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Ding and Her Cats

April, 2006
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  In a small yard in the corner of Longtoujing Hutong, Houhai, grandma Ding lives a “peaceful” life with 150 cats.

 IMG_9035 Everyday, she gets up at 5 o’clock in the morning to clean and prepare food for her feline friends.  “I am nearly 80 years old, it is getting harder for me these days,” Ding said. “I never get to sleep before midnight.”

  Almost all of her time is spent cleaning, feeding and treating the various illnesses of the cats she rescued from the streets. It is quite common for these cats to arrive with problems such as skin diseases, tracheitis, oral disorders and injuries.

  “Although these are not serious problems, they take up a lot of time and money. I can hardly take them to the vets as there are just too many,” the old woman lamented.

  Ding used to work at a campus hospital and her experience has held her in good stead.  “I can tell what their problems are just from the expressions on their faces, now I can deal with the most common problems myself, except the sterilization (neutering) operations,” she said.  She insists that the cats do not carry any infectious diseases, but instead are infected by bad food or polluted water after being abandoned. “If you raise cats, you have to make sure they are clean and well fed, and they don’t end up on the streets again."

  Like most people who raise cats, Ding started with just one, some 60 years ago.

  “Because I did not get the cat neutered, one cat turned into 25, there were kittens all over the place,” Ding recalled. “The number soared after the media covered my story in the year 2000.”

  The report led to more and more cats being brought to grandma Ding’s door. In the beginning, she could not help but except the cats. But later on she started to feel the pressure of raising and caring for more than 100 cats. Ding started to refuse but still found abandoned cats outside her door in the mornings.IMG_9026

  “Thanks to help from the neighbourhood and some warm-hearted visitors, I can still manage,” a grateful Ding admitted.

  It costs more than 4,000 yuan (US$500) a month to look after these cats, however Ding’s retirement pay is just 1,500 yuan (US$200) per month. The rest is made up by donations, mainly of cat food or sometimes cash.

  Because Ding is caring for the cats off her own back she cannot get sponsorship, as she is not part of a registered charity organization. Sometimes the octogenarian feels exhausted and wants to give up, but always talks herself round because she knows the cats can’t survive without her.

  When people come to adopt a cat, Ding spends hours quizzing them first and even asks some to write a letter of guarantee. She still contacts them from time to time. “I need to make sure my cats go to a safe and comfortable home,” she said.

  Despite her hectic lifestyle, grandma Ding still gets a great deal of enjoyment from the cats, who she feels give meaning to her life. “If I didn’t raise cats, I wouldn’t have lived for so long,” Ding confessed. “I live everyday for them and I feel great.”

  She has even developed her own cat menu that includes fish, chicken livers and vegetables, twice a day. IMG_9067

  “Cats shouldn’t just be fed cat food sold in shops. Eating cooked food keeps their stomach free of bugs and gives them a healthy looking coat. Neutering is very important too, because that also reduces their chances illness and keeps stray cat numbers down,” advised Ding.

  Grandma Ding has some words of advice for those considering keeping a cat:

  “Raising a cat is a serious business that needs prior consideration, you can’t just keep a cat when you feel like it and throw it out when you don’t.”

  Every morning Ding wakes to the prospect of another cat at her door, but she just wants to drive home the message that it is not right to abandon a living creature.

 By Xing Yangjian

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