Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cat Math (1+1=6)

Despite the rampant pollution and lack of green space in Jakarta, there seems to be a lot of wildlife that lives in this city. That is if you can consider cats and dogs wildlife. Other animals one may encounter on a daily basis include rats (very very big ones), cockroaches, tiny lizards (known as cicak), musang (a possum like animal), birds and toads. There is also a plethora of insects including butterflies, flies, dragonflies, ants and mosquitoes. It often amazes me how so many critters can manage not to just live but to thrive in this smog filled concrete jungle.

There seems to be an unbreakable code as far as co-existing with animals is concerned. The one I find the strangest is cats. Nobody under any circumstance will harm or kill cats. This topic came up at my home close to 1 year ago. When I first moved into my house, I was pleasantly surprised to find a street cat or two had been using the space in front of my bedroom window as a litter box for a very long time. So one day I sucked it up, got a shovel and picked up the 100 or more encrusted cat turds and tried my best to sanitize the spot in order to prevent further bowel movements. The extreme cleaning and cat-proofing of the gate in front of my house ensured that they would no longer defecate inches from where I lay my head. Then the cats started using the street in front of my house as a toilet. This didn't bother me much as it was an improvement compared to smelling cat urine while in bed. Then I noticed that one of the 5 or so cats who appeared to live in front of my house or on my roof was pregnant. Sure enough, there were 4 kittens living in my garbage box a few weeks later. This was definitely cute. The idea of adopting one crossed my mind but having an indoor cat in Jakarta is next to impossible. They will inevitably get outside, forage in garbage boxes and rancid trenches only to return to nuzzle against their soon to be diseased owner. Then I started doing cat reproductive math in my head and had the realization that, at this rate, there would soon be dozens of cats living in front of or on my house. When I asked friends about this, they told me that it was very very wrong to kill or exterminate cats and that Jakartans live in harmony with them. I started to ask if somebody would take action if the dozens turned into a hundred and so on. Unsurprisingly, the answer was no. It amazed me that cats could totally take over an entire street or neighbourhood and that nobody would do anything about it (any PETA type disagreeing with me can suck it, go live in the wild for a while and see how "ethically" animals treat you and each other) even if the situation got out of control. Worst of all, the cats stand no chance against the oversize rats on the street, so they can't even act as rodent control.

It is worth pointing out that both stray dogs and cats seem to be very docile and non-threatening. If anything, they are timid. This is the polar opposite of the stray dogs and cats around where I grew up. Dogs don't get much love in this country. They are allowed to roam free as cats are but are considered to be disgusting creatures. I'm not sure if it is purely Muslim beliefs or a mix of traditional Indo and Muslim beliefs but the majority of people here are petrified of dogs. On one of my first excursions with my better half, we went to a friend's house who had a dog. Upon entering the home, my lady nearly had a panic attack at the sight of a small and very friendly dog. She spent most of the night eyeing the dog and jumping on her chair every time the dog got too close. Later she told me that she was brought up to never touch dogs because they are dirty. She also mentioned that she felt fortunate to make it through the night without the dog biting her. This story seems to be very common. A westerner who owns a dog will get some strange or frightened reactions by simply walking the dog down the street on a leash. I've even known friends who have had maids quit because they got a puppy.

My lady has come a long way since then. I have helped her to overcome her fear of dogs but she still worries that some dogs are just waiting for her to let her guard down so they can bite and (assumingly) eat her flesh. Many months after her initial dog reaction, I was at her parents' house when I noticed quite possibly the dirtiest and most foul smelling cat I've ever seen roaming around in their house minutes after scavenging garbage in the street. When I asked if it was worse to have a clean dog or a rank alley cat in one's house, they begged me to promise never to bring a dog anywhere near their house. I agreed as long as they promised to clean any spot where the cat touched in their house.

Fast forward to last night. There are now at least 12 cats that I can easily identify on my street, not to mention numerous kittens. Since the first time I saw kittens in my garbage box, there have been 3 other litters that I've known of. The fourth came late last night. I was awoken by cat howling which lasted for an hour or so and then suddenly stopped. Later I could hear the kittens moaning but was unable to visually locate them the next morning. With my exceptionally good cat reproductive math skills, I predict that there will be approximately 30 cats living in front of or on top of my house by the end of the year. At least the new breed have the decency not to poop in front of my bedroom. Time to get a dog I think.


  1. Two BIG dogs, minimum!

  2. Hungry ones. Then you can barbecue the cats. Cat-ay! Cat-ay! Cat-ay!