Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Testing our cats with a new hair gel product

What to do with leftover tuna sashimi?

I discussed this with our cats at great length this afternoon.

At So-chan's urging I created a tuna-flavored hair gel for cats. And then, again at So-chan's urging, I tested the product on Se-chan!

So-chan gave it a big thumb's-up. "It's the most delicious hair gel I've ever tried," he mewled.

Se-chan, however, was vocal in his dislike of the product.

Clearly, I need to spend more time refining my tuna-flavored cat hair gel idea. Next time, So gets a dollop.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cats and books...and paper

Sometimes books and cats go together. Paper left overnight on chairs, however, not as much. We're pretty sure the culprit was Se-chan.

What this blog is about

So-chan and Se-chan and their cat-doll, Asaichi, on top of our refrigerator in Kanazawa, Japan. So is to the left and looking up angelically (he's a good actor). Se, who follows So everywhere, is looking down in disgruntlement. It's the late afternoon and they're begging for a second treat of dried fish.


The purpose of this blog is to share the story of two stray kittens that my girlfriend, Haru, and I caught and brought into our homes when we were living in Vietnam. The kittens are named So and Se, and on March 2015, at around the time of their first birthday, we moved with them to Kanazawa, Japan.

I am the author of the novel Lotusland (Guernica Editions), which was published in March 2015 – clearly, it was a busy month for all of us – and I'm working on a book about our rescue and adoption of two stray Vietnamese cats that I plan to self-publish before the end of this year.

The cover of my novel. For more on my book and writing, please visit my author website, www.david-joiner.com.

For this blog's inaugural post, I'll share a brief summary of the book I'm working on now. Note that the tenses are consistent for the time when I wrote the piece, which was late in 2014. I'll also include some photos of So and Se. More photos and videos will be forthcoming, along with captions and anecdotes, in the days ahead.

I hope people enjoy our blog and will keep an eye out for my book when it comes out!


We’ve been living in a secure riverside complex in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, since January 2014. It’s one of those rare finds in an urban sprawl: lots of open, soft grass; beautifully maintained trees and flowers; a long stretch of river dotted with water hyacinth and birds of every description; and fish so big that not too far upstream from us a 200-kg carp was recently caught. We also have a lot of stray cats here. It’s not clear where they all come from or where they disappear to. But in the news a few weeks ago it came to our attention that two men were arrested for coming into our neighborhood and stealing pets and strays. It turned out they were selling them to local restaurants where men eat them believing they will boost their virility. They admitted to stealing 200 cats and dogs.

Back in March a family of cats – a mother and three kittens – started hanging out on our back porch. Why they chose us, when there were 38 other such porches to choose from, I have no idea. The mother cat was quite skinny, so we took to giving her a bit of food each day. One small serving of wet cat food was soon enlarged with a handful of dry cat food. Eventually we were feeding her small plates of wet food twice a day with a midday snack of dry food. We knew we were encouraging the cats in ways we shouldn’t, for we couldn’t take them all in and we were planning to move back to Japan in January 2015, but we felt sorry for them. We thought that if we fed them well they’d grow strong enough to survive in a place where cats rarely survive for more than a few years at most.

The mother cat, Marmalade, on our back porch with three of her four kittens: Su, Se, and Shi. Marmalade soon disappeared, and then Shi, too, we never saw again. We eventually caught Su and Se. Su is with a family in HCMC, while Se became our second adopted cat.

A few weeks later the mother cat disappeared. But the three kittens kept coming around, and we kept feeding them, wondering what to do. Eventually only one kitten stuck around, and we’d occasionally see the other two on the steps of our porch, but mostly they just hung out by a nearby bridge.

Su, standing, and Se, sitting. Su came every day to tape naps in the sunshine on our porch and to eat the food we placed outside for it twice daily. Se rarely ever came, but he showed up on the day I planned to catch Su and the rest, as they say, is history.

One day I walked to the bridge and was shocked to find a fourth kitten. He was small and skinny and could barely walk. His left foreleg looked as if someone had snapped it in half above the wrist. No wonder we never saw it with its mother and siblings on our porch – it had no way to get there.

When I saw it, I kind of freaked out. I picked it up and ran back home with it, thinking “Its foot is broken! It’s about to die!” After it scarfed down a plate of kitten food we stuffed it in a backpack and brought it, purring the whole time, to two vets. The first vet, I think, wasn’t a real vet at all, but the second one was and he agreed to help us find a home for it. So we gave it to him feeling greatly relieved and went home.

But soon we found ourselves driving our motorbike on roads we had no business being on, all so we could justify stopping at the vet’s, which always just happened to be nearby, and asking to see the kitten. They brought it out to us in a plastic basin, and we sat in the waiting room petting it for 20-minute stretches before embarrassment made us leave. After about a week of this we decided to adopt it. The doctor and his staff saw it coming all along. I’m guessing the kitten did, too.

Left: So-chan slowly recovering from various illnesses and blood loss that nearly killed him. Here he is screaming with pleasure (okay, he's yawning) atop a care package filled with cat food and toys that Haru's mother sent from Japan.

Right: So-chan on one of his worse days, following his near-daily subcutaneous drip to treat his chronic dehydration. Beside him is a plate of boiled, diced chicken, which was the only food he was willing to eat for a long time.

It was sick, however, and refused to drink water, so in addition to treating it for chronic diarrhea, fur loss, and severe weakness – which involved boiling chicken, pork, beef, and fish three times a day to make sure it got the protein it needed – we had to bring it in every few days to be rehydrated with an IV drip. We and our kitten were in mutual agreement that IVs totally sucked. Especially when they had to be administered at three a.m. The IV regimen dragged on for two or three months, but it also saved his life.

At the same time all this was happening, we were trying to help the other three kittens survive without their mother. One of the three disappeared. The other two were becoming a bit bolder in our presence, entering our apartment and playing with table legs, the hardwood floor, and things no human can possibly see, and we ended up catching both of them easily. One we found a foster home for. The other is now our second cat.

Se-chan staring at his sibling, So, who is zipped up into his carrier in preparation for yet another visit to the vet.

We plan to bring our two cats with us to Japan in March. Japan is very strict about letting foreign animals into their country, but we’re doing what we need to do to make it happen smoothly. No Japanese carrier allows pets in their cabins on international flights, so we’ll be flying on Korean Air. I had enough miles saved up for us to upgrade from economy to business class on a one-way flight to Tokyo, and after a miscommunication on Korean Air’s part that affected our reservations with our cats, they were kind enough afterward to grant special permission to take both of them with us in business class on the same flight (normally only one pet can fly on business class per flight). Our biggest challenge now is to keep each cat’s weight below 3.8 kilograms. If they become heavier than this, they have to fly in cargo. Right now our larger cat weighs in at 3.4 kilograms. And he always acts as if he’s famished.

So (left) and Se (right) later in 2014 as we inched forward in our preparations to move with them to Japan.

We planned to leave Vietnam on January 15th, when our one-year lease expired. But because we have to wait 180 days after the cats’ final required vaccination, we’ve extended our lease for two months and pushed our move back until March. We leave on the night of the 179th day, but we arrive in Japan the next morning: Day 180.