Most of my friends cannot believe that I am living happily ever after with three puspins, pusang pinoy, all rescued from different parts of the city by two other cat lovers of the family. Five years ago, my niece, Carmen, rescued four grubby kittens one of which was a three-colored calico. She asked me to adopt it as I did not have a pet cat then, for the first time in my life. Neither of us noticed that the poor kitten had only three legs. Maybe she was a breech kitty; mother cat must have inadvertently bitten off the limb as she pulled her through the birth canal. Poor thing, I took her to the vet straight away. I named her Milonga.
When Milonga was almost a year old, I adopted another puspin to keep her company. My granddaughter, Uma, cannot resist rescuing and/or feeding stray kittens. She always has a packet of cat food in her handbag for homeless felines. She knows all the cat shelters, so I asked her to take me to one. This was somewhere in Forbes Park, of all places; the owner turned out to be a friend whom I had not seen since we were single. She took me to the cat cages and said that all her “wards” had been either spayed or neutered and that she did not sell them, but would appreciate a donation. I chose a spirited male butter ball with a patch of white on its back. As I approached the cat cages, he was meowing loudly, as if begging me to take him home, so I did and named him Jarocho.
I do not know much about dogs, but cats who do not grow up together have to be introduced to each other. Untethered by human formalities, felines have their own elaborate protocols before they accept each other’s presence and agree to live in peace. I had to put Jarocho in a cage so he and Milonga could get used to each other’s presence. Carmen said they should have meals together. After two weeks, I noticed they were no longer growling and hissing and Jarocho found a way of opening the cage door. I was not alarmed, neither was Milonga, when we saw him squeezing his way out. They now spend hours together sitting on the window sills watching birds fly.
Then I had to adopt a third cat. My son, Leon, asked me to take in their youngest puspin, Arabia, who was almost a year old. I had helped Uma rescue him from the heartless guards of an eponymous embassy. I changed his name to Merengue. The acquaintance period was perilous for the two alpha males, but I patiently went through the protocols which took longer than the usual two weeks. On the day Merengue shattered his isolation and caught sight of Jarocho, it looked and sounded as if they would tear each other to shreds. Milonga and I were frozen with dread, but we all survived those dramatic moments when primeval urges came to fore. Once in a while the two alpha males still butt heads, but when they hear my menacing, “NO FIGHTING1!” they run for cover.
Unfortunately, cats still need a lot of image-building. They are considered aloof, incapable of showing affection. Unlike dogs, cats rarely come when called. Let me give that narrative a swerve: My puspins walk briskly towards me when they hear their names, but again, there is a special protocol to follow. They also call me! Jarocho does that all the time. He meows incessantly until he hears my voice and immediately goes to where I am. Cats also need a clean place where they can answer the call of nature, a woody surface to file their claws or they will ruin your furniture. Although they can slither gracefully among your fragile collectibles, they do miscalculate and accidents happen.
My three puspins copy each other’s behavior. Milonga used to be the “spoke scat”; when they are hungry, it is she who relays the message by patting my foot with a padded paw. Whenever I ignore the message, she starts to bite my leg, less gently than a cat’s kiss; her fangs hurt without drawing blood. Lately, Merengue has started to copy Milonga, he bites my leg at breakfast time when he is most ravenous. Jarocho, now insists that I watch him while eating, as I do Milonga, or he won’t finish his food. Milonga is ladylike, she eats slowly, so if I am not watching Merengue steals her food. Today, I had to give them beef-flavored dog fodder because the supermarket had run out of cat food. I was afraid they wouldn’t like it, but they responded with hungry enthusiasm.