Monday, January 24, 2005

Stray Cat Blues
"Do female cats have periods?"
C was asking. The question arose last weekend as we were discussing pet hygene while in the process of taking in a homeless skinny young white female feline we'd found wandering around the 13th floor hallway of our new Shenzhen digs mewing pitifully for more than an hour. I answered with a straight face and kept reminding myself that, as she put it, "Most Chinese of my generation don't have any experience with pets."
Indeed, her brief experiences were woeful -- the kind of stuff that would've had social workers, therapists and grief counselors in the US working overtime.
"I had two rabbits that I loved, but my uncle and my father killed them for dinner. And I had a duck, but a cat we had for a short time killed it and then my mother got rid of the cat because she said it was too dirty."
I confess I came close to tossing Gato, as I dubbed her (C said the Spanish name is also close to a Chinese word for "young girl"), the first night we took her in. After schlepping to a 7-Eleven for canned fish at 1 a.m. (pet food as we know it isn't readily available in China where many pets are food), I fed her and hit the sack at 1:30 am, only to truly fall asleep at about 4 am due to the cat's continual cries.
C was a little startled the next day when I ticked off the list of basics we'd need if Gato was to stay. Pet litter, litter box, real pet food, rabies, distemper and feline leukema shots, a bath - followed by a first-person account of the hell and folly of do-it-yourself cat bathing. She was even more taken aback when I told her how it had cost about US$60 the last time I'd had a cat professionally bathed and groomed.
C surfed the Internet for Shenzhen vets and pet stores and I was a little amazed to discover there were at least five animal clinics that also claimed to sell litter and litter boxes. Those were my main priorities because by then Gato had apparently gone almost 20 hours without evactuating anything we could see, smell or step in -- nonetheless Biology 101 told me she must have gone somewhere in the apartment. (Subsequent olfactory investigation revealed she'd been going under the bed and -- in a stroke of luck -- in the bathroom behind a wastebasket).
We priced the vets closest to us and my heart soared like a hawk when I found we could get her cleaned up and vaccinated for a total of about US$12. It was the toiletry supplies and food that really raised the ante -- another US$18.
Lacking a pet carrier, we improvised with a large faux leather satchel with the zipper open just a hair for air. Gato was amazingly calm about it -- unlike the cats I'd previuosly had which literally fought caging and transporting tooth and claw and, in one case, escaped and lodged himself firmly under the accelerator as I was driving him to the vet. The looks though, on some fellow elevator passengers' faces when the satchel began mewing softly was priceless.
"Take-out dinner," I explained evenly to the uncomprehending audience.
The pet clinic was divided into two next-door buildings -- the surgery-and-shots shop which was noticably cleaner than the Shenzhen human hospital I'd been to, and the grooming/supplies store which was filthy, but efficient. I don't think most pet groomers in the US smoke while hosing down and shampooing their clients, nonetheless I held my tongue, even after a thoroughly doped-up Gato urinated on the table while being blow dried and the groomer -- who donned a surgical mask after finishing his cigarette - wiped it up bare-handed with a tissue.
I simply made a mental note not to shake his hand upon parting.
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