I have never been a cat person. Dogs, rabbits, even rats have featured in my life. Rarely cats. But as Sri Lanka went into lockdown, I became cat woman, owner of not one but six cats. It began months before in a Grama Niladhari’s office, where after a consultation, I found a small ginger and [...]


Purrfect curfew companions

Daleena Samara discovers the joys of feline friendship under lockdown with a cat family

Mama Mews: The green-eyed beauty

I have never been a cat person. Dogs, rabbits, even rats have featured in my life. Rarely cats. But as Sri Lanka went into lockdown, I became cat woman, owner of not one but six cats.

It began months before in a Grama Niladhari’s office, where after a consultation, I found a small ginger and white fur ball in my bag. When I informed the Grama Niladhari her kitten was in my bag, she complained about people abandoning baby animals at her office. Others present nodded in sympathy but no one wanted the small flea-infested creature with green crusted-over eyes. Someone said the huge kabaragoya outside would take her. I took her home.

Because she was quiet, I named her Mews.  Mews grew up to be a sweet and gentle companion. I had always thought catsselfish, but she was not. When she wasn’t sleeping or eating, she was my shadow. Exceptionally beautiful, she caught the eye of the neighbourhood tom, who tried to scale my twenty-foot fence to get to her. He had his way while I was on holiday.

Although she was supposedly too young to be neutered,the raucoustom left Mews pregnant. As COVID-19 began to spread to Sri Lanka, Mews went into labour with me as midwife. She was small without much of a baby bulge, and I thought she’d have two. But they kept coming, with Mews exhausted, panting, thirstily emptying saucer after saucer of milk. Sometimes, she would lay her head on my palm and rest. She had four little ones over about five hours, and just as I thought we were done, a fifth came along.

The playful five

Mews came of age during the curfew, transiting from playful kitten to responsible mum. I was impressed at how efficiently she handled the birth, tearing the sacs and eating the afterbirth. Only once did I help her with the birth of a kitten which had got entangled.  She cleaned up after each birth leaving the newborns and their box clean and tidy.

When it was over, we wrapped the kittens in soft cloth, and I had washed and settled down to a cup of tea when Mews, ever gracious, came over, flopped at my feet, and gave me a deep ‘Thank you’ look. We had bonded well, but now there was a deeper shared experience between us.

As Sri Lanka went into sudden curfew, I worried about stocks. I had enough fish for a few days and a few packets of milk… Mews was small, and the kittens together seemed about a third her size. Nature had done a Marie Kondo in Mews’ womb for efficient space management. Mews was perpetually hungry and thirsty. She wouldn’t drink water, only powdered milk although I had been told cats are lactose intolerant. A friend helped out with stocks of fish and milk until the local fisherman began turning up down our lane.

Even as a mum, Mews made time to hang out with me, visit me at my workstation, and stretch out on the head rest of the sofa I was seated on. She took the loneliness out of the curfew and was the perfect companion, and a great conversationalist, responding with ear and tail twitches and deep knowing looks. That’s the way cats talk. But love me though she did, she wasn’t taking chances with her kittens. She would look worried whenever I walked over to pick them up. Then one day, she moved them into the dark recesses of an empty kitchen cupboard, hiding them from dangers like me. It was a smart move because kittens’ eyes, all midnight blue at first, are sensitive soon after they open – about a week after birth – and light can blind them. They have no hearing at birth either and when these senses become active, they are ultra-sensitive. They needed a very safe quiet corner to acclimatise to the world.

The kitchen kittens: All cuddled up

Mews’ kittens knew only their mum for about three weeks, during which she was a food processor, guzzling milk and fish before disappearing into her den.The food-in, food-out routine went on 24/7. Strangely there was no foul odour – mother cats are incredibly fastidious.

When Mews’ kittens began to venture out, wary and hissing at me, we moved them back into the box and she was happy to hand over some duties to me. Nowadays, a certain meow lets me know the kittens might like a saucer of fish pulp too. They have their baby teeth, so nursing can’t be easy. I often see her leave her food when the kittens decide to dig in and come over and finish eating after they have nibbled on it.

The fur babies are coming into their own. They have distinct personalities. I’ve named them Pickles, Chutney, Mayonnaise, Gravy, and Sauce, since they were raised in a kitchen. Cats are hunters, and you can see it in the way they mock stalk, pounce on and wrestle each other, race around the yard, picking up speed in an instant. Mews is ever watchful. I’ve seen her telling them off for playing too rough, showing them how to dig pits, and telling them the food’s ready. It’s important for kittens to stay with their mum for at least the first ten weeks to learn crucial social skills. For small kittens, they can climb very well and leap very high – cats are said to be able to leap distances six times their body length.

Over curfew, we have become family. Whoever says cats are selfish is missing out. These are incredible animals, undoubtedly wise and loving gifts from nature.

The Cat Protection Trust gets an average of six calls a week asking them to adopt abandoned kittens. The Trust is currently operating at capacity with around 200 kittens on hand and can no longer take in any more kittens.

To get yourself a feline friend or to make a donation, look up ‘Cat Protection Trust’ on Facebook. You can also put neutered kittens up for adoption on ‘Adopt a Cat in Sri Lanka’ on Facebook through which one of Mews’ kittens found a forever home. When adopting, remember that a cat is a lifelong friend.

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