Far far away there is a country made up of many islands, glistening like jewels in the ocean. The sun shines on the islands with their green jungles, tall palm trees and bright white sandy beaches alongside sparkling blue seas, and it’s always warm. Many of the people of this special place live simple lives with little money, but they help each other when times are difficult, and they smile and sing and find joy in their lives.
If you don’t follow us on Instagram or Facebook, this is a summary of our adventures in October. We didn’t know it then, but it would be the calm before the storm of November….
I didn’t travel anywhere in October, and we had no houseguests. So we settled into our routine, which involved me working longer hours during the week than the kitties would like, and then working on the sofa on the weekend when they would prefer I was out in the garden watching them run around.
Fostering Tully and Shay was quite different than my other experience with bottle babies; a bit like how parenting a second child is easier than the first. The biggest difference was of course that I had four kittens with my first foster litter, which was stressful and time consuming to manage alone. Two were easier, plus – maybe because they had spent an additional two weeks with their mama – they were spotless! None of the perpetual grubbiness of my first litter, Shay was always sparkling white and they both smelled like the sweet little fluffy darlings that they were. I can’t recall now, but I don’t think they were ever bathed as babies – they just took care of themselves perfectly.
Shay was an independent, spirited little kitten from the time I collected her aged 3 weeks. She complained all the time -wow, wow, wow, WOW, wow. Non stop complaining when she was out of the nest, and very determined to do everything on her terms, not mine. Tully, on the other hand, was sweet and placid – possibly the easiest and relaxed little baby kitten I’ve ever seen. He never cried, he drank all his formula, obliged with a little burp when he was finished, then lay on his back to be de-pooped and de-peed and promptly fell asleep. Feeding Shay was much more difficult. Firstly, she would almost purse her little lips and refuse the bottle; she’d move her head to avoid insertion. If I switched to a syringe it was no better. She was so defiant! Eventually I learned that she had a process and I just needed to follow it for a smooth feeding session. When she knew there was a bottle nearby, she needed about ten minutes to suckle and knead her blanky before she would accept the bottle. So I settled into a routine of letting Shay smell the formula, putting her on my lap with her blanky while I fed Tully, then by the time he was finished, she was ready to go. Whew!
Also with my first bottle litter, there wasn’t enough time between feeds to do anything but rest, but with only two, and my houseguest Trisha who was keen to participate in the feeding (but not the de-pooping), I was actually able to have a life outside of the feeding schedule. Handy, given it was Christmas! We managed to arrange the feeding schedule so that there was enough time to go out for Christmas lunch, unhurried, and be home in plenty of time for the next feed.
The little sweethearts started to explore their surroundings more as they grew, with Tully curious and quiet, and Shay nipping at the heels of the big cats, biting Tully on the bum, and generally being a little Madam.
Trisha left on New Years Eve, and we turned in early at Kitty Central, with all the cats bunking in my bedroom for the night because of the raucous fireworks going off outside. Back home, there are organised fireworks on the harbour each year – 9pm for the kids, midnight for the grownups, and most functions gather in view of the display. In Manila, there are no restrictions on fireworks or firecrackers, so the bang-bang-bang’s start in the morning, continue all day, then once darkness descends, fireworks are hurled off balconies and set off in streets and parks. The kitties were very brave, watching the bright lights from the windows and not at all frightened by the noises.
On the fifth of January the movers came and packed up the apartment for our relocation to Cebu. I was keeping some cat toys and scratchers, the window hammocks, one third of their cat condo plus litter trays and bowls and just a bed and a table and chair for me. Basically the bare minimum we could survive on for the short time until our house in Cebu was setup, then I could take most of the remainder with me in big suitcases, and the large items would follow later.
And then we waited. And waited. Our shipment was delayed in Manila port, partly due to congestion that been ongoing for some time due to a “customs department re-organisation”, and partly because the Pope was visiting Manila. The Philippines is the third most Catholic country in the world (by population) since Catholicism was introduced during the era of Spanish colonisation, so the Pope’s visit was a big deal. As he also decided to visit the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte, the port decided to close completely for security reasons. So our brief interlude in a bare apartment stretched on and on and on. Eventually the shipment departed Manila and we were just waiting on a time frame for delivery. I originally planned to set the whole house up in Cebu before travelling with the cats but I was tetchy and they could sense it so were behaving differently. I could tell Pip was stressed without his wheel and there was some hissing and fighting going on, and it was about this time that Maxi started to be very reluctant to go in the cats’ room at night, so she was allowed to roam free.
I couldn’t stand it any longer so decided to relocate the cats to the new house, where they could get used to their new environment and recover from the journey before our stuff arrived. I experimented with some natural calming medications for the cats to relieve the stress of the journey. I didn’t want them knocked out as I had had a bad experience with that years before, but I did want them to chill a little. I chose this one for it’s not-so-subtle effect on Kai especially! The flight was only 90 minutes, but airport regulations for travelling with pets are strict. I had to present all their vaccination papers to the Bureau of Quarantine to get authorisation for them to travel. They had to travel in IATA approved crates with access to provide them with food and water – I bought these ones from Amazon.
On moving day, we packed up everything, I gave the kitties some medication and got them in their cages – seven cages for eight cats as Tully and Shay were sharing. Two vans arrived to take the seven cages, fourteen pieces of luggage plus myself, my wonderful helper Lyn, and my friend Alex to the airport. At the airport, eleven porters came to assist us. The cats were terrified of the noise, the sights (I forgot to provide a cover for the cages), and the porters and spectators meowing at us as we passed. I snapped at the porters to stop scaring them, but the onlookers were still fascinated. After check-in, the cats were taken to a separate area and the three of us waited to board. We had to be at the airport more than three hours prior to departure, and the flight was delayed so the cats had been in their cages for more almost five hours before we even took off.
I was worried about them during the flight, knowing how frightened they must be, feeling every bump and startled by every noise. Fortunately Cebu Pacific serves alcohol (unlike Philippine Airlines domestic – why is that?) so Alex plied me with several drinks. We had been advised that the cats would come out at the same area as our luggage (which is also what happens in Australia) but on arrival into Cebu, we were told we had to pick them up from the cargo area. After collecting our bags we travelled the ten minute journey to cargo, only to be told the cargo was more than an hour away from arriving. This was the last straw for me – we had left home at 11am and it was now almost 7pm and no sign of the cats. I exploded in a stereo-typical expat torrent of tears and frustration, much to the bewilderment of the staff. It’s just cargo, right? Oh pets. Well, just cats, right? Finally the cargo arrived, in the dark, all kitties present and accounted for but very very frightened and stressed.
Alex, Lyn, the luggage, Maxi, Pip and the babies travelled in one van to the house, while Kai, Lulu, Chico and Asha travelled with me. The van didn’t have foldable seats, so the cages were propped on the seats, and I took Asha out of her cage and cuddled her all the way home, sobbing pathetically into her white fur, glad I was alone in the van. The final horror of this journey still haunts me. As we travelled home – it took more than an hour – poor Lulu’s cage kept falling off the seat, and I couldn’t get myself in a position to secure it. I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been – her ordeal was ongoing.
At last we arrived home – first priority was to get all the cages into the cats room, which was already prepared for them. Lyn was in charge of getting food and water, I sat in the room with them, while Alex took charge of getting the luggage unloaded and paying the drivers.
It was over. Needless to say, I will be spending the rest of my cats’ lives in Cebu, because I will never go through that again.
My mummy is having a break from writing historical posts, so instead I am in charge of writing about what I did today.
On Sundays mummy serves us breakfast outside at 6:30am. It’s a bit tough getting to the food, we all climb over each other as soon as our bedroom door is opened and then run as fast as we can to our breakfast bowls, usually trying to trip mummy up as we go. Once we reach our bowls, we are very polite and take one bowl each, but Tully and Chico eat theirs very quickly and then move on to others’ bowls. Shay and I don’t usually eat breakfast until the rush is over, and Shay prefers biscuits anyway.
Pip was found at the tender age of four weeks on the median strip of a major arterial road in Manila, Epifanio de los Santos, or “EDSA”. He was taken to the CARA shelter, which is actually the garage of the President of CARA (Compassion and Responsibility for Animals), where he stayed in a cage for the next three months, and was named Edsell. When I visited him, I thought he was so tiny! And he was very thin, with all his ribs showing, but he had a fat tummy so I knew he was about to have a growth spurt. His eyes, ears and purr were all enormous, as were his paws. He came home with me a few days after I met him.
At home, I had a guest bedroom set up for the two cats I was getting – they would be Pip and Maxi. I didn’t have any furniture at that stage as it was stuck in storage in India, from where I had just returned from a 12 month posting. I just had a few cat toys and a low foam chair in the cats’ room. So for the first two days, I sat in the room with Pip while he sniffed everything, played with my toes, and generally got comfortable with his new environment. I had a little soft kitty mattress over by the window where it was warmest, and when I left the room, Pip would hurry over to his mattress and hop on, and he would be there when I returned. He was a sweet little boy, very friendly.
As Pip grew up, his body and legs grew very long and lean and he is striking with his tiger striped leggings and little white socks. He eats a lot, but doesn’t gain weight. He established himself as the big friendly brother for all the kitties that came into the house, grooming them, checking on them, and playing with them. He has loads of energy so likes to gallop around, and one of his favourite game, which he himself officially invented, is “bite-yer-bum-chasey”. He will nip another cat on the bottom then run off, inciting them to chase him – he loves this! When the other cat catches him, they bite him on the bum in return and then run off. Whoever isn’t involved in this game will gallop after the two main players to join in the fun. It sounds like there is a stampede in my house!
Before the cat condo and many cats arrived, Pip would have a cuddle in extravagant positions, sprawled all over me, but he hasn’t done that for well over a year, which is a bit sad. He doesn’t much like being stroked when he’s up and about, but loves attention, and purrs loudly, when he’s snoozing. He quite likes being picked up and carried, as long as I keep moving. Once I stop, or sit down – he’s gone.
When we moved to Cebu and I was getting the cats used to going outside, I thought Pip would love it! If I went outside, and especially if I had a swim in the pool, Pip would go nuts inside, hurtling himself at the windows as if trying to get outside to rescue me. So when I first took him outside, in a cuddle walk around the garden, I was happy that he purred all the way. We walked around in the sunshine, looking at the birds, smelling the bushes and the flowers, listening to the wind rustling in the trees, and Pip purred and purred! The next day when I did the same thing, poor Pip shook all the way, his little body was positively vibrating! I realised sadly that he hadn’t been purring in happiness, he had been purring to comfort himself as he was stressed. We had a few cuddle walks before Pip wandered around on a harness, and then the cat fence was built and by then he was enjoying his outside time. He’s a bit of a loner, and often will be alone on the catio, snoozing in a hammock.
The most recent adventure of Pip was a dip in the pool – which I am thankful that I missed. He likes to walk along the edge looking for insects trying to clamber up the side of the pool, and then he fishes them out with his paw. One morning I noticed he was a bit damp on the scruff of the neck and thought he had been fighting, but when I picked him up, his entire body was a little damp, and soft and fluffy from an impromptu wash. I’m not sure if he fell in near the steps so was able to get out easily, or if he was able to get out the deep end. It’s worrying, but I don’t have an easy solution.
I bought the wheel for Pip to help him burn off his energy and he adores it. When we moved to Cebu, he had been without the wheel for almost a month, as our shipment of goods was delayed in Manila port due to the Pope’s visit. When I let them out of their room after the removalists had delivered our belongings, he saw his wheel and ran up to it in glee! He kept running for a few minutes, hopping off, getting back on, running, hopping off…..he was beside himself with excitement. Also quite funny, since we’ve moved to Cebu, he’s taken to warbling while he’s on the wheel. It’s quite a funny noise, made all the funnier with the rhythm of his little paws on the treadmill. I commented on it on Instagram once and a follower said their cat also does the “Marge Simpson”, which is a perfect description!!
Pip is a rule-following good boy, if there is pee or poop somewhere it shouldn’t be, it wasn’t Pip. If there is fighting, it’s never Pip unless he was provoked. Pip is my second-in-charge in the house, and everyone knows it.
A few weeks after three of the four fosters left, we had to pack up and relocate to my friend Alex’s place about ten minutes away from home. My air conditioning system was being upgraded – six large units were being replaced, and it would take “five working days plus a few days for repairs and painting“. Alex was overseas for two weeks so I had plenty of time.
My apartment was in Salcedo Village, one of the inner “suburbs” of Makati, which is the central business district of Manila. It was an older, ungated community undergoing a revamp with lots of new condos and retail outlets opening. Today it is quite a foodie hub. There were a few embassies around, so it was safe and accessible and the place where many expats chose to live, however when the new area of Rockwell was built, many expats decamped to that location.
Getting into the Rockwell area required travelling along a major congested highway or through the red light district, neither of which I enjoyed so despite it’s close proximity to my apartment, I didn’t visit often. Once arriving in Rockwell, it reminded me of Singapore – pristine wide roads, lush greenery, and towering condominiums. My friend’s apartment was on the 35th floor and was twice the size of mine – a massive four bedroom place which like mine, had floor to ceiling windows but with a different view. The kitties had been allocated a bedroom for overnight which was twice the size of their room at home, so before they arrived I set everything up for them to make it as familiar as possible, and removed all the objects that non-cat owners have lying around that looked perilous to either the cats or the object itself.
I did two car trips before I loaded all five kitties into the car. Food, toys, their tunnels, blankets, bowls, the chair from their room – everything I could fit to make the relocation less stressful for them. We were moving to Rockwell!
The decor at Rockwell was much better suited to Maxi’s pretty colouring
Four kitties travelled in their cages in the car for the journey, smuggled down through the basement of my condo, where I was allowed just one pet. I don’t like cats roaming free in vehicles, I worry they will distract the driver and if the car comes to a sudden halt, they can become lethal projectiles, harming others as well as themselves. But I only had four cages as I had donated a couple with the departure of the fosters. Rather than squishing kitties together when they were already stressed, I carried Chico (formerly Kabo) on my lap. Pip and Kai tend to travel in stony, shocked silence, Maxi and Asha bleat repeatedly. All are more comfortable with a cover over the cage so they can’t see anything. But Chico! He was so excited by this new experience! Once clear of the basement and the condominium security guards, he squirmed out of my arms to look out the window. People! Cars! So much happening! His big eyes were wide with delight!
When we arrived at Rockwell, Kai wailed his misery at the change. Most cats don’t like change but Kai gets upset even if he is served his food in a different location. The other kitties scampered around, sniffing unfamiliar objects and patting their things from home. They met Perlita, my friend’s helper who was a cat lover herself and who loved to dangle their toys in front of them to see how high they could jump. Lyn remained at my condo dealing with the mess, but visited the kitties each morning.
Chico was adjusting perfectly well to life without his siblings, but me? Not so much. I had been following their new Instagram account and their new mum (let’s call her Ray) had told me that she had decided to keep the three kittens herself. Munro, Leyte and Lulu (now Oreo, Velvet and Lulu) would live with her and her boyfriend and their other two cats. I was a bit concerned about this. The Instagram photos I saw showed that they lived a modest life in a very small apartment, and raising five cats is not an inexpensive exercise. When the fosters were handed over, they were still too young for vaccination and spay/neuter so there were expenses coming up. And I had already had some feedback from Ray about how they ate a lot of food. As well as living as indoor cats in a very small home, both Ray and her boyfriend were out at work all day for extended hours, leaving all five kitties unattended. Not that this is a problem – many cats (including my own back in Sydney) live like this, but I was struggling with the thought of my poor little babies wondering what happened to them that their lives had suddenly changed so drastically. “When can we go back home?” I was sure that there was plenty of love in their new home, but I worried about the expenses and also what would happen when five darling little kittens grew into five big cats.
One day I had a text from Ray. Oreo was sick and needed antibiotics, and she had to take time off work to get him to the vet. Could I help with expenses? Of course I could, but it confirmed all my greatest fears about these little babies’ future lives. Over the next few weeks, a couple of times I “accidentally” bought the wrong food, or too much food, so sent supplies up to their new home to help out. My driver did the delivery but it was always arranged at a shopping mall, so we never actually knew where the kitties were. I knew I had to let go, so I stopped following the kitties new instagram account and focussed on my own five, and our new life on vacation.
One of the kitties favourite games developed at this time, and it’s still a regular hoot now. Each morning after breakfast, I would drag their tunnels out of their bedroom, up the hallway, around the corner, up the entrance hallway and into the lounge area. All five kitties chased the tunnel, taking it in turns to run in for a “ride”. Sometimes one would pop out of the hole at the top, making way for another to jump in for the journey, and sometimes one would run alongside smacking any little heads that popped out of the hole. It was hilarious! We had four tunnels so I would drag one at a time, with all five charging back to the bedroom ahead of me to take up position inside the next choo-choo-tunnel in the queue. Sometimes I’d also drag a blanket off the bed and along the same route, and all five kitties would jump on the blanket for a free ride. In the evening at bedtime, we played the same game in reverse.
On a recent trip from Cebu to Manila, I visited Rockwell for dinner with Alex, and it was a lovely memory, that time we spent living there, the week that turned into two weeks, before we got the call about Lulu….
After our scare with Asha, all the kitties got extra hugs and extra treats, and the fosters got to move into the lounge room where the big kitties hung out. The introduction was slow – I had learned a lot from my experiences with the four original cats. At first they were in a playpen, which was a bit pointless because Lulu was so little she could squeeze through the bars, and Kabo – wailing the whole time – figured out how to climb up to the top and plop! drop onto the floor on the other side.
Pip was an absolute darling – he was a doting big brother, and Lulu especially adored him, following him around, sitting close to him, with Pip chasing her around too. Maybe it’s a colour thing, because little Kabo idolised Kai, the two black cats together. Kai was a bit disturbed by the attention of this little squawking kitten. Maxi didn’t like any of them, and Asha just wanted to make sure no-one took any attention from her.
The fosters were developing their own personalities. Munro was adventurous and independent. He occasionally stopped to have a snuggle near me, but he liked to sleep in the condo baskets or near the girls. Lulu and Leyte were almost inseparable. They snuggled together often and played together, gently. They were both quiet, placid little girls – playful when they were playful, but quiet and sweet. Leyte had developed the most amazing coat – like all the kitties, it was fine and short-haired, but it felt like silk, the softest fur I have ever felt before or since. Lulu’s weight was still worrying, she was thin and struggled to gain weight, but as she was otherwise healthy, the vet said there wasn’t too much to worry about.
Kabo was still a vocal kitten – he chatted all the time, something I enjoy in a cat, and he was also a bit of lunatic. He frequently photobombed other cats, ran around crazily and explored like a great adventurer. But one of my favourite things about Kabo was that he liked a cuddle. With eight cats, not one of them was a lap-cat. Pip, Maxi and Kai never ever had a cuddle, though Kai would sometimes snuggle next to my feet, and Maxi occasionally would sit by my hip. Asha liked to climb onto my left shoulder still, sticking her nose into my left ear and purring, and rubbing her face into my hair. None of the fosters liked a cuddle – except Kabo. He would run around the house playing, and then run to me and have a quick cuddle on my chest, purring and chatting, before hurrying on his little way again. He would do this often – it was adorable! He also had a fascinating growth phase where he turned half-grey. My instagram friend @cutecurlycat coined the term “rocking the Clooney look” which is exactly how he looked. Then, it just grew out and was black again!
The time was coming when I would need to say goodbye to the fosters. I knew it would be difficult, but I was looking forward to spending time with the originals again. They were much loved of course, but my time had been considerably diluted with the arrival of the fosters.
The lady who was going to take all four fosters was originally going to take them to her parents property where they would become outdoor cats, with a lot of other outdoor cats. The vet and I shared a concern about their health in that environment, so I spoke to her about finding other options where they could be raised safely as indoor cats. She was able to find friends who could take them, as she already had two kittens of her own, about 5 months older than the fosters.
We were given a reprieve from the original departure date when Munro, Kabo, Lulu and Leyte were 12 weeks old as their new mum was travelling. So at about 13 weeks, we prepared for the handover. I thought about keeping some, but which? The girls were sweet, but I had never had female cats before Maxi and Asha and there was tension between them, so I was reluctant to add more females into the mix. I was completely besotted by Munro, his independent personality, his little face and his funny little tail, but I sensed there might be trouble between he and the big boys, Pip and Kai, when they got older; they were alike in personality. And I also knew that the new mum was similarly enthralled by Munro. Kabo of course was adorable – I loved his chattiness and his cuddliness, and I’ve always loved black kitties. I checked in with the new mum and asked if I could keep Kabo and she agreed.
There was a looming deadline for us as well – since moving into my apartment in January, my electricity bills (always expensive in Manila) were astronomical, largely because of an ancient, inefficient air conditioning system. The landlord had agreed to upgrade the entire system, but it would be a huge mess with six tradespeople coming and going for ten days, so we needed to move out. Fortunately a good friend was travelling overseas for two weeks, and she invited me to move in to her apartment. What a friend! Allowing me to housesit with five cats! But I definitely couldn’t move there with eight cats, so the fosters had to move to their new home.
So on a Monday night late in July, we had a farewell party for the fosters, bittersweet. And the next day I packed a bag for each of them with their favourite food, favourite toys, a blanket and treats to remind them of home and help them settle more easily, and we delivered three of the four little sweethearts into the care of their new mother, who would care for them briefly before handing them over to her friends. Munro would become Oreo, Leyte would become Velvet (for her beautiful coat), Lulu kept her name, and my crazy, silly, handsome little Kabo stayed with me as Chico.
**Sorry – the videos aren’t playing, so I’ve replaced them with stills**.
As the fosters continued to grow, playing in their bathroom and then their bedroom, I ordered a couple of special toys for the big kitties to keep them out of mischief. The first was the Maclaw Wheel.
I was prompted to investigate a cat wheel because of Pip. A kind and gentle kitty, Pip had an abundance of energy, and burning it off sometimes involved a little rough play. He wasn’t mean or bullying, just very energetic. There was lots of galloping around the apartment but I worried about what went on in the kitties’ room at night.
After investigating wheels extensively, I came to the conclusion that the well made ones were too expensive to buy, and way too expensive to ship to me in the Philippines. I found an excellent forum based in Hong Kong by a lady designing a wheel, and she had researched the optimum diameter, tread width and tread materials. From there I found a couple of You Tube videos that showed how to make a wheel, so with a few minor tweaks, I came up with a design that could be made locally.
With some recommendations, I found two carpenters who were prepared to make a wheel for me. The first quote came in at more expensive than to buy one, which I wasn’t expecting, and the other was perfectly reasonable, and – to my delight – it would be ready in a week! Well a week passed, then two weeks, then four weeks and still no wheel. Each time I followed up, there were excuses and delays and problems. Eventually I requested the half-finished wheel to be delivered as is, and I would figure out how to get it finished. The wheel arrived and I was horrified. Not only were all the materials poor quality, second-hand, rusted or damaged, but the wheel had been left out in the rain so the shape was considerably warped. It was useless, good only for scrap.
After such a disappointing experience, I was determined to have a wheel, so I decided to just accept it was going to be expensive, and I purchased the Maclaw Wheel. A custom wheel could take weeks or months to make, as there were many in the queue, so I opted for a pre-made one. When it arrived at my apartment just a week or two later from the UK, Lyn and I couldn’t wait to assemble it, and we were amazed at how easy it was. From the time we got it out of the enormous box to complete assembly was probably about 10 minutes.
I often get asked if I had to train the kitties to use it – I wish I had a camera handy while we were assembling it. Pip and Asha were most curious. Maxi was watching nearby, coming for an occasional sniff. Kai was of course watching from a safe distant place. Before it was even in place, Pip was on it. He figured it out with remarkable speed, and of course Asha, always game for anything another kitty is doing, especially if it means attention, hopped on it as well. I never force a kitty to use any of their toys, and Maxi and Kai never showed an interest, but the wheel was an immediate hit with Pip and Asha.
The backstory to my acquisition of kitties is that after a year in India and 6 months leading up to it, I was completely burnt out. In that 18 months I hadn’t spent more than 3 weeks straight in the same location, frequently travelling between India, Philippines and Australia with a few trips to Hong Kong, UK and Europe. So when all of my kitties were welcomed into my home, I was there full time, being completely reclusive and asocial while I mulled over what I would do next. If I hadn’t gone on a crazy cat lady rampage, I might have taken another corporate job instead of going it alone, so I’m forever grateful that I had this year-long career break and the ever-increasing crew to keep me company.
And now that I’m getting the hang of this blog thingy, here is one of my favourite videos of Pip, who always loves to sleep in the funniest positions:
And the first ever video of Asha, when she was still confined to the bathroom:
Here she was, stuck like a beetle on its back because of that tummy of hers…. She hadn’t met Pip and Maxi at this stage, this was one of her excursions to the big kitties playground.