We took Margaret to the vet yesterday. It’s tough explaining why we paid RM85 to neuter a cat which wasn’t even our own.
Margaret is supposedly 2 years old (this we found out when we got the vet’s card this morning) and colour-wise, she’s a mackerel tabby. We didn’t know her age all the while and we never knew she weighed 3.94 kg. Is that fat for a cat? A stray cat?
You see, I have never been a cat person. A dog person, yes, wholeheartedly yes. I grew up always thinking that dogs were the best possible pet to have. My uncle had generations of dogs… from cocker spaniels to rottweilers, from spitz to alsations and I used to love these furry animals. With the exception of the rottweiler of course. He was a ferocious beast which was used to frighten us children.
So I guess if I was a dog person, I wouldn’t really like felines. But Margaret is a charmer. And how we met Margaret is no less extraordinary.
She used to roam around our apartment block – her territory, so to speak – and once gave birth to four kittens behind our washing machine. It was safe and convenient because the kittens could not climb the high wall which separated the little enclosure they were in from the harsh outside world, just a leap away.
But soon the kittens were making mewling noises and as the weeks went by, they started to play about the little area, knocking down brooms which I kept near the washing machine.
To cut a long story short, Nic decided to ask the Kakak who sold nasi lemak at our place if she would like some really cute kittens. She did and took away all the kittens to her kampung in Teluk Kumbar.
What we did not expect was Margaret (Nic says it’s most suitable a name for her) came looking for her kittens almost every day. She drove us crazy because she could actually ‘knock’ on our door by pawing it, determined to be let in to check if we had stored her kittens away.
In a way, we pitied her. We started giving her scraps of food. When our fishmonger, Mrs Gan heard about Margaret, she wanted to give her leftover fish (fish too tiny to be sold) to the cat!
So Margaret was the recipient of sardines and kembung fish which led her to come to our place at each meal time. Over time, we realised fish was not the answer because it stank sometimes. Around this time, Nic met a cat owner, Aini, who told him that dry food such as Whiskas or Purina was the best way to feed a cat. Less stink, more nutrients. (Aini owns some 30 cats so yes, she was the expert in many ways!)
Eventually we switched to Whiskas for Margaret and she’s been a regular at our place for meals. And I must say it has done her a world of good. Her coat is soft and shiny. So this stray has become a semi-stray.
And we decided to neuter this tabby because of one horrific incident which happened a few weeks ago. As tabbies go, she was pregnant again after we gave away her kittens. As we had now become such good friends to her, she followed us everywhere. She trailed us to the pool, to the car park, to the minimarket. She could recognise us even when we wore swimming attire (caps and goggles). She mewed when we called her Margaret.
Margaret gave birth to four kittens again this time and we were pondering the same old question – what should we do with this litter? The Kakak had long moved away. But Mother Nature had other plans for Margaret’s babies.
Late one night, we were watching TV when we heard ferocious fighting. Cats. We thought it was another one of those tomcats fighting for territory. The noises were getting louder. So Nic chose to investigate. Angry growls were emitting from the electrical riser. When we opened the door of the riser room (the size of a small closet), we were horrified! Two kittens, hardly two weeks old, had been mauled. Blood was everywhere. Margaret was trying to lick her babies’ wounds. Two more kittens were alive and we quickly did what we thought was humane – we took them into our apartment. An orange tomcat with an expressionless face was the murderer. This cat came prowling by barely 10 minutes after. sniffing for more blood, and perhaps knowing two more kittens were alive.
I have watched CSI and thought I’d been sensitized to blood and gore but the real thing is difficult to explain. When you hold a helpless, injured kitten which is bleeding profusely from the throat, there’s really nothing much to do. You cannot ease the pain of the poor little thing and you cannot say anything to soothe the animal. Margaret was as frightened as we were, but she did not understand the gravity of the situation.
So there we were at 1.42am, with two bleeding kittens in our apartment and a mother cat who did not know what to do. Margaret had never been in such a situation before and she simply did not know how to manage it. Neither did we. One kitten had two punctures – one below his eye and one above his right ear. We knew both has slim chances of surviving the night. It was a morality question – do we let Margaret out with her two remaining kittens to face the territorial tomcat or do we play God, keeping her and her babies in our safe apartment, vigilant all night?
In the end, Margaret made the decision. She wanted to be let out to find a safe place for her babies. The tomcat came back again and killed the third kitten. We kept the remaining kitten with the puncture wounds in a basin. Eventually, it died too after a long struggle.
That made us think.
It’s extremely difficult when pets die on you. Last year I watched helplessly as my pet tortoise, a Malayan Box Tortoise, died after fighting pneumonia. I could not find a vet to help as they mostly took care of dogs and cats, not chelonians.
We thought long and hard about neutering Margaret. It felt like a responsible thing to do after the death of her kittens. Later I found out that a cat unspayed could bring into this world 50,000 cats! That’s a lot of cats, especially strays.
Note: The Penang SPCA has a subsidized programme for spaying and neutering dogs and cats, especially strays. To qualify for the programme, you need to fill up a form and wait for the nod from the SPCA. They will arrange for an appointment with the vet and you pay only RM85 per animal. However, follow-up vaccinations will be borne by the owner.
And strays get their left ears notched to indicate they’re spayed. Yes, Margaret has a triangle-shaped notch on her left ear. Her belly’s shaved and the stitches show. She licks them, perhaps wondering what happened to her. In the long run, we sincerely hope it’s best for her.
Want to see how Margaret looks like? Here she is….

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