Visiting Villa Kitty

Villa Kitty kid's drawing
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When my beloved cat Sophie recently escaped, I postponed the departure date for my sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia – and seriously considered cancelling it altogether. I didn’t feel right leaving with her still out there somewhere, and certainly couldn’t imagine enjoying a vacation.

When Sophie joyously returned home, I went ahead and took the trip, only having to delay my departure by a few days. One of the things I’m so grateful I still got to do was visit Villa Kitty.

♦ ♦ ♦

When I was planning the Bali portion of my trip, I knew I wanted to try to get off the beaten tourist path a bit. Beaches and waterfalls and temples are lovely, but what do I really care about most? Animals are high on the list. And of course, more specifically, cats.

Tabby basking in the sun

In the process of researching photo tours, I learned about Villa Kitty, an Ubud cat rescue founded by Elizabeth Henzell. Reading about their work struck a chord, so I wrote to Elizabeth, who graciously invited me to spend some time volunteering. While the rescue pays staff like vets and animal technicians, there’s never enough time to cuddle and play with all the cats and kittens, to help heal and socialize. That’s where volunteers come in.

Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty

Elizabeth Henzell, founder of Villa Kitty

When I got to Villa Kitty, Elizabeth welcomed me warmly. The whole operation blew me away – a huge serpentine maze of brightly coloured corridors and open spaces full of cats and kittens playing, sleeping, curled together in cages, quarantine rooms, and play areas, depending on their age and health status. The place is currently bursting at the seams, housing 300 cats, but the space is well organized and efficiently run.

Molly Parr Isolation ward

People walk into Villa Kitty with tiny kittens found in gutters, ditches, and river banks; cats who are injured, orphaned, or abandoned; and every other heartbreaking scenario you can think of. Staff bottle-feed the littlest ones, perform free sterilizations for the community, and continually spread the word about caring for cats responsibly. They place kitties in foster homes and find adoptive homes for as many as possible.

One-eyed cat in cage

I wish I’d had more time to spend with all these cuties, but I know I’ll return if I’m ever in Bali again. And if you’re a cat lover who finds yourself in Ubud, your cuddles are needed at Villa Kitty – so don’t hesitate to reach out!

♦ ♦ ♦

Visit Villa Kitty on the web, Instagram, or Facebook.

White and tabby kitty meowing in cage

Lessons Learned from a Lost Cat

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As a longtime indoor-cat mom, my worst fear is one of my cats escaping outside. It’s something I’ve always been paranoid about – my front vestibule is called “the kitty airlock,” and I watch visitors like a hawk when they open the back patio door to make sure no feline slips out.

About a month ago, my nightmare scenario became an awful reality.

When I was forced to leave my house with my three year-old tabby Sophie following an exterminator visit, street construction noise caused her to panic and throw herself repeatedly against the sides of her carrier. She literally broke the plastic door hinge, and it popped open. She immediately took off like an elite parkour athlete. I watched her dash down the street, darting into people’s open doors, through houses under renovation, onto balconies, and most horrifyingly, along narrow window ledges. I immediately dropped everything I was carrying and went after her, but I simply couldn’t catch up, and she disappeared. A neighbour came out to help, bringing cat treats as an enticement. Construction workers stared at me like I was an alien.

I was utterly devastated, filled with guilt that I’d failed her. I’ve had cats before, but Sophie and I have a special bond. She’s offered steadfast companionship and affection over the last year, always by my side as I’ve made my way through a difficult personal transition. And I’d let this happen to her. Many tears were shed.

I won’t keep you in suspense. Early one morning, Sophie sauntered in the door I’d been keeping open, after four days of outdoor adventuring – more likely four days of hiding, terrified, tucked away in some nook under a nearby neighbour’s deck or shed. More sobbing ensued as Sophie stared at me, looking perfectly fine, if a tad confused at my outburst.

The experience was a surreal and harrowing one, but it did spark several intense epiphanies that I can’t stop thinking about, and that’s really what compelled me to write this post.

Community of Caring

Over the course of the ordeal, I experienced the most unbelievable support from friends, family, and acquaintances. People brought food and drink – and reminded me to consume it, since I had no appetite. They went out searching nearby streets and alleys – early in the morning, in the scorching midday heat, and even taking a bus to my place at 3:00am, when a local vet said people tend to have the most luck finding missing cats. They made posters and put them up, talked to strangers and neighbours and shopkeepers. They brought flowers, hugged me tight, and rubbed my back while I cried. They slept on my couch so I wouldn’t wake up alone. People who couldn’t be with me in person sent heartfelt messages, checking in on and encouraging me, expressing their sadness at my loss, sharing their own stories of cats lost and found, telling me they’d be there if they were closer. They reminded me it wasn’t my fault, even though I felt I’d utterly failed a creature I love with an intensity that’s hard to describe.

The outpouring of support floored me, and I was and am so grateful. People I knew only casually stepped up to help in ways I never would have imagined. Their warmth and caring and hands-on efforts were the silver lining that helped me get through the devastation of losing Sophie. I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life. Not everyone does, and I will try to never take it for granted.

Why Worry

To say I’m a worrier is an understatement of immense proportions. Anyone who knows me reasonably well would probably describe me as an anxious control freak. I worry about logistics, minute details, things I can’t control. Little things, mostly. But a lot of little things.

In the middle of the ordeal I felt two giant hands reach down and grab my shoulders. Although I was alone in the house, there was also a voice. And it said something like this:

Stop worrying about all this stuff! It’s not important and things will work out somehow. You’re wasting so much energy. Life is short!

The experience was a wake-up call, reminding me that I invest way too much energy in worrying about the little things, and that it sucks time and energy away from what’s really important. I knew this already, of course, but this was such a visceral experience, and it shook me.

Next

Now that Sophie’s back, I’m trying to hold onto what she taught me by disappearing for four days. While I hope never to repeat the experience, the lessons learned will stay with me forever.

Appreciate my friends and family more. Talk to my neighbours more. Sweat the small stuff less. Yes.

Tiny Creature

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I thought it was dead at first.

A tiny creature, just a few inches long, dark grey or maybe brown, attached to a larger organ of some kind by a thin tissue fibre.

And then the little thing squirmed and let out a few plaintive meeps. And I knew it had to be a kitten. A newborn kitten.

It lay just behind the latched gate of a daycare centre. Shane asked if I had a scissors or knife on me so he could sever the fibre tied to the organ – we weren’t sure what it was, a placenta, maybe? With one hand on my phone to call the SPCA to see if they were open, I walked around to the daycare centre’s front door to see if anyone was around. The door was locked, and I couldn’t find a doorbell. The SPCA website was not responsive and it was next to impossible to find the phone number on the tiny mobile version.

I rounded the corner back to the kitten, but it was gone. Shane explained that in the moments I’d been out of sight, the mamma cat had come looking for its baby, gave the human interloper at “WTF?” stare, popped the kitten into her mouth, and walked off with baby and attached placenta.

Shane looked bereft.

Over Indian food, he told me that we’d nearly gone home with a newborn kitten to add to our menagerie of three felines.

Maybe next time.