As you can see, I work with cats for a living. So it might come as a big surprise to you that I was a cat hater growing up. So how did that happen? How can a cat hater become the one of biggest cat lovers in the world and start working with cats for a living?
It comes from a long way down memory lane. You might want to sit down and make yourself a cup of tea (or coffee, whatever your drug is).
I was born in Hong Kong. You know the tiny dot on your map where all the ‘Made in Hong Kong’ stuff in your house came from? Yeah, that’s where I was born and lived until the age of 23.
Growing up in a large metropolitan city where everyone lives in shoe-box-sized apartments, we don’t usually get to have pets. I mean, there is hardly enough space for humans, how can one have pets? The ‘standard’ apartment size for a family of 4 is 40m2. I am not sure you want to fit another animal in there…
Plus, EVEN IF we were to get a pet, I imagine it would have been a dog. My father has always been a dog person, even though he has technically never had a dog. (Read the last paragraph again if you still don’t get why we don’t usually have pets in Hong Kong). And my father used to say cats are ‘smelly, untrustworthy, sneaky little bastards’. My cousin did have a dog though, he was this yellow Chinese dog of no particular breed. He was called Fortune and I liked him and played with him quite a bit.
But I never met a cat growing up. In fact, I can only think of one cat I encountered during my whole 20 years of living in Hong Kong – Daniel. Daniel is my best friend Debbie’s cat. I called Debbie yesterday just to make sure I got the story straight. Her father bought Daniel from a street vendor. Debbie’s sister is chronically ill and their father thought a pet would help her. And it did! (There is actually an amazing story about the family’s other cat – Mario. He would have died if they hadn’t rescued him on time from the dog pound! Please FOLLOW this blog so you don’t miss it when it comes up.)
I met Daniel a few times at Debbie’s when we were working on a school project together or some other stuff. They didn’t have Mario yet, so there was only Daniel. I DID NOT LIKE HIM. ‘Smelly, untrustworthy, sneaky little bastard’ kept playing back in my head. And of course, cats like to annoy cat haters in the room, so he sat on my homework! I HATED HIM EVEN MORE. Every time Debbie talked about her Daniel, I would do the eye-rolling thing that all teenage girls do. I was such a mean person, I know. I remember I would ask Debbie every few months, ‘eh…that Daniel thing…is he still alive?’ Oh yes oh yes, I did say that. I know you are covering your mouth with your hands as you read this, but I was a cat hater remember? Plus, I was 15! I thought it was cool to say mean things! (Don’t tell me you didn’t do such things when you were 15, give me a break!) And guess what? He is still alive and well as of today! Please join me in admiring the handsome handsome Daniel!
But all of that changed after a summer in France. I was 20 years old when I went to France for a summer course as part of my French language requirement for my Bachelor. Before and after the 4-week summer course, I stayed in the lovely country house of my friend François’ family. His father was a vet and a huge cat-man. They always had at least one cat, sometimes more than one, depending on which decade you happened to come across their family. Cats were such a fixture in their lives, it never occurred to François to mention it to me before my arrival.
On that fateful day, I arrived at his house, exhausted from the 12 hour flight plus 10 hour car ride. Just when I made an effort to say hi to everyone with my limited French, a little cat head poked out from behind a chair. I was shocked! ‘Oh, you didn’t tell me you have a cat!’ They all did the French shrug and moved along with their conversations.
Oh but they don’t understand I don’t care for cats. No, I don’t mean I was indifferent, I mean I didn’t like them at all! I grew up listening to my dog-person father telling me how cats are ‘smelly, untrustworthy, sneaky little bastards’.
So I did what most cat-haters do, I avoided him.
And he did what most cats do naturally; he followed the cat-hater around and sat on my lap.
And needless to say, the paper-thin assumption that I got from my dog-person father (who has never even had a dog, remember?) wore away very quickly. I started to really enjoy the fluffiness of this little cat sitting on my lap, and the countless head-rubs he gave me. His name was Le Chat (The Cat) and thanks to him, I became a cat lover.
After that summer, I went back home wanting to adopt a cat! But I was still in university so I quickly shoved this thought to the back of my head and continued my life as a student.
But once in a while, the desire to live with a cat and for all the good stuff that comes with it would move its way to the front of my consciousness. ‘I want to have a cat, I want to have a cat, I want to have a cat….’
I didn’t have my first cat until a year and a half later….
(to be continued…Part 2 – Larmlarm: the First Love of my Life)
N.B. Le Chat passed away in 2010. If he hadn’t seen through me and known I had the potential to be a cat lover; if it wasn’t for his determination to try to convince me to be a cat lover by sitting on my lap and giving me lots of headrubs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would like to dedicate this post to Le Chat, may he rest in peace in kitty heaven…and ‘Thank you Le Chat, you have changed my life…xoxox Alice.’