It would be remiss of me to not include a very important part of life here in Laos - cats. Reading this, you could be forgiven for thinking that I'm a crazy cat lady. And true, I am currently caring for 7 (yes, seven) cats, plus a few neighbourhood strays. The evidence is damning.
But in truth, I'm just an animal lover. Much as I'll move snails from the driveway after it rains, or add a dog to my menagerie when its owner is away.
It's just that in Laos there are a lot of cats. And most of them aren't pets; they just roam freely, scavenge food and are occasionally fed. They're rarely vaccinated or spayed and so they keep multiplying. Many don't survive the various diseases going around, and the rainy season is a particularly dangerous time for kittens.
If you want a kitten, drop in at your local temple; the monks feed all the neighbourhood strays. It's not much but it's enough to survive.
Life's a little different at our house. I'd like you to meet my resident tribe.
This is Shy. Much like Rue Thadeau that runs through the centre of Vientiane, Shy has gone by many names over the years. We inherited him along with Ginger below when we moved into our house here.
Shy is roughly 12 years old, give or take, and is the gentlest, softest cat ever. He's also incredible shy. I think that somewhere in his youth he must have been mistreated because he's an extremely timid cat. On occasion, he'll slip inside the house and snooze on a chair but he rarely lingers.
When I took Shy to Animal Doctors International last year for a checkup (we're well known there), the vet said Shy had the best teeth of any cat she'd seen in Laos. He certainly gets a good diet. All of our cats eat fresh fish and dry cat food everyday. Plus the occasional poached chicken pieces which they adore.
Shy is also blind in one eye. It doesn't seem to hinder him getting around though. I'm not sure where he goes during the day but he's always home for dinner.
This is the magnificent Ginger, the fattest of all our cats, and the biggest sook. He adores cuddles and laps and slobbering on people he likes. Unfortunately, he has no patience for kittens, as I discovered when we adopted a couple last year. Ginger was extremely put out by this and refused to talk to me for some time.
Despite being a bit of a wimp, Ginger also gets into a lot of fights with the neighbourhood tough toms. As I said, there are cats everywhere in Vientiane, and our neighbourhood is no exception. Yowling cat fights are a night time norm. In fact, due to the generous number of cats loitering around our house and the bowls of food outside, I think we've been mistaken for the local temple.
I have a plan though, to catch some of these tough toms and whisk them off to the vet for a rabies shot and a quick spay. Just doing my part for the neighbourhood.
This is Cookie. She was a beautiful tri colour cat who sadly disappeared from our house one evening in May. We haven't seen her since though I combed the streets for her for weeks. I put a signs and offered a reward. I hope that one day she might turn up again.
Everyone loved Cookie, she was a super sweet and gentle kitten that my kids would rock like a baby. She and her half sister, Black Magic (pictured above) did everything together.
We got Cookie from a mama cat called Minou at our local swimming spot. Almost every building in Vientiane has a cat or two attached to it. When we first met Minou she was a tiny scrap of a cat, and I'd feed her as often as I could. Most Lao cats, I've found, are gentle and friendly. They just need a bit of kindness. I was delighted when she started gaining weight. Then suddenly, she had 3 kittens!
Tiny little things they were and Minou only had the energy to feed them for 4 weeks. Within days, she was pregnant again. After she weaned that second litter, I whisked her off to vet. The 6 kittens from 2 litters were taken by us and our Canadian friends. Only 3 of the kittens have survived. Sadly sometimes, life intervenes despite your best efforts and they don't make it.
But others do. Today Minou is a happy single lady living a very peaceful life. I expect it to be a long one.
This is Black Magic, from Minou's second litter. Or just Blackie for short. She enjoys sleeping on the stairs, as well as cuddles with her bestie (below). The kids will sling her over a shoulder or tuck her up into bed with the covers pulled up to her chin. She thinks it's normal.
My experience has been that if you socialise kittens and children from a young age, both tend to treat the other with gentleness and affection. All of our cats are very much part of the family which along with food and cuddles means a lot of noise, pokes and squeezes. And semi-regular trips to the vet. The result though are very people-friendly cats.
And this is Socks. He's our token temple kitten, adopted about 2 months ago. If you follow Eat Drink Laos on Facebook or Instagram, you would have seen that Socks had a run in with the often deadly Parvovirus in early July. Thanks to around-the-clock care from our maeban, friends and the vet (we were away at the time), and that he had been vaccinated, Socks pulled through. He is 100% back to normal.
Socks has funny long legs, big ears like a fox, and 4 white sock-like paws. He's currently on the express fattening program and is starting to look like a normal 4-month old kitten. He spends all his time with his best friend, Blackie, eating, sleeping, playing, and snoozing on beds. It's a good life.
I have no plans to increase our menagerie but last week, I got pulled into Pet Rescue mode again. 3 newborn kittens fell into my lap and I am now fostering them. They can't feed themselves and have to be hand fed goats milk with a dropper every 3-4 hours. They're super cute and (thankfully) sleep quite a lot. The excitement of trampling over each other in the rush to be fed is quite exhausting.
In a few weeks, they'll be ready for their 8-week vaccinations, and then hopefully off to new and happy homes. Lucky little Lao kittens.