Cash. Travel. Litter trays. There are lots of things that can put you off the idea of fostering one of the hundreds of pets in need of a temporary or permanent home in Dubai. Until someone hands you a four-week-old kitten the size of a McMuffin. Game over, habibi. You’re at the whim with a moving, squeaking, defecating Beanie Baby now.
We find ourselves offering to take in the first case The Animal Project presents us with, just days after applying to become part of the group’s network of fosterers. We’re asked to take in a four-week-old kitten for a few weeks until a forever family can be found.
A few hours and one frantic order from Dubaipetfood.com (merely the first time the company has come to our rescue) later, we arrive at an office in an Al Quoz warehouse, and there he is. Helpless, half bald and inappropriately named Mr Flynn by the lady who’d rescued him from a roadside in Al Safa, a tiny, scrawny creature with blue eyes, a pink nose and a few strands of white and ginger fur is handed over to us.
Over the next few days, we lovingly feed him baby cat mousse from our fingertips in between bouts of losing him under the sofa, rescuing him from behind the oven and fretting we’ve thrown him out with the garbage or put him in with a load of washing. But the biggest challenge we encounter is not menial; it’s not falling hopelessly in love with him over the subsequent weeks. Having checked in from time to time, we get an email from The Animal Project asking to come by to take adoption advert pictures of our furry house guest, now known as Kitten – Mr Flynn being ridiculous, and the logic being a non-name name would help us avoid getting too attached. Some logic.
Within 24 hours of the pictures going up on Facebook, a potential forever family is found, and within minutes, we decide that despite not being able to commit to an apartment for 12 months or a brunch more than two weeks away, there is nothing for it but to commit the next 15-odd years to Kitten. And with that, we officially become failed fosterers, and seal the fate of our brand-new sofa.
Just as we start getting our heads around life as a three, Facebook throws us a furball. Squinting out of two sad, red eyes, is Shurik. Posted by Rosso Carota Rescues Cats, at nine weeks old with white and ginger patches, we instantly – and ludicrously – decide they must be related. After a few days of making big, sad saucer eyes, Kitten and I get our way, and Shurik is brought round for an introduction. Wary of his new surroundings and utterly disinterested in his new playmate, he slinks around nervously. Kitten, having potentially not seen another cat since he was born, is a wide-eyed tornado of twitching whiskers and flared nostrils, and spends the next three days pestering his skinnier, more Mau-like housemate into play.
Over the next week, we come home from work nightly to find them curled around each other. When it’s clear a brotherly bond has formed, we name them together. Chilli and Pepper? Too foodie. Loki and Obie? Too spacey. Albus and Merlin (pretty please)? I’m overruled. We finally agree on Louie (formerly Kitten) and Chouie (formerly Shurik). (That this leaves room – in assonance terms – to add a Hughie, Dewie and Shoey to the family does not escape me.)
One year on, and it’s not all been idyllic scenes of kittens playing with balls of string and purring like Lambrettas on our laps. Like that time Louie ate the leg off a cow-shaped stress ball and the vet suggested it might be a good idea, for Dhs8,000, to cut him open and have a look. Or that time Louie (it’s always Louie) got into the wardrobe and ate a piece out of four individual flip-flops – we only realised what he’d done when the fragments in each pool of vomit started spelling out “Havaianas”.
Yes, cats are certainly a financial commitment. Making sure they’re looked after while you travel can also be tricky. Litter trays? Gag-inducingly horrible. But giving up a cat that refuses to sleep anywhere but wrapped around your neck? Impossible. Unless one of them eats another cow.