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Cats make you crazy

The famous Maew Asoke

The famous Maew Asoke

You LOL at Grump Cat, hit the cat cafe for a stroke, buy a cat of your own. Forget anything?

IN ANCIENT TIMES, before the Internet, humans giggled over comic strips of Felix the Cat and lazy housecat Garfield. There was even a cyborg pussy named Doraemon that supposedly came from the future. Little did Doraemon or his human fans know what the future really held for felines.

In ancient times, humans fretted that cats might be rabid. Now they're viral.

YouTube and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and Twitter, can turn anyone's cat into a star these days. People subscribe to cat channels on YouTube where their favourite felines post their latest antics as if it were a Kim Kardashian reality show - except that the cats are much funnier. Facebook is packed with fan pages dedicated to cute kitties. The objects of adoration might be pictured doing nothing at all, but millions of adoring devotees still go, "Aw!"

Among the furry global superstars is Maru, a straight-eared Scottish fold whose videos have drawn more than 200 million views and made him much in demand in Japanese advertisements. He somehow wrote a best-selling book and issued a DVD in 2009 called "I Am Maru".

And you must have heard of snowshoe cat Tardar Sauce - better known as Grumpy Cat - from Arizona in the US, whose pictures have earned a sensational 1.2 million "likes" on Facebook, not to mention a place on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and movie deal in Hollywood.

Bangkok's celebrity top cat is a ginger named Maew Asoke who hangs out at the Asoke Skytrain stop. He too has his own Facebook page that fans have jammed with their snapshots and videos of him lounging around the station. Other people hear about this and hunt him down in his natural habitat, hoping to stroke his ears or get a picture of their own.

There must be more to the online cat craze than just humans finding new things to share. Is there something mystical going on? Were the pharaohs of Egypt right about cats possessing divine power?

"Our lives are getting faster and faster and we need something to slow us down - like cats," suggests a devotee on Facebook who uses the name Wink Wink. Last year he and other six "cat slaves", as they call themselves, created a page called "Mee Maew Meow Tem Pai Mod" ("There are Kitties Everywhere"), full of photos, that has more than 40,000 subscribers.

"Cats are charming, clean and sweet," Wink Wink says. "They're very perceptive of their guardians' emotions and feelings. And, above all, they have great sense of humour - they make us happy just by looking at them. Also, we tend to live in smaller spaces, so cats are the perfect pet."

The trend is terrific advertising for pet shops, of course. You see those adorable cuddlies and you want one of your own. Unfortunately for the average Siamese moggie on the street, Thai tastes in the past five years have reached beyond our borders to bring in "more exotic" breeds. It's not uncommon to come across a Persian, a chinchilla, a Maine coon or an American or British shorthair. We have "ragdolls" and Bengals - not just the tiger.

Owning a bunch of cats no longer earns sniggers about the "crazy cat lady", and guys get bonus points because "real men love cats".

The downside to the cat craze is the

pussy plague. Kittens are worshipped right up until the day they stop being so cute - then it's out the door. If they get sick, hurt or cantankerous in heat, too many people just chuck them out and go get another tiny specimen.

Such people aren't necessarily cruel - just thoughtless. They never considered in advance what else was involved in raising a cat besides posting its photos online. "Having a cat requires more than just giving it food, water and a litter box," warns Amy at the Pet Animal Welfare Society (Paws).

"The cat will require regular vaccinations, de-worming and flea treatments - and more than just veterinary care if it gets hurt or sick. There's a cat cafe in Bangkok where the owner didn't know his cats needed vaccinations until seven of them died from feline panleukopenia, which is a fatal virus infection but easily prevented.

"It was tragic, and all the more so because none of the deaths needed to happen at all. Quality veterinary care is inexpensive, so there's no excuse for not providing the basics."

The Paws volunteer group started last year and has witnessed a constant rise in the number of abandoned and stray cats in Bangkok.

Amy, who prefers not to share her surname, is particularly upset with people who buy "cute and allegedly purebred kittens and don't know enough to have them sterilised and vaccinated".

"So the cats become sick or develop behavioural problems. Not wanting to spend money at the vet, or not wanting to make the effort to correct the behaviour, they abandon these cats, often at temples.

"Then there are the people who care for cats that show up where there's plenty of food and then don't want to leave. Thais are generally very kind-hearted and want to leave food out for them, but if they don't have them sterilised and the females produce several litters, when those people relocate, a lot of cats are left behind."

Sterilisation is the key solution, Paws and other such groups emphasise, as does the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

"What we don't believe in is the 'Western' solution of killing strays en masse - it's not only unethical, it doesn't work. Surgical sterilisation is crucial to the health and welfare of cats and dogs in Thailand, both owned and stray. The problems might never go away entirely, but it's possible to have a healthy street-animal population."

Amy also urges wannabe pet owners to "opt to adopt". The cities teem with strays, and most of them would settle into a good home without trouble. Paws headquarters on Sukhumvit Soi 93 currently has more than 70 cats waiting to be adopted, and they're already vaccinated and sterilised.

If you're still thinking about owning a cat, you can test the waters first at one of the city's many cat cafes. The Purr Cat Cafe Club is on Sukhumvit Soi 53 and the Cataholic Cafe is at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 39. Go have a good stroke and see if you'd like a companion at home.

The companionship comes at a price not measured in baht alone. For your cat to be physically and emotionally secure - and worthy of multitudes of "likes" on Facebook - you need to invest time and patience, in sickness and health, whether naughty and nice, and basically 'til death do you part.

NICE KITTY

Find out more about the Pet Animal Welfare Society at www.Facebook.com/PawsBangkok.

Call the Purr Cat Cafe Club at (02) 108 3604 and the Cataholic Cafe at (084) 664 4936.




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