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My belated, begrudging, bemused love of cats

By VICKY VELOSO-BARRERA, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 12, 2023 5:00 am

How I can write a story about cats I don’t know, because I’ve never liked them—until now, and still, a bit begrudgingly so. Or so I think.

Being so much of a rabbit lover that my Assumption and DLSU school nickname was Bunny, I disliked cats because I’ve always thought they couldn’t coexist with rabbits. The gentle rabbit is a prey animal; the cunning cat is a predator. It’s a good thing my rabbits are too big to be eaten by our cats.

Yes, our cats.

All you need is cat. Cats make affectionate and playful pets.

When the next-door neighbors moved out, they abandoned a white cat with a short, crooked tail and differently colored eyes. I also hated cats because I thought they brought in the nasty mites that have killed a few of my rabbits. Treating them has been costly, non-stop, and it is heartbreaking to see them ravaged by this difficult-to-eradicate parasite.

But the abandoned cat looked so lost, was so distraught over having been left behind and it clung to us when we visited the vacated space next door.

Moved to pity, we adopted it but it had to stay next door because of our Pomeranians and rabbits, chickens, and other incompatible pets. My kids christened it Coco Chanel, or Chanel for short.

Our cat Chanel puts a protective paw over two unnamed kittens. And yes, she has differently colored eyes (heterochromia).

Why we need to increase the number of inhabitants of the zoo we call our home, I don’t know. Isn’t it enough that we have Poms, bunnies, birds, turtles (including a humongous one named Gucci), parrots, pigeons, love birds, a sugar glider I call Alexander (as in McQueen)? Not to mention countless fish in all shapes and sizes, from the huge pakos, the alligator gar, silverfish, and so on?

I guess not.

I can only commiserate now with parents of animal lovers. My mom cried every time one of my rabbits died not because she cared about the rabbit but because I cried buckets.

I had classmates both in Assumption and DLSU who, like me, were known to be fond of one particular animal.

Marissa de Leon Lopa was and is still a horse lover, often including them in the canvases she paints. Vida Mina liked cats. And my college classmate Agnes Quisumbing inhabits a turtle world the way I inhabit a planet populated with rabbits in any form—live, in ceramics, in stories, as stuffed toys and plushies, and so on and so forth.

Much as I wanted to, I could not prevent the cat from coming into our home. You cannot even keep a cat in your home, I learned, because it is in their nature to venture out where they will attract fleas, mites, and the attention of other stray cats.

And so in record time, Chanel produced a litter—an orange now named Orange, a white named Popcorn, another white who inexplicably disappeared, and a runt that died after we gave it to my late mother-in-law’s cook slash gardener slash cat lover. My late mother-in-law didn’t like cats.

Since we have not been quick enough to get Chanel spayed, she is now nursing a new batch of kittens. Not only that, Popcorn appears to be pregnant, too—by Orange.

Did I mention that my sister Letlet adores kittens? She is always taking care of one at any time, feeding it treats like canned tuna, cleaning its mess or wearing it on her head like a hat. When talking to her on the phone she has this irritating habit of putting the kitten on the line. The Zamora house is infested with cats. But then there are no rats and even the snakes you often find in an urban jungle (literally, the house is somewhat of a jungle in the city).

I, too, had to admit that Chanel was an excellent mouser, killing even the very fat rat who coexisted peacefully with my rabbits, eating from their pellet bowls. But Chanel not only caught it, she took it to her kittens to play with and torture before they ate it. Our longtime staff Gloria videoed the whole gory episode. Disgusting.

Disgusting as I think our cats are, I now find myself saving shrimp shells and other tasty treats for them.

Just this morning I came across Chanel with three kittens curled against her, sleeping peacefully. When I returned she was awake and nursing the two white ones, with her paw affectionately and protectively on one of them.

This brought back to mind the power of a mother’s love, in animals and in humans. 

Not all animals know how to care for their young, though they do care madly about them.

I have had rabbit babies that died because some rabbit mothers don’t know how to nurse them. But my fat gray rabbit Mopsy, aged about seven years old now, went crazy after her litter died. She kept looking for them. I didn’t know till then that a rabbit could have mental issues. She will viciously attack anyone who comes near her but she trusts me and Gloria, and craves our petting her with loud purring sounds as we do.

It’s been weeks now since I finished the second season of the multi-Emmy-nominated The Bear, which is about a family with plenty of issues trying to keep their family and restaurant not just afloat, but raised to a level above the dramas that haunt their past and present.

This is what I discussed with my older daughter Hannah as we spent a day touring Intramuros, the Bahay Tsinoy and Mitsukoshi department store. She also loves The Bear.

Spoiler alert: I believe the mom, played to perfection by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the bear. She is terrifying when approached (just like my poor Mopsy) and she inadvertently made a mess of her family’s lives but in the end she stays away precisely because her love for them is so deep.

It’s something that I think would resonate with any mom because who among us doesn’t feel that we have bungled up our kids’ lives in some way? Yet in the end they still turn out more than okay, thanks to a loving God who can turn any and all things to the good for those that love and trust in Him.

So okay, Chanel, for the life lessons you’ve given me, you and your kids can stay.