My roommate, Colleen is a Canadian wetlands preservation volunteer in Savannakhet. She left her cat and boyfriend back home and was sorely missing a furry friend around the house. We see stray dogs all the time but rarely see stray cats. We’d been talking about adopting one but really didn’t know who to ask or where to find a furry friend of our own. Our landlords have three dogs: Panda, the nicest of the bunch is a big black and white teddy bear. Tiger is a German Shepard and Euro is a mangy little mutt with a bum back leg. When I arrived in September, Euro walked on all fours but at some point he was hit by a car or motorbike and broke one of his rear legs. It healed crooked and crosses over the good one. He hobbles around and does a pretty good job keeping up with the other two but as the idea of vet services is quite the foreign concept and pets aren’t considered part of the family the way they are in the west, there’s often not much that’s done when an animal gets sick or injured.
I woke up one early morning in January to the tiny muffled cries of a cat. I couldn’t quite tell where it was coming from and headed to work. When I returned at noon for my Lao lesson the tiny voice was still mewing. After the lesson my teacher, Thip and I went to explore under the house. Stooped over and swatting away mosquitos we explored the wood pile where the noise was emanating from. Moving an old tire and re-stacking some boards to open up the pile the tiniest little orange kitten ran out into the fenced-in yard. Thip chased him from one directions and I scooped him up and brought him inside.
He fit in one hand, was dirty and covered in fleas. I locked him in the laundry room, tried feeding him soy milk (he did not enjoy that) and set to work on a three-day project of picking out fleas from his fur. I sent a cryptic message to Colleen saying that the universe works in mysterious ways and that we manifested a surprise that was waiting for her in the laundry room. She caught my drift immediately and came home from work with cat food and supplies. We turned a wash tub into a litterbox by filling it with sand. Twice a day baths and a pair of tweezers cleared up the fleas and bam! We had ourselves a sweet little Lao kitty.
The girls I tutor in the evening helped us come up with a name: Mangkone which means both Dragon and January, the month he was found. We call him MK for short and he has quickly won our hearts chasing bugs, biting our ankles and climbing on everything including the curtain rods, china shelf and dining room table. He’s super vocal, loves canned food and tuna, and (almost) always uses his litterbox.
The litterbox is a foreign concept in Laos. Apparently, according to the Lao cat owners I’ve talked to, they just let their cats shit in the house then clean it up. When I told my Lao teacher how easy it is to train a cat to use the box (basically place said cat inside the box a few times so he gets the hang of it) she said that this was not the traditional way of cat rearing in Laos and likely wouldn’t try it.
He’s more than doubled in size and has an appointment in Pakse, a town about a 3 hour drive away to be neutered next weekend. The stray animal problem is exacerbated in Laos by a lack of will to desex pets while also letting them roam the streets at night. This is an issue for volunteers working with farmers as Lao farmers don’t castrate their cattle, and it’s a problem for us as we couldn’t find a veterinarian closer to home who could perform the surgery. Some people suggested that we could “easily do it ourselves” but personally, I’d much rather pay the $50 and have a professional take care of it. We have a HI-So or high society cat who unlike his Lao brethren never goes outside, gets his nails trimmed, has toys to play with, uses a litterbox and eats cat food instead of rice and leftovers. When we leave Savannakhet, we’ll say goodbye to our little dragon and re-home him with one of our friends and return to our kitties in North America.