Mai-loo was my cat. But as any cat owner surely knows, I was more her human. We were together for eight years. She died last week after a tragic battle against several mysterious and “unrelated” ailments. But this is not about her untimely death. It is about her life.
Anyone who lives with pets, cats or dogs (and probably many other animals), knows well that each has their own unique personality. Cats, particularly, are smart, clever, and have a great sense of humor. They have long memories, are extremely loyal, and return affection for no other reason than to love, all of which are contrary to many long-held misconceptions.
Mai-loo was left under my kitchen sink by her mother. She was at most a couple of days old. Eyes still closed. I live in Thailand where in older and traditional Thai houses the kitchens are outside the main house. Though my house is surrounded by a high wall, a small crack behind my sink allowed entry for a small animal.
One morning I had gone out to the kitchen to make breakfast and heard this tiny sound; mee-you, mee-you. In Thai language, it sounds like a little voice saying my-roo, which means “I don’t know.” When I opened the cabinet below the sink, there was this itsy thing, barely squirming. I asked her what she was doing there and she answered, my-roo. In northern Thai dialect, my-roo, is spoken as mai-loo. The itsy thing now had a name.
Remembering something from my childhood about not touching bird eggs in a nest or the mothers won’t tend to them, I didn’t touch Mai-loo, but left her for another day, hoping her mother would return. Her crying went on non-stop for about twelve hours before I relented. I canvassed all the pet shops in my town, plus the animal hospitals, but found nothing for new-born cats. I ended up with puppy formula and began a weeks-long regimen of feeding this tiny creature by syringe (no needle of course). For something only about three inches long, she was incredibly aggressive at her attack on the syringe whenever I fed her, which was about four times a day. She grew quickly, and had no health problems.
I don’t think Mai-loo ever accepted that she was a cat. Her mother did comeback about four months later squeezing through the same crack with two of her kittens. Both were incredibly cute black and white fluffy balls of furs, nothing whatsoever like Mai-loo. But Mai-loo was an exact replica of her mother; a mottled Cheetah-like brown and yellow. Upon introduction, all cat hair became full-blown, followed immediately with threatening guttural growls. After receiving such a discouraging welcome, the mother retreated through the wall, follow by her kittens. Since that meeting, Mai-loo has never allowed another cat, male or female, within her territory.
As time went on, Mai-loo not only became the ideal cat, but the ideal roommate and friend. She only liked dried cat food and the some moist food. She never went into the garbage or scratched on anything other than her seven foot tall cat tree (I had custom built). I allowed her to walk on anything she wanted except for kitchen counters, and she never did.
She enjoyed playing, but she played rough. She loved to be tossed high in the air, flipping around in amazing acrobatics before I would catch her. To keep from being injured myself, I found that as long as I wore no clothes, she would never scratch me. She instinctively knew that my skin wasn’t as tough as her hide.
Mai-loo was clever. When she wanted food or to go out, she’d hop on my computer desk and softly mew. She had one mew for going out and another for food. She never cried loudly like other cats I’ve known. When she wanted to play, she had a whole different approach. She’d lie hidden somewhere, patiently waiting for me to walk by—then she’d spring out and bat me a half-dozen times with her paws and race out of the room as I chased her.
But many times Mai-loo would do things that were anything but cat-like. She’d spend hours sitting by me at the computer watching me work, or even watch movies with me. I know, you’re thinking that cats don’t really watch movies, they’re just sitting with you. There were many times I’ve come into the living room and caught her perched on the back of the sofa watching TV by herself.
Cats have moods, and things can piss them off. They are not unlike humans in that regard. They are emotional and can have their feelings hurt. When my girlfriend moved in with us, the fur went flying! Mai-loo wouldn’t let Oam anywhere near her. To show her utter displeasure, she peed on Oam’s pillow. But instead of getting angry, Oam took a different approach. She laid in wait for Mai-loo, just as Mai-loo would do with me, and when she pranced by, Oam sprang out! Mai-loo jumped four feet straight up and jetted out of the house like a cartoon character. Now, you might think this would be the worst possible thing to do, but later that same day, Mai-loo bushwhacked Oam in the same way. From that day on, they were inseparable.
Mai-loo became more tolerant of people since she took to Oam, but only for one or two pets on the head before she’d bat their hand away. Now, this changed only one time when a wild rabbit decided that Mai-loo was his perfect mate. The one physical distinction Mai-loo had was no tail. The rabbit thought Mai-loo was a rabbit too, and hopped all around trying to nuzzle her. Mai-loo didn’t know what to make of the rabbit, who was a large as she, but knew it wasn’t a cat. She didn’t hiss at it, but did bat its head over and over to no effect because she never used her claws. This went on for days. I’d come out in the morning and they’d be sitting on either side of the front stoop like Egyptian sphinxes. Finally, the caretaker of my house took the rabbit home to his kids. I had to make him promise not to eat it. Thais eat most anything.
Through the years, Mai-loo was the most steadfast, loyal, and caring creature I’ve ever known. We went through many adventures together, small in the scope of the world, but meaningful in the lives of the participants. She knew when I was feeling bad for one reason or another, and would come to sit on my chest and lick my face. She was by my side all the time I was flat on my back after my heart surgery recently. She never complained or caused me grief, but always made me wonder at what funny new thing she would do. She never lost her kittenness, her natural curiosity, or her wicked playfulness.
If, in fact, the cliché, the good die young, is true, then Mai-loo certainly qualifies. She was pure innocence, a spirit of light and goodness. For anyone who believes that only humans have souls, surely have never known an animal with any intimacy. I know Mai-loo had a warm, loving, and happy life. I’m grateful and a better person for having spent a portion of my life with her.