In Jamaica, cats and dogs are treated with considerable difference compared to what we are used to in America. Instead of loving and adoring these pets, they’re feared or ignored completely. But the blame lies in years and years of cultural upbringing, dating back to the days of Jamaican Slavery. Dogs, you see, were used to keep slaves in line, and cats are the source of a large number of superstitions. Today, most Jamaicans pay little mind to our four-legged friends, but if you were to ask them for their thoughts, they’d tell you that they are afraid of them.
Lately, however, small changes in attitude have been made, and Jamaicans are slowly beginning to appreciate these animals for what they have to offer. Dogs are kept in the yard to protect the house and eat the scraps, and cats are kept around for mouse-ing purposes. Most surprisingly, there are a few Jamaicans who DO love their pets and spoil them like we do.
Understanding this cultural apprehension is important when considering the next part of my story.
Sometime during the summer, I was having a conversation with a Jamaican friend and I mentioned that I wanted a kitten. To my utmost delight, he declared that his cat recently had kittens and he’d be happy to give me one. They were born about a month ago, he explained, so in another month, they’ll ready to leave their mom.
I was elated. I’d found myself a kitten, and six weeks later, he calls me to tell me he’s ready to find them good homes. But first he had to catch them. It took a few more days, but I finally got the phone call I’d been waiting for. “Mi catch di puss, finally! Mi a bring ‘im now.”
When at last his car pulled up in front of my house, I hurried outside to greet him. He was standing at the trunk of his car, untying something, then quickly thrust the kitten into my arms. Tiny, wet (it had been raining for days), and terrified, this little kitten was handed to me with claws bared, fur on end, and hissing. It also had a shoelace tied around its neck. I knew this was to keep the cat from running, but it wasn’t until I tried to hug my friend, who quickly backed away, that I realized what was really happening. The poor man was just as scared as the kitten, and the kitten was feral.
Feral is a word used to describe a cat who has never had human interaction. After a certain age, this is irreversible, and feral cats who are forced into human contact will become aggressive and vicious.
The first four days with Kitty were a nightmare. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t come out from hiding, and cried all night, keeping me awake. At one point, he ended up behind my dresser, climbed into a drawer, and got stuck there until 5:30am, which is when I finally found him. I also realized that he hadn’t been properly weaned from his mother, which was why he wouldn’t eat, and was probably starving. This required fishing him out, suffering tiny claws, and making him eat some canned tuna. It only took me one try before he learned that he enjoyed eating, and everything went uphill from there.
On Friday, I had the house to myself, and in the quiet, Kitty came out from hiding. Skittish though he was, he wanted to remain in my sight, cried when I left the room, and would periodically wake up from his much needed nap to make sure I was still there. That night, as I fell asleep, Kitty settled in on top of a large pillow against my headboard, scant inches above mine. He stayed there all night, and it is now one of his favorite spots to doze.
Within the next week, much happened. Kitty rolled over enough times, allowing me to finally determine his sex and name him Bowser. And if you’re at all familiar with this fella (pictured left), then you’d understand when I tell you that Bowser is an incredibly fitting name.
Having a kitten is like having a toddler, and this little furball is exceptionally troublesome. He gets into everything, plays in his litterbox rather than use it for its intended purpose, and continuously tries to climb the curtains. I have to make sure to secure all my electrical cords before I leave the room and hide anything he might break.
But he’s just so cute!! The day he discovered his tail was particularly entertaining to observe, and when I’m not paying attention, my toes are victim to pounces. Naturally curious, he likes to watch me in the mornings and evenings as I move about my room getting dressed or undressed, and he’ll sleep curled up with me at night.
Unfortunately, I’m still not allowed to touch him. If my hand comes anywhere near him, he’ll back away or hiss. He’s territorial about his food and likes to pee on my bed.
Everyday, however, Bowser improves. In the mornings, he’ll pounce my fingers as he would my toes, and he’s taken to exploring beyond the confines of my room. A loud bang will still send him into hiding, but he’s not as timid as he used to be. Luckily, pooping in the litterbox isn’t an issue, but burying it is, so air fresheners have become my new best friend.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be picking him up whether he likes it or not, and petting him and scratching behind his ears until he figures out that he likes it. I’m not okay with having a cat that I can’t hold or pet.
And if you’re wondering if this cat will be coming home with me in two years, that has yet to be decided. When Bowser gets a little bigger (and a little more normal with me and my host mother), I’ll begin letting him outside to explore, like most other Jamaican cats. If he loves the outdoors and never wants to come in, then I’ll consider letting him stay. There would be nowhere in America I could bring him that would compare to the wild outdoors that is Jamaica. If, however, he prefers to stay inside and becomes the lovebug I hope he’ll be, then we’ll have another option to consider.
For now, I am experiencing a brief taste of motherhood, as I watch him destroy my room, pee on my jeans, and keep me awake at night because he thinks it’s playtime. When I’m at school, I’m fretting over what kind of mess I’ll come home to find. No, he can’t draw on my walls with crayons, but sooner or later, I’m convinced I’ll come home to find something broken, or spilled, or knocked over and peed on.