Josie, did you know?

for a feature on Charity of The Month

Being born into a family of animal lovers, rescue work was a natural part of life for me at a young age; but in the spring of May 2008 when I relocated to Bandung for work, I had no idea just how much of my life would become dedicated to saving animals.

You see, I got used to being at the top in my hometown. I was a straight ‘A’ student with lines of scholarships and titles behind my name. Granted I started as a school teacher (part time work before I graduated) but once I made the jump I kept climbing the corporate ladder. Until one day I asked myself: “Now what?”

When a former client of my workplace called me with an offer, I just packed up and left everything to start all over. Everyone said I was crazy, but I would have been if I didn’t find something to keep my brain and passion moving. So, I got a brand new job, in a brand new holding company (of one of the largest textile machinery company in South East Asia), as an assistant to the brand new CEO, and then received my first promotion within 3 months! Fabulous? Not really. I just ran fast because I wanted to move out already.

This town appalled me from every side, especially with the way people treated each other, and more to the point the way they treated animals. The ignorance, the arrogance, the hypocrisy, the holier-than-thou attitude which are official character traits in this area.

n this small city, animals are ‘things’, not beings nor ‘someones’. No one wants to give way when someone else crosses the street… no one wants to stand in line… no one listens to the police when they are managing the street… no one gives regards to the rules… everyone is throwing garbage into the river, and in every nook and sewer of this “Paris Van Java”, you can find road-kills or decomposing carcasses of all kinds of animals, and in every flea market wildlife cramped into matchboxes to spend the rest of their existence in filth, for a dime.

The force that changed my life came about two weeks before Christmas… at the peak of my disgust and in the shape of a tiny B/W kitten who cried day and night for 3 days on a scorching pavement near the office and when it finally found shelter under my boss’ car, no one cared to get it out. It was the first time that my co-worker saw ‘the personal assistant of the CEO’ crawl under his Mercedes Benz wearing her expensive suit, high heels, make up… in order to pick up a half baked dirty kitten.

 

Kaitou - founding cat of The Whiskers' Syndicate
Kaitou – founding cat of The Whiskers’ Syndicate

At my boarding house, I saw the landlord’s 2 years old toddler kick their pet, a pregnant female cat that they never fed, whom despite the abuse, remained loyal to them. I lost myself when I saw that little boy heading for the cat again so I quickly picked her up and went to my room. I gave her a box, my blanket and no matter how many times I put her in that box she came back to me on the bed and then gave birth to five kittens right beside me!

An unforgettable event which compelled me to name her: “Amazing Grace”. She is a graceful cat, an amazing mother, and a stranger who trusted me enough to give birth in my arms… like a touch of heaven that turned me around and opened my eyes to a whole new world I had never seen before… a road less traveled which I was ready to take.

Grace and kids

I shared Grace and Kaitou’s story, through private messages to friends on Care2 and via emails. A few months later, I found two kittens injured by motorcycle and rescued them. But for the first time in my life, I was running short of money and was struggling to pay vet bills. I wrote about that too. I was told, given the idea, to start a blog, establish a Paypal account, and without knowing what the heck I was really doing… I started to receive donations to pay for the vet and even help raise these two kittens into adulthood.

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Picassa – named after the abstract pattern above her right eye

Renoir

Renoir, with hernia and a lot of parasites

Through the course of time our blog developed, and it recounted the otherwise untold stories of forsaken animals in our corrupted paradise.

The Whiskers’ Syndicate was founded and became the only hope, both for the animals, and for me… reaching out to those who cared and were willing to help. We were aliens to our own countrymen, but friends to Good Samaritans.

I started a side job as an online translator, as a storyboard writer, as a part time journalist, even as an athlete… all to keep food on the table for the growing numbers of cats under my care.

Renoir 1yo

Renoir 1 year later – a big brother to the new comers

Kaitou 1 yr

Kaitou – 1 year old with his favourite Starbucks bear

Every year, I faced eviction from landlords because of the cats… so we were forced to live in uncanny environments: an attic (hence cats living on the roof)… in 2010, we lived in a rental near a swamp… in 2011, no one would take us except for an old lady who liked cats and offered us a 6×8 square meter (516 square feet) area for me and at that point, 30 cats.

In 2012, The Whiskers’ Syndicate once again stood on the head of a pin when all of a sudden our rental could not be renewed and about to be left without roof nor room… our fate challenged my faith for longer than a moment… when out of nowhere we found our permanent home – an unsold property in a residential cluster that had a fair amount of land at its back and was surrounded by tall 2 story houses on both sides providing the cats with safety from traffic and human harm. So with what was left of my money, and hearty donations from friends around the world, I took a 19 year mortgage on the property… something that I will fight to keep with all my heart and soul !

artist exposed catnip mouse

One of my side job is selling handmade gifts for pets and pets lover. The catnip mice I promoted in this picture is featured internationally via Vicki Diane.

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One of our most sought-after items for sale

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Get one of this in your room and we guarantee you won’t slip when you wake up from your bed in the morning.

That August of 2012, with the support of our loyal friends, The Whiskers’ Syndicate was chosen as Shelter Of The Month by SPCA International. Alongside recommedations from our supporters, SPCAI knew about us from their “Operation Baghdad Pups” a campaign we helped, which assisted dogs and cats adopted by soldiers assigned in Iraq to fly safely to their new homes abroad.

To date, we have saved close to 400 cats and TNR around 248 of them, all with our own money and donations. Unfortunately only 5 of those were adopted out, due to the prevailing belief that domestic cats have no economic value (long haired or exotic purebred or mixed bred can be sold and bred without regulation).

The government does nothing to help us and have even tried to strangle us with non existent rules about animals which allows them to cull cats. Five is a small number, I know, but for a little town where 98% of its residents are backyard breeders (some of those are vets), we try not to discourage ourselves with the math, nor to have grandiose dreams of changing the world.

Our story is told through our blog, ‘Quest 2 Canaan’, which represents our earnest dream of peaceful co-existence between man and beast. Through Quest2Canaan we have met some of the most wonderful persons in the world, and with all their comments, writings, motivations… these became the source of our strength.

When I look back at all of the events that lead me to where I am now, it’s hard to believe how far I have come, and the unlikely “job training” that God gave me during my corporate years which prepared me for this role. I no longer have expensive suits, nor wear high heels, nor put on cosmetics… I no longer have corporate job that fills my wallet with lots of money to spend in the fanciest malls… and even if I was given the chance to change anything… I would do it the same all over again.

With this humble life, I am willing to die for this work of passion… a job which makes me feel like I am ten feet tall without wearing stilettos. I am happy to shake your hand with pride and say: I am an animal rescuer – I save lives everyday !

paypal.me/whiskerssyndicate

 

Little Match Girl

efalogo

In the cold winter of 1845, Hans Christian Anderson wrote a tragic story about The Little Match Girl in the hope of nudging people to remember the poor and the needy in the middle of their shopping frenzy and party craze throughout holiday season.

Yet, one and a half century later, people still pass by the little match girl: the small business that hides in the cold nook of winter trying to sell what their hand can make, a kitten too young who shivers at the sting of the snow, or a little sanctuary in faraway land that was flood and mud infested when it’s passed by a typhoon.

I mean, who cares? You don’t want to be caught less fancy by your beholders when everyone in in their bling!

I hope you are not those who are captured in the middle of shopping frenzy and party crazy. I hope you are not those who, at the end of Christmas, find yourself back empty while watching the dead body that you could have help.

Even with the recent news about the flooding in our sanctuary, we still struggle to reach USD 800 in our Pitch In. Even when our friends and family reached out everywhere no one come and drop by to see if they can do something. Every day, I light up one of my matches and one after another, I got clearer picture that it is probably time for me to close down The Whiskers’ Syndicate.

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under the sun

We are the first, and the only animal/cat sanctuary in Bandung, breeder capital of Indonesia, a country without animal welfare; and as such, when the rain and storm came slapping the highland, we become the only hope for animals to get some shelter, to have some towel and a little time to dried up and get little warm food.

Every night, we heard scratches on the front door and find hungry dog that can’t find food in the garbage. This particular night, under pouring rain that has just brought small flood into our sanctuary, we heard desperate meow from the roof of our porch and when I looked up, find one of the street cats that take residence in an empty lot at the corner of our residential cluster.

That black and white old man used to be a proud cat; the glint in his eyes, the way he raise his chin and straighten his tail as he walk at the rim of the street and on top of hot asphalt, day in, day out, since the day we moved into this house last year until tonight, when perhaps, for the first time in his life he has to beg for food and shelter.

He is not rejected, of course, though he has to stay in a cage because our sanctuary is full of the sick and the small and the mothers (who tend to claw on just anyone who passed their children). We don’t want our house to turn into a gladiator arena.

Still, when I am finally alone in the silence when the animals are asleep, I am carried into the clearer vision of those animals who will just go in and out of this house, that will become empty at the end of the last dime in my bank account.

I cannot sleep. When flood can ambush like a thief, the most common cause of casualties in the flood is because someone is too sound asleep. Besides, I am afraid to sleep, because I do not want to wake up to the day when I can no longer open my arms to stray animals.

The cost to repair our sanctuary reached a little bit over USD 5,000; and we need to buy more medicine, we need to buy more food, we need to take kittens to the vet every day, we need to make extra heater (it’s just light bulbs really, but we need around 50 of them), we need to clean the mud off everything, we need to buy new stove that’s rusty with all the dirt and is prone to leak some gas, we need to…

Make this short; it’s Mission Impossible, and you won’t even get to see some Tom Cruise.

Whiskers Syndicate Renovation 2013

At such time I didn’t realize that someone is watching. Someone from behind a glass window that might not be adorned with the fanciest holiday festive, but is watching over us and sharing the light of our matches.

To make additional income for the sanctuary I have been selling handmade gifts for pets and pets lover in Etsy, the largest online marketplace for anything hand made; and I am a member of Team EFA, Etsy For Animals, a group of hand-crafters who donates portion or all of their sales toward various animal charity.

Every month, Team EFA will choose one animal rescue as Charity Of The Month where we will donate portion or all of our sales. With such wonderful opportunity,  I am actively contribute to their Charity Of The Month (s) regardless of how much or less I made.

I just never dream that one of these days, when I thought I am coming to my last match, that my team leader Nicole Planchon of Brizel4TheAnimals secretly nominating The Whiskers’ Syndicate and we are chosen as their December Charity Of The Month.

Breath in relief, but just few times though. Team EFA has to make sales to help us get back on our feet, and herewith I invite you to peek in the nook of these marvellous small businesses that reach their hand out to benefit The Whiskers’ Syndicate and animals around the world.

If you are caught in the shopping frenzy and party crazy, click the picture at the bottom to buy this small busineses’ “matches” and share the joy and warmth of this holiday season with their items for you and yours and at the same time safe the lives of street animals who are flooded, cold and hungry in Bandung, breeder capital of Indonesia, a country without animal welfare.

wet and cold

efalogo

Rain Drops Keep Falling On Our Heads

Long time no see, folks!

Glad to see you again, literally.

I don’t know how long the mobile broadband is going to last, so I’d better make it quick. I wish it will entice you to read and share instead of just pressing “like” and go away. We can’t live without your love and I am going to tell you why.

We are very, very lucky that Typhoon Haiyan missed Indonesia; however, it brought about 5 days of constant rain (yes it’s 5 x 24 hours of rain) and our sanctuary is flooded. Ironic, that we are in a hill, but we’re flooded.

Today is the second day that the sun is shining, but we’re covered in mud from top to toe, literally. The Whiskers’ Syndicate and I are covered in mud, literally from head to toe. We can’t go anywhere without skating on the slurry floor and get ourselves dirty, especially when we fell down (happened all the time). We got dirty food, murky water, broken stove, and a washing machine that needs washing. My laptop sits quietly on top of the kitchen cabinet, along with my printer and camera, but all of my Whiskers’ Syndicate’s fliers, post cards, business cards are gone. I have to go to nearby convenient store to charge my cell phone, though the mobile broadband is practically gone (hence I can’t get on line). At least I can still use my phone to call someone if emergency arise.

None the less, we are grateful that we all go through it in one piece. The sick kittens are improving, and it’s my greatest joy to watch them walking slowly into the sun to get some real warmth (instead of emergency lamp). The cleaning job will absolutely drain me out, but I know I will endure because I have the whole world of supporters praying and sending thoughts.

Renovation to the sanctuary is imminent. Without proper drainage, I am not sure how we will survive if the real rainy season arrive (around Christmas) without snorkeling around the house. I will try to gather information on the prices of materials and all, but according to a consultant that I called, it will be near USD 5,000, more or less.

There will be a special fundraiser to donate to once I got the budget ready, and also an online auction to help us renovate our home. If you wish to participate in the fundraiser, please come back in a few days. If you can’t send cash but would like to donate one or two items for the online auction, please send me a message.

If you want to help now? You can. You can click “Pitch In”  on that blue box to the right and help us with our under-funded operating budget and jump back in later, or we have a shop: Whiscraft that sells handmade gifts for pets and pets lovers. You can see if some of our items are worthy for your Christmas shopping, and to begin with, there’s Mollie Morrissette, who runs a fabulous blog about poison in pet food and how to avoid it. She recently wrote about us to say that our products are SAVE.

Go give a look:

Animal charity pick: Handmade non-toxic pet toys by Etsy for Animals

paypal.me/whiskerssyndicate

Bourne Freed

Once upon a time, I read about some people try to rescue others who were pinned inside their car when it crashed. At other time, I read about a bunch of strangers, passers-by, flip a tumbling bus away from a pregnant lady who was about to be flattened when a traffic accident happened just seconds before.

It’s more dramatic – though less real – if I saw those on the movie, but I always admire the sudden burst of heroism that brings back some faith in humanity, though only momentarily. I couldn’t help but imagine how those people, both the saviours and the saved when that happened, and what effect does the event carry upon them, how the moment changed their lives, and those around them.

I wondered if, in my lifetime, such event will come to pass me, though of course, I would brush those thoughts as far away as soon as possible, though perhaps not soon enough, because apparently someone in heaven heard it first.

On any given day, that fated road will look like this:

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See that no parking sign? Don’t be surprised, this is Indonesia

 

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At the left side of the motorcycle, behind the trees is the one and only Hyatt Hotel Bandung. Next to it is one of the largest mall in town, while across the street on at the right side behind those cars is an army base. Five minutes walk through that road and you will find the magnificent, mayor’s office.

It’s a fancy road, obviously, but like many other street in this resort town, it has no street light. The roadside of a five star hotel and a large army base near mayor’s office doesn’t have street light. It doesn’t have a decent pedestrian either, so we have to walk very close to the cars, or chances are, someone hit you and leave you by because you walk on the street instead of the pedestrian.

Which made of dirt, by the way. So when it’s cloudy night, you’d practice to be a blind man, and when it rains, you practice roller skate on the mud while praying the rosary that you won’t land on your rear.

My night there is a little different. It was raining, and it’s pitch dark except for occasional light from passing cars or motorbikes. I try to walk as carefully as possible by holding on the side of those parking cars, and when I touched a grey metallic Honda Freed, it meows.

Grey Metallic Honda Freed
Grey Metallic Honda Freed

I stopped for a while. It was dark and late, and I need to go home before the last public transport passed and I have to walk home alone. A lot of people on the street (chauffeurs, side walk food  stall merchant, illegal parking man, or common street punks) used a cat meow or puppy scampers as their cell phone ring tone, often to tease girls (by sounding it under their butt), so I convinced myself that it probably someone teasing a chick, and move on.

But the car meows again, and I am pretty sure that car didn’t use a cat meow as burglar alarm. I walked back and stand by the car’s side, and this time, is convinced that some real cat is stuck somewhere around the car.

I tried using my cell phone as a light to peek inside, but there’s no cat in there. I walk around it and the meow stopped, but as soon as I passed the front it started to meow again.

It dawned on me by then, that I most likely has to peek under the car, but I need someone to watch over me and warn the passing vehicle not to run over me, but although two illegal parking men saw me and – from the look on their eyes – know what I am up to, they just giggle while watching me look around for some more reliable partner in crime.

I decided to go over to the muddy pedestrian and go down on my knee, again, using my cell phone as flash light. Between the low set car and the street, I saw a wisp of white and yellow hair slowly curled upward, vanishing into the car’s engine.

Taking a deep breath, I just wish I didn’t see what I thought I see. I mean, how many people hit their car before going in and turn on their wheeler? Maybe only one out of a million people in Bandung will do that, considering hundreds of tiny news filler in the daily paper talking about X car grinding Y animal and splattered the remains on the street while the driver was busy texting on their IPhone while driving and have to be stopped by ten people to ever notice that something is going hellishly wrong with their vehicle.

A parking man approached and talked to me, as I still sit on my knee, “The cat?”

The? That means he was aware that there’s a cat around the car before but do nothing about it.

I nodded anyway.

“It’s been there crying, since dusk”, he said again.

Dusk was 3 hours ago.

“You wanna pick that kitten? White and yellow, this big” he showed me his hand.

“Yeah but I have to crawl under there to retrieve it” I am sure the owner of the car won’t appreciate their fun in the mall, or hotel, being cut by a car call, and about a street kitten sneaking into the engine.

“You sure fit in there, I am too big” that man laughed. His eyes glinted with the prospect of watching a woman with jeans crawling on her tummy under his crotch.

“You sure are, haha” I was trying to make my short laugh as despising as possible.

But I crawl under there anyway, while watching the man’s leg. I am preparing to go out of there as soon as his leg moved away; but when I am halfway in there, the car start rocking hard. It’s low set didn’t leave plenty of room for me and the lower part of the engine hit my head several time.

Standing on the street, the parking man is rocking the car while laughing out loud. “Did the pussy go up or down?” he asked. He used just the exact word in Indonesian. “Pussy” if you know what I am talking about.

What I saw in that chaos, was a kitten, trying to cling for life at the side of some engine (not sure which one, it’s dark), as his tiny body swings in rhyme with the car. I flashed my cell phone toward the kitten, still hit several time on the head by the car, but the glint of the kitten’s eyes is enough to give me a clue where exactly he is.

I know my leg is right beside the parking men, so I retracted it completely under the car, and kick his ankle with every bit of anger I have inside.

He swore, and after swearing some more, I saw him leaving, when the street is glowing bright.

A car is passing.

I won’t count on that man to warn the car that one of my legs are still in the open, and I can’t shift under the car fast enough before the car hit, so I hang onto a bar of steel and drag myself completely in.

The car passed, and I am still in one piece, though crumpled under a car with a frightened kitten that frantically trying to climb further into the engine.

There’s no way I am going to let my ordeal pass in vain. I am not going to crawl back out and face that parking man with nothing in my hand.

So I reached out, and grab his tail. The kitten is more frantic, and he claw on my hand all over but I am not going to let go. Thank God He didn’t make cat’s tail expandable like gecko.

I hold on that bar above me again and use it to shift closer to the kitten, and use the other hand to grab on his tummy and tug it off the engine, at all cost.

It fell right onto my face.

It’s closer for me to shift to the pedestrian and get out from there than back on the street. Besides, I won’t know when a car will pass or some party maniacs stomp all over me.

I got out from the muddy pedestrian, with the cat in one hand and mud  on the other, as well as everywhere, including my hair.

The funny thing is? As soon as I hold him close to me, he fell silent. I saw him watching me with a big, round terrified eyes, but he fell silent.

I push him inside my jacket, stand up, and start walking. I forgot I was on my way to get some food, though I doubt anyone want to sell their food to a muddy woman. I’d be lucky if people won’t think of me as a crazy man.

Gathering my courage, I walked to the nearby mall, with a kitten inside my jacket. As expected, the security tried to stand on my way, but I told him I fell from my motorcycle because it’s dark and slippery, and if possible, I want to use the (paid) toilet inside the mall to clean myself.

He made some way, and I rushed to the nearest toilet.

So that’s how the kitten earned his name: Freed.

I had Estebel still nursing at that time, but I intended to hand raise the kitten because it’s older than Estebel’s and I am not sure she wants a stranger, but Freed took over from there.

Estebel and Freed

I don’t know how he got up there, but he leaned on resting Estebel and they chattered for a good two hours. I was eavesdropping, of course, but I still didn’t have any idea what they are talking about but some purrs and short meow.

The next day Freed got himself bourne identity:

He become part of the Whiskers’ Syndicate as if he was born into us no other way.

I still hold a grudge for Honda to ever make a car so lowly set, though I know Indonesian worshipped Toyota Alphard (hence the other manufacturer made cars that look like it), but just in case heaven is still listening, I don’t wish to crawl under a car to retrieve a cat ever again.

A Hollywood thriller doesn’t always need a sequel.

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Got his share of Chlamydia
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Monsoon kittens from left to right: Mio, Freed, Chicco, Sparky Terror. Under the table is the late Mama Cat
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Freed: August 15, 2013.