As is true in many developing countries, Sukadana is home to a huge population of semi-feral cats. I feel that it is my duty, as a globetrotting cat lady, to report, photograph, and cuddle with any cat that appears to be free of rabies and only partly infested with fleas and other parasites.
The state of most cats – really, most animals here – is pretty abysmal. Packs of semi-wild dogs patrol the roads and rural back alleys, terrorizing goat kids and sometimes going after chickens. Cows are almost unfailingly bony, their jutting hipbones and protruding ribs a stark reminder that these are not the well-fed cows of the Stanford Dish or West Marin!
Dead animals are an uncomfortably common sight. While of course the level of human suffering here likely far outweighs the toll on animals, it’s easy to view animal suffering with a different lens. Plus, not to be crass, but in many places – here and elsewhere – people aren’t as frequently or visibly left for dead.
Cats will often try to adopt us, crying at our front door or hanging out under the house in the hopes of catching scraps. One of our roommates is allergic to cats, so we keep them out of the house and instead rely on a couple resident tokay geckos to keep our rat population to a tolerable level.
Cats here are generally no more than one-third the size of our chubby love, Marlowe. Our favorite cat in Sukadana – arguably the ASRI mascot – is a one-pound wonder that cries for food and attention, and has a particular affinity for cozying up at the nape of your neck, in that safe spot between skin and ponytail.
Most of the cats have stubby or nonexistent tails. Initially we fretted that this was due to the harshness of their lives, some close calls with other animals and motorbikes, or some unfortunate instances of habitual animal cruelty. Fortunately, a little cursory research suggests that these short and malformed tails are genetic.
Gummed-up eyes, plaintive meows, limps, and scabs and wounds in various states of healing plague the cats here. Although technically carnivorous, these cats will eat almost anything. I scoff at Marlowe’s fancy kibble diet when I catch, out of the corner of my eye at lunch, a stray cat taking down an entire discarded fish skeleton or half a bowl of forgotten rice and sambal. Like most Indonesians I’ve met, the cats of Sukadana have a penchant for spicy fare!