• Her profile said she was a sweet girl who loved pats and needed foster caring for 2-4 weeks. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
We didn’t dislike cats, but we subscribed to the dog-person thinking that cats were aloof, too independent, and not overly needy enough for our liking.
By
Candice Tan

31 Aug 2020 - 9:31 AM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2020 - 10:18 AM

“Okay, we’ll let you know if she should stay with you for longer or if we can put her up for adoption”, the vet tells me, as I hand her the cat carrier.

I am taken aback, shocked. I thought this visit was just for a check-up.

“You mean, you might take her back today?”

The immediate pang of sadness I feel makes me realise just how much my temporary housemate had grown on me.

I always considered myself to be a dog person. 

In fact, my partner and I – pre-COVID – would walk shelter dogs on an almost weekly basis, scroll through rescue dog lists, and daydream about what we’d name our future pooch as we walked our local dog park (a food-related name, of course).

The immediate pang of sadness I feel makes me realise just how much my temporary housemate had grown on me.

So, as we faced the prospect of working from home indefinitely, we thought – like many other people had – why not now? Not wanting to commit to adopting, we agreed that fostering was the way to go. And because most foster dogs required almost full-time care, a COVID cat was our only option.   

To be honest, we weren’t overly excited about having a cat. We didn’t dislike cats, but we subscribed to the dog-person thinking that cats were aloof, too independent, and not overly needy enough for our liking (and we are both very needy people). Nonetheless, we figured it’d still be nice to see how having a pet would be, so I registered as an RSPCA foster carer and began my daily checking of foster candidates. The demand for foster animals during lockdown has been intense. Within a few hours of new opportunities showing up, they’d disappear. I applied for several cats for weeks but was disappointed to get no response. 

Then one day, I saw Malteser. Her profile said she was a sweet girl who loved pats and needed foster caring for two to four weeks. I admit I wasn’t that hopeful when I applied for her but to my surprise, I got a call from the RSPCA and two days later, we had our new furry friend. 

In the first few days of having Malteser, I was exhausted. We only need to change her litter box once, feed her twice and drag a string across the living room a few times a day, so it did make me think about how I’d handle a higher maintenance pet, like a dog, or even a child (I mistakenly groaned to my mum about how tired I was, and got her dry response: “I had to change your diaper six times a day”). But I think it was just the changed mindset, which was draining initially, with less focus on my needs and more on the kitty - from “should we get Apple TV?” to “the cat sneezed three times, what’s that mean?”

As a confident cat, we were initially disappointed that she wasn’t as affectionate as we were hoping.

At the same time, our relationship with Malteser got off to a rocky start. As a confident cat, we were initially disappointed that she wasn’t as affectionate as we were hoping. Admittedly, from day one we wanted her to lie on our laps purring while we Netflix and chilled and come to us when called, like a dog, which only drew side way glances as she snuggled further on her favourite chair away from us. 

However, we soon realised that we had been viewing Malteser through dog-coloured glasses – which wasn’t fair. So, we watched every cat behaviour YouTube video we could find to better understand these elegant and enigmatic creatures. We gave her more space and didn’t demand so much from her (or appear too needy – which isn’t a great energy to project, really). And as the days went by, and she became more trusting of us, she showed more and more affection. 

Four weeks later, Malteser (aka Dumpling) would give us cuddles throughout the day before going over to her favourite chair. She would nap on us when we were on the couch (and she if she was in the mood), welcomed our pats and chin scratches, and followed us, sitting outside the door if we went to another room. 

Although it isn’t a constant love fest like a dog I imagine - we can’t always get her to come to us when we please - we’ve arrived at a healthy understanding that we’re not her masters and she’s her own kitty who shows affection in her own subtle ways. And that works for us.

Although it isn’t a constant love fest like a dog I imagine - we can’t always get her to come to us when we please - we’ve arrived at a healthy understanding that we’re not her masters and she’s her own kitty who shows affection in her own subtle ways.

Which is why, at the vet, I felt a sudden sense of hollowness with the thought of giving her back. Thankfully, it was just a miscommunication and we’ll continue to care for Malteser for a few more weeks, but it really drove home to us that this little grey tabby has become more than just a COVID hobby for us.

We’re unsure if we’ll adopt Malteser, or even if we’ll have the opportunity to, but one thing’s for sure – this experience as foster carers has given us not only an outlet for our lockdown fatigue, but also the joy of caring for another being and to appreciate the affection we get in return – in all its forms. We may not be fully-fledged cat people, but I’m pretty sure we’re getting there.  

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

RECOMMENDED
Why I can't help feeding stray cats
Every time I visit Greece, one of the first things I do is go to the corner shop and buy cat food. Then I go out walking.
Can you train cats the same way as dogs?
Pet training isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but cats are not hopeless, either.