In a by-lane in Thiruvananthapuram’s residential locality of Jagathy, 10 cats lined up near the gate of a small tiled house early in the morning. Five cats are on the wall and five on the street below. They are waiting patiently for their 7am feed. A man soon appears with a steel bucket and the cats are ready. For each one of them he daintily offers a raw sardine held aloft. They all wait for their turn, eat their early morning delicacy sitting on the wall and then slowly scamper away.
The cat lover tells this reporter that he is a bit worried about the fish he gets these days since there are rumours about chemicals like formaline being used as a preservative.
In coastal towns along Kerala it is usual to see huge number of stray cats apart of course from dogs. The easy availability of fish is the primary reason. Cats love fish, especially smaller varieties like sardine and anchovy. Fish is a must cuisine in most Kerala families. The head of the fish is discarded as waste, unlike in Bengali cuisine, and this forms the staple diet of cats. Well if there’s a full sardine to savour, that is even better.
Cats and dogs occupy a prime position the Kerala’s social life. So for Keralites, it wasn’t a surprise that in the middle of the Covid-19 shutdown, a person took all the trouble to move the Kerala high court to get a curfew pass issued so that he could go out to buy biscuits for his pet cats. The court granted the prayer, and perhaps reveling in the seriousness of the petition, hoped that the ‘CATastrophe’ is avoided.
Now that cats have got a helping meow from the judiciary, it should not be a surprise if dog lovers start barking about food and other discriminations. Since a majority of Keralites live in houses, cottages and huts in sylvian surroundings, a dog always comes in handy, both as a guard of the house and as proof of the faith. There is also enough space for dogs to run around and also for kennels. Dog breeders are abound in Kerala, especially in central Kerala districts where there is a big demand. Rare breeds are a big draw.
The annual dog show in the central district of Kottayam, is a big draw with participants mostly from the central Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu arriving to display, and sell and buy dogs. In this year’s show in January which this reporter attended, there was on show a husky - definitely not a dog suited to the humid and hot weather of Kerala. A pet shop owner has been quoted as saying that earlier Kerala was big on guard dogs, but now dogs are companions and pets. The owner of a rare breed becomes a celebrity in Kerala and the dog gets featured in many TV shows.
The pet dog craze has grown exponentially after pugs became available in plenty within the last decade, maybe pushing out the Pomeranian. Rare breeds like Bull Mastiff and Rottweiler can be seen in big villas that dot the Kerala countryside, apart of course from the old faithful, German Shepherds. For all such dogs, big-boned meat like beef, buffalo are a treat and easily available in Kerala making it another important factor in dog breeding. Such red meat is given over and above artificial food which are available in plenty due to the sudden popularity of pet shops.
Pet shops thrive also because of varieties of birds and aquarium fish for which fresh water is easily available. Though love birds can proliferate in Kerala weather in bird cages set up in backyard, snakes which abound in the state especially near ponds, rivers and marshy places area are a threat since they can up the eggs and often the birds too at night.
In any case, after the ‘CATastrophic’ judgment of the high court, the huge number of pet cats, dogs can have a bone-crunching time, content with the thought that will never run out of biscuits. And if at all, they do, their owners will bark on their behalf.