International Cat Day: What I've learnt from a lifetime of having felines

I love my cats like they're my own children

Evelyn Lau and her cat Amy. Evelyn Lau / The National
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I didn’t always mean to become a “cat lady”.

When I was young, I grew up with a cat and a dog – a sign of a typical American childhood and household. Both were rescued and welcomed into our home – something that would continue to be a theme as I got older.

These days, I have seven cats in a one-bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi. It sounds like an alarming number, but one that, I assure you, hasn’t overwhelmed me just yet.

In the past decade of living it the UAE, I’ve been deeply involved in animal rescue, trying to rehome pets who have been left behind or have needed new families for other reasons. And it hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been worth it.

I’ve met my fair share of cats – some of whom have stayed with me, while others have been lucky enough to find their forever homes elsewhere. But each cat I have come across has left their own special mark.

On International Cat Day, here are some thoughts and lessons from having had cats throughout my life.

It’s an honour to be a pet parent

In a previous column, I stood firm in my decision of not wanting children, but that isn’t to say I don’t have any maternal instinct or a yearning to take care of others.

I love my cats like they're my own children.

I ensure they eat healthy food, have fresh water, have toys to keep them entertained and get plenty of cuddles. At one point, I got them a custom-built catio so they could safely enjoy the outdoors.

I don’t even think about going on holiday until I know that my cats will be properly cared for while I'm away.

It may seem strange to other people, but for me, I’ve found taking care of these felines completely fulfilling.

A little bit of patience goes a long way

Cats that have been rescued from the streets or been through stressful situations, may take some time to adjust to a new home.

Recently I took in a cat who had been dumped on the streets with her collar still on. Once a domestic cat, she had become defensive and aggressive in order to survive.

There have been days when I haven’t felt my best, but being around a cat (or seven) has always cheered me up

During her initial vet check, I was worried she was going to attack the vet – luckily, she didn’t.

When I finally brought her home, she was stressed to the point where she would even hiss at her own reflection. I left her in my bathroom for a few days with water and food and gave her time to adjust to the new place.

These days, not only has the hissing stopped, but she also gets along peacefully with my other cats. All it took was a calming and safe environment, something pet parents should foster in any case.

It’s remarkable to see how much she has changed just by being in a better setting. Cats do not need a lot, but a caring owner can do wonders.

Enjoy the unconditional love

It might seem as though cats only eat, sleep and typically ignore their owners, but when I really need a pick-me-up, they are there.

There have been days when I haven’t felt my best or just been in a bad mood, but being around a cat (or seven) has always cheered me up.

If I’m sad and laying on my sofa, for example, at least one of the cats will stroll up and rest next to me. It’s such a simple gesture, but it means a lot. I’d like to think it's their way of checking up on me.

On particularly hard days, when I don’t even feel like leaving my bed, they are the best motivators for me to get up and get moving.

Know when it's time to let go

The most heartbreaking times are when cats are sick or injured beyond saving.

When my cat Amy became very sick last year, it was a heart-rending decision to put her to sleep. I saw how her little body was struggling and how much weight she had lost in a short amount of time due to illness. I loved her, but I knew I had to let her go.

I believe every owner owes it to their pets to help them when they need it most, including when it comes to death. It’s a hard topic to tackle, but all the more important for it.

Updated: August 08, 2023, 6:51 AM