I love cats. In my childhood home, we had two living with us for as long as I can remember. In my adult life, I’ve lived exclusively in apartments. If there’s one thing I’ve missed, it’s having a purring, furry little body snuggling up to me to be petted. Peter is also allergic to cats. At times when we were back in Canada, we talked of someday getting a genetically-engineered hypo-allergenic cat… but they are very expensive. So the thought of actually having a pet cat again has simply remained a cherished dream.

But here in Okinawa, we have the next best thing. In the park across the street from our house, there live feral cats. They are very clean, and generally don’t have any sort of sickness, disease, or fleas.

They are also very skittish around people. Some of the teenaged boys throw rocks at them, but I suspect that the main reason they’re skittish is that many of them have had their tails hacked off. This is not a practice for fashion. Someone has caught them and cut them, leaving messy stumps behind.
Over the past year, we have met some of these cats. There are four sibling kittens, in particular, who have become our fast friends: whenever we go out for an evening walk, they will come out from hiding to greet us.

They’d all had their tails cut off when we first met them, and since they were so small we knew that the trauma was still very fresh. They each seemed to be scared of something different: one was terrified at the sight of a human hand, and another was afraid of anything being over his head. It was quite the task to get them to come and eat the food we had to offer, and for many months they were scared to have us touch them. But now, they love being petted and played with. We feel very honoured by their trust.

We have found that our regular interaction with these cats seems to have an impact on the people here. I suppose that seeing us rubbing the tummy of a cat who normally runs away at the mere sight of people would tend to make us less intimidating.

We’ve lost count of the number of times someone, seeing us with them, will stop to chat. There was the older man who had some family in the US and wanted to practice his English; the woman who asked us to help rescue some kittens who were in danger of being killed by a car in the parking lot (there’s nothing like team problem solving to bring people together!); the junior high boys who wanted to try feeding one of the bolder cats (who, incidentally, still has her full tail); the mother and toddler who asked for help in petting a couple of the kittens; and many more.

It’s amazing how even something as simple as a walk in the park and playing with cats can be an opportunity to build relationships.