Sunday, January 22, 2012

In The Garden In Nong Kaem

I'm still sorting out my new Vet Tech Tales amidst prepping a number of new and reprint stories for various authors associated with Steel Magnolia Press. Meanwhile, Wilkins MacQueen has been kind enough to submit a guest post about a cat rescue to take up my considerable slack. This post first appeared on her website on January 19. Enjoy.

I’m sitting in the garden chatting away with teachers when this small cat, I believe it is about six months old, starts yowling at me. I look at it, it is thin. It looks back at me then jumps in my lap. It’s crying. I put it down, then run around the corner and buy a little bag of kibble for it. The cat gulps the food down, purrs and settles on my lap and goes to sleep.

We have a lot of feral cats in my neighborhood. They like to hang out at the school and a few become semi tame because the kids play with them. I don't want a cat. Pets aren't allowed in the building, and I don't want the responsibility or the hassle of a pet. I may jump countries, then what happens to the thing? I close the door to my heart, quit petting it and put it on the ground. It rubs and meows against me.

A Brazilian teacher latches on to it, taking the heat off me. I tell her she'll be sorry. The thing needs shots, worming, it will have to be spayed. What if she goes travelling? I won't look after it. Please don't ask. I'll tell you now, no. The cat leaps from Brazilian arms back into my Canadian lap. I hand it back.

The cat has a home with the Brazilian girl. The next day the teacher brings the cat down to the garden. She's looking a little tired. The cat kept her up all night. The teacher's sister is arriving in a few days and the sister hates cats. The teacher buys food, kitty litter and a tray. The cat runs around the garden, zooms up the rose apple tree and pounces on the table where we're sitting. With decent groceries the cat's energy is off the scale. I have to leave.

The sister arrives a few days later, all aflutter, jet lagged, excited/exhausted, she runs her mouth at about 50 K an hour. She's quite entertaining but never runs down. I mean never. The cat rolls her eyes at the sister then gives me a knowing look. This is going to get ugly.

Next day, in the garden, we meet again.

"I hate cats. I can't stand cats. This is a street cat. Who would keep a street cat? Cats are dirty. That one has to be. Been living on the street. It kept me awake so I booted it off the bed." The sister has an infinite supply of air. The tirade keeps on. Fortunately she's only here on a stopover to Viet Nam. I have to leave.

The cat has a nice home and a sister to annoy. Perfect. Pusskins (I didn't name her) jumps on the sister whenever she can. She walks between her feet and bats at her ankles. The sister is irritated having to share the apartment with a cat and threatens to throw her off the balcony. I feel sorry for the teacher. The tug of war is wearing.

The day the sister leaves, Pusskins has had enough of being pushed off the bed, swatted at, getting dirty looks and listening to verbal tirades from the sister. She bites the sister on the ankle. I hear the scream a floor below. To make it worse, the sister is a nurse. I went to say a breathless goodbye (the sister, breathless now from the bite, motored on about the cat and her wound).

I don't know what possessed me; like the cat I was fed up I guess. "You should maybe get some rabies shots. Street cat, you know."

The teacher rolls her eyes at me, begging me not to egg her sister on.

"And don't touch any animals in Viet Nam, the biggest cause of death there is rabies. And with the bird flu, well I'd go vegan while you're there. They eat dog meat there. Is your leg infected? Let me get some iodine for that." The teacher is ready to clobber me; I couldn't help it. Iodine stings.

So the sister leaves and all is right with world until the Bangkok Brazilian sister starts getting phone calls from other countries. The sister went on Facebook and gassed on and on about the cat bite. She is sure she has rabies. The teacher gets a call the next morning at 6 a.m. from her sister's ex-husband. He's telling her to get the bloody cat to a vet and get it tested. Take the cat in. The Asian phone calls will stop.

I don't know, I guess I was in a bad/devil mood. I told the teacher the only way to test a cat for rabies is to cut its head off and send it away to a lab.

So then I get a phone call. Can I go up and put the cat in a basket. Sure. The teacher has a plastic basket out, another piece of plastic that kind of resembles an ironing board and a very long scarf. She thinks she can put the cat in the plastic-weave basket, tie the ironing board on top with the scarf and get on the bus. The ironing board is way too small to effectively cover the basket.

I plunk on the bed. How do I tell her she has lost her mind if she thinks that contraption will hold a cat on a moving bus? I can see the cat running around the 80 bus at top speed and the two of them getting thrown off, whereupon the cat will run off into the bushes never to be seen again and I'll never hear the end of the rabies saga that will drag on until the sister gets the series of rabies shots. "Why don't you buy a cat cage?"

The teacher is on her belly on the floor trying to get the cat from under the bed.

"Leave the cat. I'll get it." I whistle and the cat runs out from under the bed and jumps in my arms.

The teacher has to take the cat NOW. There is no time for a cage. My cell phone goes off. It is another teacher, one with a car. The teacher in need of transporting the cat has called the three people she knows with cars asking for a ride. This is the first of two more calls I will receive. All three said yes, then called me asking ME to tell her no, they can't take the cat. I laughed and declined. I'm not getting into this. I'm on the balcony now because I don't want to hurt feelings.

I'm in awe Miss Brazil thought she could get a cat to travel several kilometres on a bus in a plastic weave small topless picnic basket with a plastic ironing board and a scarf. But anyone who could name a cat Pusskins, well life on the far side gets pretty strange some days.

I pull out her wheelie. "There, put her in that." We have a discussion that ends when I tell her the plastic basket has no lid, the cat will scratch her trying to get out and will escape. The wheelie is the only safe way to transport the cat since she won't buy a cage. The dark will keep the cat calm. What do they do to wild animals after knocking them down with a drug-infused loaded dart? Cover their eyes. Like you've seen them animals shows, huh? (I used "them" and "huh" on purpose. I'm trying to make a point. It works with this teacher some days.)

I put the cat in the wheelie and zip it up. I hear a plaintive meow but it is out of my hands. At least I was able to save the cat from being transported in a plastic basket tied together with a designer scarf and stop the teacher from looking like a total moron trying to take a cat on a bus like a crazy person. She wheels down the road to the bus stop, plaintive meows coming from the suitcase.


I get the story in the garden. The vet, speaking very good English, talks to my friend about rabies. He asks where the cat is. She says in my suitcase. He wants to see the cat. The wheelie is put on the examining table and unzipped. Pusskins purrs when she's patted and blinks contentedly at her new mother and new gynecologist. The vet looks at his new client and her cat; his face is blank.

"And why do you think this cat has rabies?" The vet is looking at her very curiously. Not too many people bring patients in by suitcase.

"I don't. My sister does."

"And where is your sister?"

"Viet Nam."

"I see. And why does she think the cat has rabies?"

"Because it bit her."

"In Viet Nam?"

I can't stand to listen to this. I excuse myself to get a Birdy can of coffee -- it has less sugar than canned Nescafe. The break in the action doesn't help. The conversation retelling goes on.

"No, on the leg in my apartment."

"Whose leg?"

"My sister's."

"In Viet Nam?"

"Yes. No. She was here before she went to Viet Nam."

"Oh. What makes you think the cat is sick?"

"I don't. My sister does."

"The one who was bitten."

"That's right."

The vet moves on. He assures the teacher the cat is very healthy. He's never seen a cat in Bangkok with rabies; in the countryside yes, here no. The cat gets her first shots and travels home via the wheelie.

I bet you think this is the end of the story.

I see the teacher the next day when she brings Pusskins down for some air. Pusskins runs away, disappearing over the garden wall, jet propelled, like she has a rocket with legs strapped on her belly. The teacher's got exams to write and then mark. She's exhausted.

Pusskins kept her up all last night, pouncing, playing, yowling and knocking things over. She'd throw herself down on her back, legs twitching, then leap up and walk between the teacher's legs. I tell the teacher the cat is in season, all that good food kicked her innards into high gear. The cat came back about three a.m. The teacher heard her howl and ran downstairs to save Pusskins from falling into Tom's clutches. Tom is a square-faced local boy who won't take no for answer by the looks of the offspring he's sired down the street. That's the cat I'd like to catch and whisk off to the vet.

The next day the teacher and the cat come downstairs. Pusskins is on a leash. She's bucking and jerking. I feel my eyes bulge.

After three more nights I get a call to put the cat in the bag again. The cat is going in for surgery. The teacher looks exhausted. The cat has played and yowled away these past nights.

This time the vet has gone to ground and hides in the back. A vet tech with excellent English gets the story of how Pusskins is climbing the walls all night and the teacher can't get a wink of sleep. Pusskins flew up on the bathroom vanity and knocked a glass penguin off the shelf. A gift from a student from another country is in a million pieces in the garbage.

"Oh, she's distressed."

"Not as much as I am."

The vet tech tells the teacher cats in the tropics are different from cats in cold climates. Here, cats are in season almost nonstop. She needs to draw blood and it takes a day to get the results back, so the teacher can take the cat home and bring it in tomorrow.

"No, I've got a better idea. Keep the cat. I need a good night's sleep. Operate tomorrow."

The cat is partway through her seven day recovery at the vet's. Turns out P is two years old.


Dear Reader,

I am an animal lover. This story is a light-hearted look at a very serious problem. Unwanted animals live on the edge of hunger, illness, car accidents, poisoning and loneliness. Although I poked a lot fun here at the human characters, rest easy, the cat in the story has an excellent home and she's off the streets for good with a happy rest of her life ahead of her.


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