Bali Tails

We love cats. They have played a part in just about every trip we have taken over the years. Either we find them or they find us, and this adventure in Bali has been no exception. However, not all of our cat tails have been good.

It’s perplexing to me -given the Balinese culture of gratitude, respect, appreciation, and karma- how uncaring or even cruel they can be to cats here (and dogs). It’s not uncommon for kittens to be discarded roadside, wrapped in a plastic bag, left to die. That’s how we found Gado-Gado, within our first month here. He was very young, and motherless on Mother’s Day. His hearty, desperate cries got Jennifer’s attention as we walked along a road where it crossed a river. We bought and fed him condensed milk, swaddled him up, and walked him to a dog shelter where, after a couple of hours of pleading, they sent him off to a cat shelter south of town. A volunteer at the cat shelter gave Gado-Gado a lot of care and extra love, but it wasn’t enough for such a youngster, and he died after a month, breaking at least 3 hearts as he left.

This Summer we sublet a villa near where we are now, and were adopted by a ginger-striped male whom we’d met earlier at a nearby restaurant. He just showed up at our door a week later. We bonded quickly, and he often napped on my chest while I studied on our patio. He was homeless, but not feral, so I suspected that -like many other cats around here- he once had a home. Jelek was 97% very sweet, but that other 3% was rooted in an aggressive neediness that led both Jennifer and I to get rabies shots following his bites. We moved away in September, and he returned to that restaurant -fatter and healthier than before, and immunized.

Over the months we’ve become frequent volunteer visitors at Villa Kitty, an admirable, overworked yet tireless cat shelter south of Ubud, where we spend time with the many cats who call it home while hoping to be adopted. Recently, we’ve been keeping an eye out for one to foster, so that we can give our Jingga a play mate.

Jingga? In early September, soon after we moved into our current home, Jennifer went out one night to run an errand. When she returned, she carried a tiger catling in a box. He’d come out of a patch of jungle near the sidewalk and fell in love with her feet, and would not let her go anywhere without him. He was loud and adamant about this -and oh so cute and talkative. There were no other homes or buildings nearby. What could she do? She got a box from a hotel and caught a cab home. The little guy was very calm the whole way, but became very scared when she finally let him out of the box. Our glass doors were open and he fled outside and leaped off the deck and into the darkness. We can still hear the splash that followed, and see a soaking kitten scamper out of the fish pond he’d landed in. But he didn’t run off, and within minutes was back inside, purring and trusting, wrapped in a towel, and talking in a voice that still sounds like Snoopy’s bugle.

We liked him right away, but were also aware of the complexities of taking him in long term. We were not going to saddle Villa Kitty with him, and so spent the first weeks trying to find his owner, and posting his picture on the local FB page. One day we got a hit from someone who said that he looked exactly like a friends missing cat, and she connected us through FB messaging to a young Russian man. Viktor sent us photos of his orange and white striped cat, and I felt immediately that it was not the same as ours. I explained my doubts and texted Viktor some questions that pertained to the situation, but he was pushy and aggressive, and ignored them, and was coming right over. But he added that of course he’d know immediately if we had his cat. I figured as much, and heard the pleas of someone who wanted to be sure, just as I would want to be in his situation.

Viktor was maybe 25 years old, and looked like a gypsy. He was tall, strong, and lean, and his greeting and body language was immediately cold and edgy. He entered our home and, upon seeing Jingga on the table for the first time, paused momentarily and remarked about how young Jingga looked (I’d warned him). I hoped and expected Viktor to quickly accept the obvious and go home, but quite the opposite happened. He sat down and took Jingga into his hands, and began firmly manipulating the little guy’s head, left and right, up and down, with disregard for Jingga’s comfort. He barely looked at Jingga’s face, and wasn’t trying to connect with him. He was especially interested in feeling the very tip of his tail, rolling it between his fingers over and over. Jennifer looked on aghast and worried. I gently pried Jingga away from Viktor and -using his photos as reference- pointed out the many ways that Jingga was different: coloring; stripes versus spots; the shape of their faces: their eyes; whiskers; size; age; etc. Viktor casually dismissed each and every point of difference, often with silly reasoning, and this situation became intense and a bit surreal, and Viktor’s edginess turned a little dark and scary.

Back and forth this went, and in circles, for a half hour. I didn’t know where this standoff was heading, but felt strongly that Viktor was not going to leave our home with Jingga, and that this nonsense needed to end soon. I again pried poor Jingga away from Viktor, and went over every point of difference again, but with a firmer voice this time. And I added one more observation: that Jingga didn’t seem to know Viktor -or like him.

Viktor stood up and went outside to make a phone call, while Jennifer and I looked at each other, wondering what to do next. After a couple of minutes Viktor came back in, and went straight to Jingga, saying he’d remembered a unique characteristic about his cat: a missing pad on one of his paws (you’d think that would’ve come up right away). He turned Jingga over and examined his paw, placed him down, admitted that he was not his cat, and abruptly left. And just like that it was over. It had been a strange and tense half hour. Four months later, we’re still trying to figure it out.

Jingga has become a wonderful member of our family (jingga is Indonesian for the color orange). He’s a very happy, funny, playful and affectionate cat, who loves us, and our big yard, and brings all kinds of jungle life indoors to continue playing with -including leaves that he preys over as if they’re alive, which is so funny. He recently learned the hard way to not mess with frogs. We often find dead geckos and gecko tails in the house, varied amazing insects, and recently, the first snake. He is, quoting Woody Allen, a vicious jungle beast.

Update: As this post was wrapping up, we ran into some neighbors who were about to leave the country for good, and return their fostered cat back to Villa Kitty. So we introduced Stewie to Jingga, and they’ve been BFF inseparable ever since, playing together inside and outdoors all day long -just what we hoped for. Stewie is sweet, and looks and feels like a white / grey rabbit  -even has the short, stubby Bali tail. We’re working on a new name…



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Villa Kitty:

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Jingga and his BFF:

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Arthur Koch
    Jan 14, 2014 @ 04:11:22

    Interesting story. thx!


  2. Kathy Phillips
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 16:44:53

    What a great story Matt! The cats seem wonderful. Haven’t read your blog for awhile. I’m laid up with a broken ankle and have time to catch up. So fun to hear of all your adventures. Say hello to Jennifer for us. Your US neighbor Kathy


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