Monday, June 19, 2006

The Other Cats of Rabat

For an unabashed and rather enthusiastic cat person, Rabat is a difficult city to live in. The gazillion cats who wander the street and alleys, nap under & on cars, hang out in the Andalucian gardens of the Kasbah des Oudaïas, and patrol the butchers, fishmongers and poulterers in the medina, pretty much break my heart on a daily basis and that is no mean feat. I am a bit of a tough cookie. These feral Rabatians come in every size, shape and colour, with a variety of bits missing: appendages, eyes and ears, and I daresay, the odd tail. How they survive is beyond me, and of course, many of them don't. Every few months, a new batch of kittens greets the world (preceded a few weeks earlier by the midnight concert of cats in heat), only to disappear a few weeks later. This nocturnal round-up is distressing and macabre.

As a cat person, I want, if not to adopt them all, at least neuter them all. Alas, my salary will not allow for it so instead, I am on the fast track to becoming one of those dotty not-so-old biddies (they even have a support group) who carry cat food with me - cat food, I would add, that comes in a peel-back-the-foil container. Batty but resourceful - because using a can-opener would be crazy. So when I see an especially scrawny & pathetic cat, I plop a tin of giblets on the pavement. I don't care who sees me. Fuck 'em. Let them look.

I know that cats are kept as pets here; the very existence of prepared cat food and kitty litter confirms it. I suspect though that most housecats are kept indoors as I seldom see them out & about. Instead, I see people promenading with their dogs. The breed most favoured in Rabat is the little yappy beribboned froo-froo lapdog that looks like it should be a Kleenex dispenser. I'm certain that my grandmother had one on her toilet tank. But I digress.

Islam allows for the keeping of pets which gives it a point in my books. I must however rescind the point for the fact it is necessary for it to even address the issue. I was compelled to further deduct another point (attention dog lovers) after I came across this little gem from the Islamic Invitation Centre:

Q: Does Islam allow dogs as pets?

A: It is forbidden (haraam) to keep a dog unless it is for the purposes for which Islam permits keeping dogs. Whoever keeps a dog except a dog for hunting or farming, his reward will decrease each day by one or two qeeraats.

The word qeeraat refers to a large amount of reward; if a person’s reward decreases by one qeeraat, that means that he is sinning, for losing reward is like earning sin, both indicate that something is haraam because of the consequences it leads to. The impurity of dogs is the greatest of animal impurities (I might have guessed that the rat would be high up there ~ CinR). The impurity of a dog can only be removed by washing seven times, one of which should be with earth (that makes for a clean bath ~ CinR). Even pigs, which the Qur’aan states are haraam and describes as an abomination are not impure to such an extent.

Wow, I guess all of the shitzhu-owners I see about town but go through shower gel and mud like there's no tomorrow. But apart from dogs, we have:

Q: Does Islam allow other pets?

A: Yes, apart from pigs (duhhhh ~ CinR).

Well that's good. In fact, I do recall that cats are imbued with a sort of special animal status, historically protected and respected. There is an oft-told legend that Mohammed's cat Muezza had fallen asleep on the sleeve of his robe and instead of waking up the sleeping cat when he had to leave, the Prophet cut off the sleeve. Well who wouldn't? Cats get mighty pissy when disturbed.

So when I see an act of charity performed for a cat, I am moved. I often head up to the gardens of the
Kasbah des Oudaïas to watch the cats get fed and watered. I have yet to find out if the man who services this tribe of cats does so as an act of goodwill or is employed to do so. I would be content with either answer. Last week when I was in the medina, I watched as the human equivalent to a scruffy one-eyed cat spread out a feast of french fries (that I suspect he can ill afford to share) for about two dozen eager-looking cats. Undoubtedly the cats of the medina fare better than their more urban counterparts. They are better fed and have more meat on their bones. But this is not to suggest that the more citified cat has no champion: the other day, outside the marché municipale, a tub of prawn shells was tossed onto the pavement for a handful of awaiting cats. I suspect this is not a one-time event. Happily, my tins of cat food were relegated to another day.

So why all the metaphorically spilled ink on
Rabat's cats? - because when I saw that a new cat reality show would be hitting the airways in the U.S., bile rose in my throat. I was livid. I saw red. I was pissed.

Ten cats in search of owners will spend the next 10 days in a New York store window, their every move caught on camera for a reality TV show on which they will compete for best sleeper and mouse-catcher.The show is the creation of a petfood company and will be shown on cable channel Animal Planet, as well as on the Web site where viewers will be asked to vote off one feline contestant each day.

Cat in Rabat shakes her head in bewilderment. Thinking of the thousands of feral cats in Rabat that routinely starve or get "picked up", never to return, I mourn a world that anthropomorphizes its animals while forgetting or neglecting their basic needs. Globally, there are some 600 million cats, and a similar number of dogs, of which an estimated 80% are strays or unwanted. Perhaps the cat food company would better serve the feline community by using its investment dollars to spay and neuter strays, rather than flogging more cat food.

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