In Memory of Margaret

It’s been a roller-coaster of 2 weeks.

Margaret, our tabby of 10 years, has finally left us.

Margaret our snobbish cat

Margaret is one regal cat

It’s difficult trying to piece together the quick turn of events but I am coping, and Nic’s coping. Many friends have been extremely kind – offering words of solace and comfort on my Facebook page. Still, I am grieving because you can’t suddenly just accept and move on.

Friends have also asked me, “Would you consider adopting another cat or kitten?”

I am sure I am not the first to say this.

Many pet owners who have bonded closely with their pets treat their pets like family. Margaret was our family for as long as I can recall. And we didn’t adopt her – SHE adopted us!

When we used to live at Taman Jadeview sometime ago, she was just a stray tabby that used to trail Nic when he had his early morning walks around the apartment pool. The makcik cleaner used to ask if the cat was ours. When Nic went into the pool to swim (with his cap and goggles on), she’d wait at the pool side. When he emerged from the pool, she’d follow him (how she recognized him with his cap and goggles, no one knows) back to our apartment.

She’d also found a tight little corner behind our washing machine to deliver her babies – not once but twice! And once she almost gave birth in our apartment as she could easily climb into our place via the kitchen window.

Back then, I also had a white budgerigar from Thailand called Sawadee in a cage. Sawadee was a gift from my uncle who owned a bird supplies shop. In many ways, I pitied Sawadee. He was born in captivity. I didn’t want to cage the bird, cute as he was when he cocked his head to look at us and peck away at the sunflower seeds we gave him. Yet I knew releasing him would kill him. He did not know how to look for food. So we kept him and he entertained us with his singing.

And Margaret, then unnamed, used to climb into our apartment to antagonize him because she thought he would make a delicious snack. She eyed him greedily all the time!

And of course, one day Sawadee died. I actually buried him in one of my pots! (Actually I bury all my pets. Some people flush fish down the toilet or chuck their pets into the trash. I don’t. I bury them. When I can’t bury them, we leave them near the forests – like my pet hamsters.) As you can see, I have had lots of pets – from hamsters to budgies, from tortoises to fish. When I was 10, I begged like hell to own a rabbit. When I was 11, I owned a dog. I am always with some animals or another.

But one tragic episode was the turning point when Margaret entered our lives. She had delivered a few kittens and being a young cat, was possibly inexperienced. One night while we were watching TV, we heard screeching and cat fighting noises outside our door.

It turned out that Margaret was trying to protect her newborn kittens from being mauled by a tomcat. Presumably the kittens didn’t belong to this tomcat and he was making sure the male kittens would not grow up to compete with him. The tomcat had killed a kitten and Margaret was protecting another. We quickly decided to bring Margaret and her surviving kitten into our home only to realize that the kitten had a deep puncture wound on its head. Margaret was agitated and paced nervously around her kitten. We knew chances were slim that this kitten would survive but Margaret didn’t know us then and finally she grabbed her kitten by its nape and jumped out of our place.

Nic and I talked about it – seeing how terrible it was for Margaret to constantly get pregnant and give birth only to lose her kittens to tomcats. We then decided that we should take this stray tabby to be spayed so she wouldn’t have to be traumatized each time she gave birth, not knowing if the resident tomcat would be lying in wait for her kittens.

I remembered calling the SPCA and asking if we could bring in a stray for spaying. Spaying strays is partly subsidized. We even borrowed a cat carrier from the SPCA in order to bring her to be spayed. It was a one-day procedure and when Margaret came back from the vet’s, she looked like she had never been to surgery except for the telling signs of a shaved belly. It was then that we started feeding her – not regularly but whenever she came around for food. When you give an animal food, you must be prepared to adopt the animal. It will come around regularly.

I guess that’s how she entered our lives – quietly, almost unobtrusively – and grew to be family.

Nic named her Margaret. When I questioned him and asked why this human name, he simply replied that he felt this was her name.

Naming an animal starts a relationship too. And what more a regal name like Margaret.

Over the years, she has come to embody the dignity, snobbishness and human-ness that the name bestows. She is quite a character (but then again, all pet owners say their pets have character too, just like parents always think their toddlers are the cutest thing ever to be born. We’re all a tad partial like that).

Margaret often considers our home her home (but of course). When friends stay over, or when guests visit, she will sit and stare at them, trying to figure out if it’s a friend or foe. She flops onto our cool marble floor after an afternoon of wandering. She was intensely possessive, as all cats are and did not permit other cats (especially female) to come near our home. Once, she fought so ferociously with a stray female that wandered into our living room that our hand-crafted speaker toppled and fell!

She never scratched our furniture and she never slept on our tables or chairs (until the last few months where she started to act a little odd, like climbing onto our dining table). She learnt how to do her business in her litter tray and also, the last few weeks before she died, she actually learnt how to poop and pee in our bathroom! We never taught her to do so but she must have put two and two together, watching us go into the bathroom!

She loved listening to jazz and whenever we switched on the jazz station, she would blissfully nap near us.

She loved going out to our little patch of backyard in the evenings with Nic as he gazed at the setting sun. I’ll brush her coat and sometimes I’ll tempt her to exercise a little with her cat toy (a little ball I’d crocheted and stuffed with cotton and hooked with string to a rod). She used to jump and play but as she grew older she became exhausted quickly and her boredom levels set in.

But she loved her food – Whiskas cat kibble but in particular, freshly boiled sardines which I’d buy from the wet market. She knew market days were days when she could get sardines (de-boned, no less) as lunch and dinner. And she hung around persistently in the kitchen when I prepared her food.

She’d know when we’re getting ready to go out – she’d wait outside our bedroom and mew until we gave in and gave her food.

She’d also wake us up every morning with her calls – whether it was to inform us she was hungry or to greet us, we don’t know.

She learnt how to sit like a Sphinx and wait (although she salivated like crazy) whenever it was dinner time. Nic would put fish into her food bowl but she had to wait until all the food was placed properly and that we give a signal before she could eat. Cats can be trained like dogs!

Sometimes we’ll turn her on her back and give her belly rubs – she hated being pinned down but she had really soft belly fur! And Nic would proceed to give her eye massages too. And we’d make silly jokes and laugh her at for her crazy antics like roll around for no reason.

When I get tired or down, I’d see her sitting and watching me patiently. I’d talk to her and she looked like she understood, she with her expressive eyes.

She could also be manipulative, hounding my guests with her requests for food! And my guests would know where to find the cat kibble and feed her.

So you see, how do we find a replacement for a cat like this? 

Each night, Nic would pray at the altar, to the Buddha and she’d wait until he finished his prayers and pat her on her head before she got fed a round of supper. In the mornings as he did his chanting, she’d be near him too. We used to say that she has had plenty of good karma to come and receive merits from our daily Buddhist chanting.

As Buddhists, we believe that people (and animals) enter our lives for many reasons. Perhaps they need to complete this cycle of life and death and accumulate merits for their next rebirth. Perhaps they’re here to teach us lessons of life. Perhaps they were our friends or family from a past life.

I somehow believe that Margaret had disappeared on Saturday night so she could die elsewhere. But perhaps our yearning for her to say a final goodbye was too strong to ignore so she re-appeared in our drain on Monday morning. Part of the discovery was thanks to Tomyam, a stray male cat that made enough noise for us to take notice. He was sitting and staring at Margaret, slumped in the (dry) drain just outside our porch.

Most cats disappear to die but Margaret came home to say goodbye.

Of course, well-meaning friends ask us if we want to adopt this kitty or take in that cat. I have to say, it’s too early to decide until the right cat comes along. Then again, Margaret has set the bar quite high. Any cat or kitten would need to live up to Margaret’s characteristics!

A client of mine also told me that he just could not bear to get another dog after his own dog died. The pain and the loss were just too intense.

Whatever it was, I believe we don’t come into each other’s lives for no reason. Margaret came into ours to teach us many lessons about life – she loved sniffing the evening breeze, rolling about on the grass, chasing birds (or pretending to chase birds when the mynahs, sparrows, pigeons and starlings were all her friends!), washing herself, or staring at our neighbours while perched on our balcony ledge.

May you rest in peace, Margaret.

5 replies
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Hi Marsha: It’s strange how a cat can affect us all. But she lived up to her name. Margaret will always be in our memory. Nic and I catch ourselves asking “Where’s Margaret?” each time we get home. She used to greet us at the door with a yawn or two (yes, she could be rather snotty). But above all, I should look at the rainbows and special moments she brought into our lives. She made us stop and smell the roses. She taught us many lessons. As a Buddhist, I can only hope she is reborn in a much better realm now.

      Reply
  1. Vern
    Vern says:

    I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just finished a 12-hour work day (10-days in a row and counting), and I’m all dirty, tired and hungry – but no one could write a tribute to Margaret better than you. My colleagues could not understand how I could be so affected by a tabby’s departure, and it did not hit me how big of an impression she had on me until that day. I’ve always shared the story about Margaret and how she got her name with my friends – and they have always been fascinated.

    I will miss her. I will miss how she joins in on our conversations and slowly drifts to a nap with jazz playing in the background. And I will definitely miss this:

    “Margaret, mam mam mau?”

    Hugs and love to you and Nic. I’m so glad and honoured to be able to know Margaret in this lifetime. =)

    Reply
    • Maya
      Maya says:

      Vern – it is amazing what one cat can do to our lives ya. People will never understand until they experience it for themselves. That is why support groups are everywhere – one can only understand if one has gone through it. Yes, Margaret Montokong Mustafa lives on as a legend in the cat world. We miss her terribly and although it has been 3 weeks, we still miss her. Right now, we’re feeding Tomyam when he comes around. He’s been elevated to sainthood now since he performed a miracle (finding Margaret!). He’s a funny one. We’re still unsure if we’re ever going to be cat owners again. No matter what, Margaret would be honoured to know she lives on in so many people’s memories too.

      Reply
  2. Alexandra Wong
    Alexandra Wong says:

    Krista, this was sad and sweet and in places, funny. Had to leave a note to tell you that. I couldn’t help tearing up too when I read it. A beautiful tribute. I believe Margaret would approve. *hugs*

    Reply

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