Khanjan Mer was drawn into the cat world when a stray cat turned up at his veranda with two kittens. He began feeding them and they soon settled in and took up permanent residence. Eight years later, the 36-year-old textile trader has nine house cats, who share space with his parents and elder brother in their four-bedroom bungalow in Maninagar. The Mer family is vegetarian, but Khanjar feeds his cats packaged non-veg food and occasionally picks up broths from a non-veg restaurant nearby. “I knew very little about cats when I started, but I did a lot of research along the way. I joined a Facebook group called Animal Lovers Ahmedabad and a WhatsApp group called Cat Social for guidance. I met great people there and learnt the A to Z of cats.”
With nine felines in the house, Khanjan is now a bit of an authority on cat behaviour himself. His cats are prone to groupism (much like humans) and he has to intervene to stop fights. He says he’s used his social media connections to find adoptive parents for his cats, with mixed results: “Most people don’t understand what owning a cat entails. A lady who adopted one of my cats brought him back within eight hours, complaining he was scratching her sofa.”
Some people give up easily, but for those determined to stay the course, Ahmedabad now has numerous on-line support groups for cat lovers. Bhawna Alwani is one of the pioneers, with a group called Kitty Rescue Foster Adopt League, which also helps NRIs bring their cats to India and also helps those who want to take their cats with them when they immigrate. “Unlike immigration agents, we charge no fees for our services,” says Bhawna, who was known to write regularly to the late Sushma Swaraj on animal immigration policies, when she was external affairs minister. Bhawna’s WhatsApp group is now called Cat Social, with over 200 members.
Architect Twinkle Pancholi is a member of Cat Social, Cat Panchayat and Feeders Group, all of which find homes for cats in distress. Twinkle herself adopted her first cat seven years ago, a high-breed feline she found abandoned on the highway. Since then, the 39-year-old has had a number of cats staying for varying lengths of time in her 3-bedroom flat, where she lives with her husband and daughter. “I had seven cats in January, of which six have been adopted. Social media groups are very useful in this. We support and guide each other all the time,” she says.
Neha Khan is one of those Twinkle calls when she’s in need of help with cats-in-transit. Neha, 30, started adopting cats in the midst of the pandemic and currently owns four cats named Olive, Pepper, Cheese and Coco. She also has a kitten named Maggie, which is up for adoption. “My dad, mom, brother, are all cat lovers,” she says. “We are all like one big family.”
Chaya Jadav is another active member of Cat Social and her unfortunate introduction to the cat world was when she ran over one as she was backing her car out of her garage five years ago. “Everyone in my family was very upset,” she recalls. “In our community, the custom is that if you accidentally kill a cat, you have to make a gold cat and give it to the temple. Instead of doing that, we decided we would henceforth care for all the cats in our neighbourhood.”
Chaya, 45, and her husband are both employed with Indian Railways and live in a five-room tenement in Nava Naroda and their home is a shelter for and a whole population of strays. At one point, the Jadav family, which includes Chaya’s two sons and 84-year-old father-in-law, hosted 24 cats. Today, she has only one cat living at home, though she continues to feed strays. “My cats have helped me reduce stress and stay positive. I can’t imagine life without them,” she says.
Ahmedabad has a number of social media groups for cat lovers, with names like Cat Social, Cat Panchayat and FOCA (Friends of Cats in Ahmedabad). They’re a great place for cat-pictures, cat-experiences, cat-queries and cat advice. They are also a platform for finding rescued cats a new home. It’s members often take in cats in distress and look after them until they can find families to adopt them. Architect Twinkle Pancholi has