In a Purrfect World, Of Course We’d Have a Pet

Sadly, The Playmate is a true cat person who’s been denied the pleasure and privilege (his word) of having his own feline pet over our full 30 years of cohabitation. Cats are drawn to him in the way Bali’s ants zero in on a single grain of sugar.

Vicious cats, infamous for their nasty antics and disdain of humans, astound their owners by settling on The Playmate’s lap, retracting their keris-sharp claws and moderating their purring until it is in unison with his own. Yes, The Playmate purrs as he strokes.

Over three decades of discussions on why we should or shouldn’t have a pet, we (that’s the royal we, says The Playmate) have usually concluded that our work and travel schedules have prohibited us from giving any resident animal due care and attention. Cats are so independent, says The Playmate. Not for weeks or months on end, I counter. Case closed.

But … in the right environment, I would welcome a pet to our small family and I would love it, possibly far too much. And while I would like it to reside outside the human home, The Playmate insists that “cats are people” and must be treated as part of the family: “You wouldn’t ban a relative from the house, would you?” Actually, I would, but that’s another story.

Here in Bali, we have more time and no corporate demands to travel, though we do trip off from time to time for our own pleasure or to meet our sense of family obligation. Our position in Bali is that we may get a pet, but only when we have live-in staff trained to take care of it when we are away and only when we have a suitable space for it to live and exercise in. Debate has not yet closed on whether it would live in our house or outside. 

Nevertheless, it’s a sensible conclusion and one that I am proud the cat-loving Playmate has been able, with difficulty and reluctance, to reach.

It’s a responsible position, in stark contrast to the thoughtless abandon with which people around us frequently acquire and proceed to mistreat pets, especially dogs, which right now need additional care and consideration to protect them (and their owners and communities) from the horror that is rabies.

One neighbour got a pretty, timid little tan puppy which was immediately locked outside her owners’ spacious property all day and all night, leaving her prey to the stray dogs that prowl the area in menacing packs. The little dog has produced and been relieved of at least two litters in 12 months and runs away when anyone or anything approaches. She is too afraid to properly protect herself, never mind the property. What is the point of having this animal?

A nearer neighbour, whose property has the same lack of suitable space for a pet as our own, keeps a full-grown golden retriever confined in a service area barely big enough for a bird cage. This poor dog is so lethargic from lack of exercise and inadequate food that we rarely hear it bark. We are sure it eats only rice, so any would-be intruder would only have to offer a tired old chicken wing or even a wilted carrot strip and it would roll over.

This same neighbouring family previously had a beautiful, young golden retriever – a boy named Jill – which lived in the garage but was allowed to roam with the kampung dogs, farm animals and wildlife. He got one bowl of rice a day – apart from a weekly bone, daily biscuits and an array of left-overs that we provided. Nevertheless, Jill was more often sick than not. We could see he had worms, a skin complaint and recurring lethargy.

His owner is not an approachable chap at all. When we asked the house staff if there was medicine for Jill, they just laughed and shook their heads. When he was very sick, Jill would look at us pleadingly, really asking for help. We struggled to decide, perhaps foolishly in hindsight, that medicating someone else’s pet would be a tad presumptuous.

Jill disappeared one morning. The house staff in the street claimed he had been kidnapped for his golden fleece. We speculated that his owner just couldn’t be bothered with a pet needing attention and had somehow callously disposed of him. We missed him terribly.

Now, with their bigger golden retriever interned in its tiny cell, these neighbours have acquired two Bali puppies that live in the garage, are not being trained and which are fed only rice. They are visited by the local kampung dogs who, judging from the puppies’ yelps of protests, are already trying to interfere with them.

The neighbour’s housekeeper insists the puppies have been vaccinated against rabies. I am doubtful, given the history.

What is the point of having these three dogs in a tiny space? And why have pets if you won’t look after them? People such as the neighbours described here need to get responsible and realise that their neglect and mistreatment of their dogs is not only cruel but also a danger to themselves and others in their community. No one wants a dog’s life; especially when it involves rabies.

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