I saw a wonderful documentary last week, about street cats in Istanbul, where hundreds of thousands of them roam freely, and have for thousands of years. In the film, Kedi, we meet seven of them.
To be perfectly honest, much as I love cats, part of me wanted to see the film and part of me didn’t. I hate to see animals (or people) suffer and I was afraid these pussycats would look mangy and sick, that they’d be neglected and hungry, sad and desperate for companionship. And it would have broken my heart to see that.
But I didn’t have to worry. These seven cats looked healthy and cared for; and they were. The folks who live or work in the various neighborhoods where the cats hang out feed them, love them and really look out for them.
One kitten had an eye infection and her human guardian angel gave her eye drops every day. Another group of kittens had no mother and he fed them milk, with a syringe, several times a day.
In another part of the city, a cook who cared for numerous cats was asked how he could afford the Vet bills. He laughed and said that all the villagers had running tabs at all the Vets’ clinics — inferring the bills just never came. One woman who was interviewed said that she cooked 20 pounds of chicken every day, for her feline friends. 20 pounds, every day!
One beautiful grey cat had been “living” at a cafe for about two years. One of the waiters explained how he just showed up one day. He never wandered into the cafe, when he was hungry he’d scratch on the window until they fed him. He was chubby so they put him on a diet and instead of giving him meat, which he preferred at first, they gave him smoked turkey and emmental cheese, because they wanted him to be healthy.
The cats come and go as they please. Their human friends put no restrictions on them. They’re welcome everywhere, in their shops and restaurants, in the markets, in their homes (for as long as they want to stay). And they don’t just feed them and make sure they have water to drink. They hug them and pet them and kiss them and cuddle them. And they all admitted that the cats help them, as much as they help the cats.
All of the folks who were interviewed said that they respect that the cats are creatures of the outdoors and it would be inhumane to keep them locked up inside — they’d been roaming way too long.
To a person they worry about them, like they worry about their family members. To them, the cats are extended members of their families.
My favourite line from the film is: “If you can’t love an animal, you can’t love people.” How true is that — especially now, when we seem to be losing our humanity. When compassion and kindness and generosity of spirit is in such short supply. When we treat each other so horribly, so disdainfully, so disrespectfully.
There’s a moral to this story, that’s for sure.