard. Several booths fill the space, offering free anti-rabies vaccination, mange treatment consultation, and various pet products.

Early pet companions enthusiastically bring in their furry friends for registration and participate in the perennial animal blessing on St. Francis Day which also aptly coincides with the World Animal Day.

Noticeably, dogs dominate the scene. One lanky guy catches my attention. He is shielding his orange cat from the growling and unruly canine pack. He tenderly wraps the cat with his slim arms as he lines up for the free shot.

“Takot siya sa mga aso,” Joven Labad says. He stands out in the crowd not only for his five-foot-ten frame, but also for being the only human with a feline friend that early morning. The 26-year-old is a Mechanical Engineering student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and hails from General Trias, Cavite. He is the eldest child in the family with eight siblings.

“His name is Oggy. I named him after a cartoon character in Oggy and the Cockroaches TV series. He is a gift and one of the four kittens of my friend. Actually, our family is very partial to cats, especially my mom. We have 17 other cats: one Persian, one Siamese, one American Shorthair, and the rest are Puspins,” he explains.

“We are cat lovers. We find dogs maingay at medyo malaki (noisy and sort of big), unlike our cats. They make noise only when they are hungry: meow-meow is softer to the ears than bow-wow,” he quips.

To prove that handling Oggy is quite a challenge amidst the barking dogs, Joven shows the two-inch scratch on his right forearm. “Nilapitan siya ng aso at natakot — nakalmot ako (He was approached by a dog and got scared — I got scratched),” he laughs. “Oggy is seven months old and he is 70 percent Persian and 30 percent Siamese. His color is orange lynx point.”

He puts Oggy at the back of a parked pickup truck away from the cacophony of the noisy dogs and the honking jeepneys passing M.H. Del Pilar Street. Flashing his mobile phone, he shows off the photos of his other cats and rattles of their names, “Here is Oreo, Winter, Zebra, Mingming, Putitay…”

Incidentally, Joven also has a four-inch tarantula named Firry. He is an animal person indeed.

Oggy is the only cat who lives with Joven in his dormitory. The rest are in the province. “[Whenever I come] home from school, Oggy welcomes me with excitement, jumping off from his favorite sleeping space, the window sill. He never fails to [make me feel better] despite the daily stress after school.

“I feed him dry cat food, tuna or seafood flavor. He also has his weekly bath. I apply virgin coconut oil to protect him from fleas,” he shares.

“When you have pet animals, you must treat and love them like family. You must be understanding and compassionate. Marunong din silang maglambing o magtampo (They are also capable of showing affection or having tantrums),” he says.

His love for his favorite cat Oggy rubs off on his girlfriend, who initially did not like cats. “Now my future life partner loves to take care of Oggy. I think I’m a big influence for sure,” he says with pardonable pride.

“By the way, do you know that cats love calculus?” he asks. He shows a photo from his mobile phone. A striped cat named Tiger is sitting attentively on the table, seemingly listening as the lady professor discusses the subject before the amused students. The calculus-lover cat regularly stays for twenty minutes. “Tiger is one of the stray cats roaming the campus, a regular fixture in our cat-friendly university,” Joven explains. One can feel his affinity for cats and his genuine love for his feline friends.

Joven is financing his schooling and of course the financial upkeep of Oggy. He sells landscape paintings online, a job originally started by his father. He earns enough to help in his siblings’ school expenses. Oggy is fortunate to have Joven — an entrepreneur, a diligent student, a certified cat lover — as his human companion and vice versa.

Our interview is cut short as all human companions with their respective pets eagerly wait for the blessing of the animals, with Joven still protecting Oggy from the menacing look of the boisterous bulldogs and Dobermans.

The Catman and Oggy, loving in tandem.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s December 2018 issue.