Pets and people are fascinating, no matter where they live. In this new series, Pet Parents Around the World, we are going to learn more about how pets shape and are shaped by cultural norms; explore how pets and their families live in various countries; and find out just how universal the human-animal bond really is.
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Cats in Karachi–Life with a Myriad of Felines in Pakistan. Part 1.
–Guest blog by Yahya Noori
My family and I live in the Southern-most port city of Pakistan, Karachi. Life here, as in many other cosmopolitan places, is busy and demanding. It has always been this way, as Karachi is one of the most populated cities on the globe, with an estimated population of more than twenty million people. Streets are full of hustle and bustle and lots and lots of traffic, of course, and people are in a hurry to carry out their usual business, often too busy to pause and think about the beauty of nature that surrounds us. There are many animals here, and many need homes. Despite the number of animals seeking families, no one in my own family had ever thought of adopting a cat as a pet before 2014, and did not even know how to care for a cat. Yet here we are, now four of us, surrounded by cats, with seven cats residing within our home, and several more semi-feral or street cats who either live in the backyard, or who are regular visitors to our place for food and water. So…how did we become such a big, feline-friendly household?
Liza’s Eyes Drew us In…
“Durriya has adopted a kitten,” quipped my wife, Saima, who was then nearing the completion of her specialist training in Anesthesia. Durriya was my wife’s junior and a good family friend. At that time, she had a demanding schedule trying to juggle her responsibilities of family and work. I was working two jobs. Although my primary position was at the University as an academic, it was not enough to make the ends meet, so I also had to work as a part-time teacher in an academy, where I taught Biology in the evenings. We were a young family, trying to build our nest and had never imagined including cats in that nest. On that particular evening, we were sitting around our table for dinner, when she broke this news to us.
Saima picked up her cell phone and turned the screen toward me and our daughter, Dua, who was then completing the seventh grade. There, in front of our eyes, we spied an adorable little ginger-mix furball, looking at us with her mesmerizing, button-like eyes. I felt as if she was looking at me, saying something important, and inviting me for a rendezvous. I have since noticed how cat pupils–which normally appear as slits–can also can dilate to change their shape to a circle. These big black holes, windows to a cat’s soul, are mysterious and enchanting.
“Her name is Liza,” Saima said, with bright eyes that suggested piqued interest.
“Wow, she is beautiful. I think we should pay her a visit,” I responded without even thinking twice. Being our only child at that time, Dua had long enjoyed the full attention of her two doting parents, but was really looking forward to meeting Liza. In truth, we all were.
If sneaking into one’s heart is a craft, cats are the most skillful masters of this craft.
Then the day came when we could finally afford to pay a visit to Liza and Durriya. Liza was playing around with her toys in the sitting room. I believe hide and seek was her favorite, as she kept trying to hide from use, and peeping at us from behind the furniture. I tried to grab her, but she wouldn’t sit on my lap. Still, it was love at first sight. Young kittens are proficient at stealing your heart. For all of us, this was a life-changing experience. Like an undiscovered treasure, the love of cats lived in our hearts, yet we never discovered it during all those years, till we met her. It was a sudden realization that we should also adopt a cat for ourselves.
Keeping pets was not very common in our society back when we first met Liza in 2014. There were a number of myths attached to keeping animals, including the common notion that they contribute to the poor air quality in Karachi, which is a significant problem. Moreover, we wondered about the health implications since, besides being medically trained, we were also aware of asthma and other allergic problems, which might be associated with having pets. We simply did not have much experience in this arena.
In our hearts, we had already decided that we needed a cat…
On our drive home, Dua was the first one to break the ice and said what we were all thinking: “Can we also have a cat?” We told her we would “think and discuss”. After all, having a pet is more of a responsibility than a luxury. You can enjoy all the good things, like the purrs and cuddles. But you will have to put up with some not-so-good things like, well, like cleaning out a litter box. Like pet parents anywhere else in the world, we needed to be sure that we were ready to take on this enormous responsibility. I tried to give our daughter a calculated and ambiguous response. After all, I wanted to think well and buy time before adding a new responsibility to my life. It was too soon to make a commitment then and there.
In the next few days, after several discussions, it was clear: we all wanted a cat, no matter how much work it would take. I then circulated a message to my contacts that we wanted to adopt a cat. Preferably a white male cat, whom we wanted to call Snowy. This is not the kind of cat or even cats we ended up getting…but I will introduce you to the cats who did come into our lives over my next few posts….
In the meantime, I just think it is so surprising how we don’t always realize what pleasures are associated with something, unless we have tried it. Becoming someone significant in an animal’s life is a pleasure in itself. That relationship makes you empathetic and compassionate, and teaches your children love, respect, a sense of responsibility, tolerance, and a lot of patience.
On a funny side note, Liza later on turned out to be a he, rather than a she, but kept the name his parents gave him anyway.
Photo by Saima Noori
Muhammad Yahya Noori is a medical graduate from Pakistan, who loves to write. He mostly writes about personal and professional development, healthcare, and wellbeing. His family lives with seven adorable cats and his backyard is home to several street cats. You can get in touch with him on Instagram, Facebook, Medium, Linked in