Detours from home: Turning into a stray cat keeper

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have learned while in quarantine. A Dominican priest from the Convent of St. John Lateran writes about learning to love the animals he used to bully. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

I used to bully animals whenever I had the chance. 

I would startle a rooster in the middle of its crowing because I loved listening to the sudden change of a proud cock-a-doodle-doo to a frantic cock-a, cock-a, cock-a! Back in Iloilo, I would chase away a neighbor’s dog with a loud stomping of my foot and a thunderous shout while he’s busy defecating. Running confused as to whether to run tall or to remain in a “defecative” mode, the dog would squirm and leave traces along its escape route. 

Every time I go on vacation to the province, I still did this even when I was already beyond 60. But the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) made me rethink this bad habit.

I was locked down in a convent within the campus of Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, Manila. It is during this confinement and solitude that I took special notice of the stray cats within the campus – about 7 of them. The guards on duty told me that the number could be as high as 30 if not for the maintenance personnel who would periodically catch and dispose of them as they saw fit.

The cats are well-fed during regular class days because of the leftover food at the canteens. However, after a few days of the ECQ, they had become so thin and weak, they could hardly catch a rat. Out of extreme hunger, some of them found their way to the convent on the fourth floor of the building where the priests live. 

One night, I saw a stray cat scouring for leftover food at the garbage bin near my front door. I saw its tail protruding while trying its best not to fall entirely into the 3-foot-tall trash can which was only half full. Bully that I was, I tiptoed so the cat wouldn’t notice me approaching from behind. When I was very near, I did my usual tactic of stomping my foot and shouting as loud as a thunder. The cat scampered and fell entirely in the trash can. It tried to get out but I was quick to close the lid. 

I was expecting it to put up a fight but perhaps it was too weak and too hungry to do it. Instead, it let out a faint “meeeeoooowwww”, like a baby crying because of some unknown pain. So, I decided to let it go.

The next night, I saw the tail peeping again from the same garbage bin. This time, I was prepared to do something good for the cat. 

Every meal, from breakfast to dinner, I reduced my food intake to half and reserved the other half for the cat. Every night, I had one plastic box of shredded fish and meat mixed with rice and sauce and I put it outside my door before I slept. Upon waking up every morning, I would inspect the box and it was always empty. I asked my companion priests if they had anything to do with the empty food box. All of them said no. So, I concluded, it must be the cat.

A few minutes after leaving the food box one night, I slowly approached the door from inside my room and suddenly opened it. There were three cats eating the food! It looks like the cats also know how to share during these trying quarantine times.

Our lady cook noticed that the cats gained weight and have become jumpier. She is happy because the cats aren’t stealing food stored in the kitchen anymore. 

The guards saw no more rats within the 400-year old campus while what I saw was the inner change in me. I have resolved not to bully animals anymore. Like the stray cats, they are God’s creation, too.

While the cats were getting fat, a remarkable thing happened to my waistline: from 34 inches, it is now down to 29. After the quarantine, I think I need to buy new clothes. –

Virgilio Abad Ojoy, O.P. is a Dominican priest assigned at the Convent of St. John Lateran located within the campus of Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros. He is a full professor, with an appointment from the Vatican, at the Faculty of Sacred Theology, University of Santo Tomas. Aside from teaching, he gives inspirational talks and conducts retreats and recollections for schools and companies.