Vanessa Workman is a sand-and-sea girl through and through. Moving to the north of Malaysia from a job in Singapore, she found her home and now writes about her experiences as an expat on a tropical island.
I was recently pondering why so many expatriate islanders appear to be such animal advocates. Some, way beyond the norm of the average cat or dog lover that has perhaps a family pet or two or three. I’m talking about the happy-go-lucky expat friend who is happily taking long walks on the beach one day and next thing you know you are hearing about her dedicated weekly visits to the local wet markets, in search of stray animals in need. Or the freelance writer who had accumulated enough cats to not only require a larger house, but opted to ferry her menagerie to another island and start crowd-funding for her new cause; building her very own seaside animal sanctuary.
What is the catalyst for this sudden shift of ‘purpose in life’ in adopting so many destitute strays? Or suddenly seeing that one’s destiny is to ‘rescue’ as many stray animals as possible? Perhaps the simple answer is that they have a personal void to fill. Or to be fair, they have the time and decide to do what they can to give back to the animal kingdom. Who am I to judge, right? Let sleeping dogs (and cats) lie.
But then again maybe they see the possibilities of a reachable goal with the square footage of an island having its limitations. But is it worth compromising financial and personal well being for? Regardless of the animal ‘rescue’ facilities available, if there are expatriates living on an island, it is inevitable that you will find at least one ‘crazy cat or dog person’. At least one.
You are probably thinking at this point that I’m a cold-hearted animal hater, but I’m not. I’ve had to come to terms with nature’s own rules of ‘survival of the fittest’ and it’s not usually a pretty picture. I also know my heart’s limitations. Thankfully I realised my own financial and personal well being limitations early on.
It’s quite easy to become an island’s ‘crazy cat or dog person’ or ‘the one who loves animals so much’. In fact, there seems to be a strong communication network in the animal kingdom, especially with cats, in seeking out soft hearts. And if a source of food is discovered, word travels fast.
A few innocent bowls of food parcelled out and the regular visitors soon get names. Next thing you know you are buying catnip toys. Friends and family, not knowing what to give you as a gift, will embrace your cat love by sending cat gifts. Coffee cups, birthday cards and even lovely clothing emblazed with cat images, soon fill your household.
Word also travels fast through the network of people that continually have litters of kittens to dispose of. Or the people who suddenly realise that they are allergic to cats, especially ‘ugly’ or injured cats. Cars slow down under the cloak of darkness and special deliveries are left at your doorstep, because everybody knows how much you love animals. Of course it’s not pet abandonment, it’s a gift!
But again, thankfully I realised my own financial and personal well being limitations early on.
My own morning routine includes the well-choreographed feeding ritual of five once-upon-a-time stray cats. Hearing that number five raises eyebrows with most non-cat harbouring individuals. And I know the words ‘crazy cat lady’ flash through people’s minds as well.
But in the island community, we all know someone who can quadruple that figure. We can also tell if there is a new ‘crazy cat person’ in our community as there will be a sudden shortage of special kitty wet food or canned water based tuna at the market.
Yes, thankfully I realised my own financial and personal well being limitations early on.
Of course, my feline family members no longer mew sweetly at the door in hopes of a morsel of nutrition. They have become flat out demanding (but in that cute way that demanding cats have mastered).
It’s not a coincidence that my Malaysian cats’ “meow!” sounds like “now!” Add in the crescendo of their voices, and I have my own Barbershop Quintet with whiskers. But you know what?
I wouldn’t have it any other way.