Taroko

A couple days after we reunited Ah-Gou with his owner, Ron rescued an abandoned kitten from the street. At first we thought he had escaped from the cat cafe, but when we brought him in, we were informed he is not one of theirs. We know they have more than enough foster kittens and cats already, so we took the kitty home, intending to take care of him until we found him a new home. But after a day of being nuzzled and snuggled by the kitten, we decided to adopt him. Welcome, Taroko George!

Taroko

I’m happy that we have a kitten (though I am not looking forward to telling our landlords… our contract does not prevent us from having pets but I don’t think they like the idea) because Ron and I have been talking about adopting one for a while, but I am really ticked off about the way he came to us.

What kills me is that we actually saw the people who abandoned him a couple nights ago. Ron and I were near the cafe playing with one of their kitties when the two rode up on motorcycles. We looked over and saw them cooing at a kitten on the ground who turned out to be Taroko George. “Oooh, the cafe got a new cat!” they said loudly.

Ron and I thought it was weird that a kitten was running outside the cafe, since the staff members usually keep a close eye on them. After a few minutes, however, a waitress came out and briefly talked to the duo before heading home, so we thought things were okay and that the two were cafe regulars. As it turns out, they told her that the kitten was theirs before they also left. The whole “ooooh, the cafe got a new cat, what a cute new cat!” stuff was said for our benefit so Ron and I wouldn’t be suspicious.

We found this out the next morning when we brought Taroko George into the cafe. Ron had found him a block away and nicknamed him “Curious George” because we thought he was just prone to multiple escape attempts from the cafe. Aside from a little cat cold, Taroko George is healthy and very, very rambunctious. We brought him to a vet, who immunized him and prescribed medication and eye drops, which we have been administering to Taroko George with varying degrees of success.

I’ve mentioned this several times already, but irresponsible animal owners really get to me in a way that few other things do. I don’t care what the animal is providing — companionship, labor, meat — if it is dependent on you, then you make sure it is healthy and you make sure it is not in pain or distress, period.

I think one of the reasons I get so annoyed with pet owners who don’t do their duty is that most companion animals are really not that hard to take care of. All they usually need is food, shelter, some attention and an annual vet visit. If you can’t handle that, that’s fine — just don’t get a pet.

During my first few months out of college in New York City, I lived with a roommate who refused to take her dog to the vet, buy him flea medication even when he could not go to sleep because his bites bothered him so much, rarely washed him and walked him way less than she should have (she let him out in our landlords’ tiny front yard instead). She said she didn’t have the money for a vet visit or flea shampoo, nor time to walk or groom him properly — but that’s not true. Yes, she was short on cash, but she chose to spend her money on other things instead of a $5 bottle of flea shampoo, and she chose to spend her time sleeping and watching TV. When her dog accidentally ate an entire box of chocolates, her reaction was “ha ha ha, no wonder he was so thirsty!” — never mind that chocolate is toxic to dogs and it is a miracle her Shih-Tzu didn’t end up needing his stomach pumped or worse.

I’m ranting about that experience because it left me with the impression that people who neglect their pets or abandon them are making the choice to be lazy assholes. I know that sounds harsh and that there are many things that might force someone to get rid of an animal or not be a perfect owner, but no one needs to dump an elderly, sick dog in a filthy box outdoors on a rainy, chilly morning. No one needs to toss a 10-week-old kitten on the street and leave him to fend for himself in a neighborhood full of feral cats and speeding mopeds. When someone refuses to treat their dog’s flea infestation and bathe them, they are saying that they don’t care if the dog ends up with a life threatening infection by scratching himself until his skin is covered with open wounds. When someone chooses to spend $50 on books or movies instead of their pet’s regular check-up, they are saying that they are OK with their pet’s health being neglected.

Ron and I have been talking about adopting a cat since I arrived in Taiwan, but we put it off until we were certain that we planned to stay here more than just a couple of years. Ideally, we would have talked to our landlords before committing ourselves to Taroko George, but if it comes down to it, we’ll move before we give our cat up. We are going to look into getting pet health insurance and, if that isn’t available, we are going to keep money and a credit card on reserve just in case, heaven forbid, he ever has a major health crisis. The two of us have done research on moving pets from Taiwan to the United States and while we aren’t looking forward to it, we know what the process entails. If for whatever reason we can’t continue to take care of Taroko George, we’ll find him a good new home. If we weren’t willing to do that, we wouldn’t have kept him because WE DON’T WANT TO BE LAZY ASSHOLES!!! Lazy, maybe, but not lazy assholes.

GGAAAAAHHHH!!! My rant is nearly over, but I want to make sure that I am not giving people the impression that Taiwanese pet owners are any more irresponsible as a group than their counterparts in other countries. There is a problem with stray animals here, but from what I’ve read and heard, that is in large part because there aren’t the same number of resources available, such animal shelters, that there are in, for example, the United States. Many animal lovers and advocacy groups work with catch, neuter and release programs — but can only offer shelter to the sickest and neediest animals.

If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you might have noticed that I’ve written less and less about the cat cafe and its feline denizens. That’s not because I’m any less fond of them. It’s because they have a problem with Taiwanese and foreigners abandoning cats at their place, and I don’t want to give anyone any ideas. I know from following their blog that the owner and her staff are under constant pressure, partly because many of the cats they do take in have health issues and are difficult to place in new homes.

If you are interested in helping stray animals or adopting a pet, please check out Animals Taiwan’s Web site. The group is staffed by a mix of expats and Taiwanese people and while they are rarely able to actually take in animals, they will hook you up with a vet (I’m not 100% sure, but I think those vets will neuter animals for free) and help you put out adoption notices in Chinese and English. If you find a sick animal on the street, please take them to a vet if at all possible. There are a lot of vets in Taipei and quite a few of them really have a soft spot for stray animals. Don’t expect them to keep the animal, but they can give them a check up and immunization shots, and might give you a Good Samaritan discount. The cost of Taroko George’s initial visit (which included a full physical, shots, three days worth of cold medicine, medicated eye drops and a small bottle of flea shampoo) cost a little over NT$800, but we got a couple hundred NT dollars off because we’d brought in a stray. And, of course, the vet might know if your new friend is a lost animal, as was the case with Ah-Gou.

By the way, if you are wondering why we named our cat after a national park — we didn’t. I wanted to name him after Tarako, the Japanese mentaiko-based spaghetti sauce, because his orange-spotted white fur reminded me of sauce on pasta. Plus, I love their wacky commercials and the look on the little girl’s face in this one was pretty much the look Ron and I gave the cat cafe waitresses when we realized that for the second time in one week we’d be taking care of an unexpected animal visitor:

But “tarako” means “salted roe food” in Japanese, and as Ron put it, “the cat is not a fish, he eats fish!” So we changed the spelling to Taroko, partly for the cat’s dignity, partly to pay tribute to Taiwan’s natural beauty (which you can say he’s a part of) and partly because it means “magnificent” in the language of the Truku aboriginal tribe. The George part completes the pun, and is also an homage to the great choreographer George Balanchine, a cat lover.