Touched: Indian Kitten

Mar 4, 2015 by

“Phileas was picked up at a construction site in Bandra. His mother had just died a few days earlier from eating rat poison disguised in human food. Phileas and his two identical sisters were rescued this Friday. We bravely tried to save the two little girl kittens too…but it seems like they got some of the poison from the mother’s milk and succumbed to it – one died this Saturday and the other on Sunday. Both the days Phileas was found snuggled up against his sisters – cuddling them even as they passed away.”

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“With the sudden change in the weather, we had a sudden inflow of babies that were separated from their mamas… These three precious babies lost their families to horrible accidents over the weekend. We need YOUR help to save their lives.”

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“Dodo, a 3 month old puppy has suffered an injury on the harsh streets of Andheri causing loss of her left eye. Surgery is needed to ensure that the dead organ does not get infected and cause further harm to Dodo. The surgery, medication and post op cost for Dodo amounts to Rs. 6200/-“

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“3 female puppies were found abandoned on the road, orphaned. Currently being fed by caring people around, these three sisters can’t stay on the streets forever.”

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“Tigger was found in a miserable condition in Powai. An unattended wound on his ear has grown huge and is infested with maggots that have eaten through his flesh. It is quite a risky injury, since it is so close to the brain. Tigger has been picked up, first aid has been given and he has been admitted in hospital in hope of recovery. We require Rs.5,330/- for his treatment, lodging, boarding and transport.”

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These are some of the realities facing animals in India. All of these quotes I took from World For All Facebook page. More on them below…

 

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The Littlest Heartbreaker…

Anyone who has been to India will know that not only are there cows all over the place, but cats, dogs, rats, chickens and goats too. Mostly the goats and chickens are cared for by a human owner. The cats and dogs, though? Not so lucky. The simple fact is that there are too many fertile animals in India not receiving proper veterinary care (or human love). This is not news.

Every day I spent in India, I became more accustomed to seeing animals in the street. Eventually, I learned to recognize that most of them are fine, relatively speaking. Survival of the fittest is reality, and the fittest prevail. They manage to dig through garbage piles for food, and the people more or less ignore them. I contrasted this to dogs I’d encountered in other countries where a distinct and real fear of humans was present. By my experience, this was not the case in India. If a dog wasn’t indifferent to humans, it was friendly and approachable. That many of these dogs were probably carrying bugs didn’t stop me from loving them up from time to time.

 

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On average, I found the cats to be a little more skittish than the dogs, despite my best efforts and all my best cat-summoning techniques.

In short, I love animals.

When someone asks me if I’m a cat person or a dog person, I answer, “I’m an animal person.” I love them all.

While animals are completely ubiquitous in India, they never made it into the classrooms where I was teaching (save for that random crab one of my students found by the sea, which you can see in this video). That’s why I was particularly surprised to find a few of my students and one of their mothers at the peak of another long, stifling Nallasopara day, sitting on the floor of a classroom with the tiniest little kitten in their midst. When I found them, the mother was trying to encourage him to drink some milk. I took this as a learning opportunity. I explained that the kitten was probably thirsty for water. So I poured some water into the palm of my hand, and the kitten lapped it up. I repeated this a few times.

 

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After the water, we all played a little – cat and mouse type games, catch my finger, the usual. This time around, the cat lapped up a bit of milk. I shared some of my roti and peanut butter with him, and he gobbled that down too. He seemed to have been revived by the sustenance.

We were bonded.

Once the kitten was satisfied, he slept some more, and the kids practiced their karate and acrobatic moves. I sat with the kitten. I watched as his little belly went up and down, eyes clamped shut in a state of collapse.

 

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It was a delight to watch the children interact with this small animal in a positive way, to show care and concern for his well-being. I was very proud of them.

I spent the entire afternoon with that kitten in my arms. He slept, he woke, he licked the salt off my arms. I brought him more water, we played, he slept he slept he slept. Even when I’d move around, he would persist in sleeping.

 

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The principal at the Nallasopara school is a big softy for animals like me. He bought a turtle at a market because he felt bad for it, and now his pet turtle lives at the school there. He was the one who found the kitten and gave him to the children to play with and care for. When he saw me bonding with the cat, I asked him if there was anything we could do to help him. We shared a few ideas; I could see he was keen to help the animal in my lap. Maybe Tania, who started the schools there, could guide us. Maybe one of the other volunteers, a French expat, who occasionally fosters animals, could help. We discussed and discussed, but just shrugged our shoulders. We knew there was nothing we could do.

Truly, I knew there was nothing I could do. Even though I went as far as mentally boxing up the kitten and traveling through India, Nepal, Qatar and Europe with him on my back, I knew it could never happen. I could never save the kitten. So when the teachers at the school passed by us and saw the kitten sleeping on me, they said, “Didi, you should take him to Canada.”

And that’s the last thing I wanted to hear. The thoughts in my head needed no validation in any form.

Then the principal walked by and saw this:

 

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He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialled. I knew he was calling Tania. Then he handed me the phone and said, “Talk to Didi.”

I didn’t want to. I already knew what she was going to say. I’d spent enough time in India to know better. But he handed me the phone, and I heard myself say, “So, I have a really tiny kitten sleeping in my lap right now,” and as the words came out of my mouth, I could already hear what she would say. I told her my thoughts about finding a foster for him. Her response was fair and direct. She explained that the other volunteer was already fostering a dog, and that this cat would just die anyway. “This is India,” she said.

This is India.

I hung up the phone before she could hear my sob. I was too embarrassed to finish the conversation. I knew better than to try to save this kitten. And I can’t blame Tania for her frankness. She has been there for 15 years and dealt with hundreds of volunteers who come from cushy first world countries. You can be sure I am not the first one to try to save an animal.

Still, I sobbed big fat tears onto my hot skin. The kitten sat undisturbed in my lap. My curious students stole glances at their crying teacher. I could tell they didn’t understand why I was crying over a cat. I was annoyed with myself. I had approached playing with the kitten as an educational opportunity for the kids to learn about caring for an animal. As soon as I started thinking I could help or make a difference for the kitten, I had fallen in love, and there was no going back. I was heartbroken, and my only course was to grieve.

Later in my journal, I reflected on the day and on my behaviour. “It’s so fucking hot up there. I felt like my brains had been scattered on the cement and fried up like eggs.” I felt useless, defeated, beat down. I made the mistake of thinking I could fix something in India and paid the emotional price.

After my meltdown, the principal brought out his turtle. This, at least, made me smile.

 

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I carried on with the rest of the day, the cat my constant lap companion. I finished my work in the class plan books and sipped my chai. I soaked up every second I had with the nameless kitten in my lap. I knew our goodbye was coming soon; it was also my last day in Nallasopara.

 

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When I left that day, the mother who had been supervising the children and the cat earlier took him from me. She promised me she would care for the kitten until she could find his mother. I thanked her and turned to leave without looking back. I knew better. She could barely care for herself, her family, her children. How could she care for a kitten?

This is India.

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I have never forgotten this little guy, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s been about 10 months since this took place, and I still wonder what happened to him. The rational part of my brain knows. The hopeful part of my brain is sure he’s found his mother and has grown strong, strong enough to be one of the fittest.

My mother, another animal lover, was the one I went to with this story, and she had the wisest words of all. “You gave him a chance to sleep and a chance to live another day.”

There is no end to the problems in the world, and unloved and uncared for animals is one of them. We can’t do everything, but at least we can try to do something. Consider donating to your local shelter, fostering an animal in need or even adopting and providing an animal with his fur-ever home. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more exotic, find World For All online or on Facebook and follow them for updates on the animals. Consider donating! If you are in India, adopt!

And while you’re at it, have your own pet spayed or neutered.

Find me on Facebook, twitter and Instagram. Don’t be a stranger. 

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12 Comments

  1. I can NOT handle stories like this. I can’t. Now I’m crying in my granola.

    • Colleen

      Sorry for making you cry. I cried a lot too. This was a hard one for me to write about… hence why it took me 10+ months to finally do it.

  2. Oh what a dear little creature!

    Our travels last year had us cross so many animals and there were so many times I wept for them. Heartbreaking images pop into my mind tormenting me. I take solace in knowing some places, like Istanbul, care incredibly for the feral animals, but that certainly isn’t the case everywhere.

    • Colleen

      It makes me sad to think about all the animals in this situation. They are so dependent on people… not like animals in the wild. These are ones that need love and care. On the one hand, I got kind of used to seeing it, but on the other band it doesn’t make it ok or any easier.

  3. There are so many stray dogs in Latin America, crazy. I’m not a pet person but I feel bad for them, they look so unhealthy and… lonely. But yes, priorities, when you can’t feed people, you can’t feed animals.

    • Colleen

      I know you aren’t a pet person… I think people who are real suckers for animals get hit a lot harder when they are on the road. For us, pets aren’t just animals, they are family members. Still, it’s sad no matter who you are.

  4. Wow, this was hard to read. I hope the kitten is ok and that all of the beautiful, special dogs and kitties are safe for that matter, Colleen.

    • Colleen

      Mike, it was hard to write. I don’t know how the kitten is doing, but I don’t have high hopes. However, as one of my friends said after she read this, he probably “had the best day ever.” I can only hope so.

  5. This is beautiful and awful. It reminds me of this puppy in Thailand – we were renting an apartment for a few months and our land lady had a pretty close relationship with a stray dog that had puppies. Most of them didn’t last more than a few weeks, but one did – my bf and I used to bring her treats and take her up to our apartment. We talked about adopting her even though we knew it just wasn’t practical. Then one day we came back home and she was gone. The land lady said she was hit by a car – she was a lovely lady, but this just didn’t mean anything to her at all. What happened was upsetting, but it was even more upsetting the way she was used to this stray dog having puppies every year and those puppies dying. This is definitely an aspect of traveling to a lot of countries that isn’t written about often and is quite heart-breaking.

    • Colleen

      That is an absolutely heartbreaking story. I agree – people don’t really share these stories that often… probably because they are sad, but I think that’s WHY we should share them.. I’m so sorry to hear about your puppy, but thank you for sharing. I wish there were something we could do to change the situation but mostly I just feel helpless…

  6. Oh, Colleen, I’m so sorry you had your heartbroken in this way. It’s a pain I experienced quite a lot during our own travels, and it’s one that never gets easier. I distinctly remember this one day in Taiwan when we had gone to visit Taroko Gorge and when we pulled over to eat our lunch, this mangy little black puppy toddled over, tail wagging and completely stole my heart. All the other tourists and locals were terrified of him because he was so scruffy, but I could tell he just wanted someone to play with him and give him some cuddling. So, I did. And I also fed him my entire lunch to boot. I wanted so desperately to save him, to love him always, but we were on a scooter, and besides that, we were leaving Taiwan in 2 days and were staying with a CouchSurfing host… what could I really do above what I did? I gave him an hour of love and a meal, and then as we got back on our scooter and drove away, I burst into tears and didn’t stop for about five minutes. I still think of that dog all the time and miss him. I hope he found the family he deserved, but I suppose I’ll never know. From one animal lover to another, I get how much that sucks. It’s horrible to know that we can’t save them all, but I guess all we can do is our best and offer as much kindness and care as we can.

    • Colleen

      It sounds like you understand perfectly what happened to me in India. The reality of these animals is truly tragic. I’m glad there are people like us out there (because I know it’s not just us two!) who give the animal a little break, even for an afternoon or an hour. We do what we can. Fleas and scruff be damned, I’ll pet and love them while I have the chance.

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