“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” - Immanuel Kant
With tears rolling down his cheeks, Jebat carefully dabbed the cotton ball swathed with medicine on the gaping wound found on the left side of Combi’s face. The writhing ball of fur in his arms yowled in agony and pain each time the cotton touched her face. His heart broke even more for Combi, a stray cat discovered by his friend in Petaling Jaya, in November last year.
Combi the cat was found barely alive, after being splashed with boiling oil which blinded her left eye. She lost a considerable amount of weight and much of her hazel-coloured fur due to trauma and pain. Her wounded ear was almost severed as she’d been scratching at it and what’s more, the doctor at the veterinary clinic was unable to perform any surgery because she was pregnant.
I find that I’m unable to continue reading the article on Combi. The pictures alone unnerve me. I can’t fathom why anyone would be heartless enough to hurt another living being — much less a helpless animal like Combi. Thankfully, the beleaguered cat was rescued and taken to an animal shelter.
There, Combi has been given the care and treatment she desperately needed, thanks to Mohd Rosli Ariffin — fondly known as Jebat — and his team of animal lovers at Sahabat Kucing Jalanan. Established in 2015, the shelter takes in stray cats (and even dogs) with priority extended to the injured ones. These animals are treated and nursed back to health before being put up for adoption.
Off the beaten path
The journey to the shelter is both adventurous and scary all at the same time. I almost miss the entrance to Kampung Sungai Buah, located deep in the heart of Dengkil, Selangor and about 15 minutes away from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The road gets narrower as I drive further into the idyllic village.
The gravelled road is definitely a challenge for a regular car. Manoeuvring my car carefully, I watch for potholes and uneven surfaces while listening to the voice on my Google Maps which reassures me that I’m on the right track. However, the dense undergrowth on both sides of the narrow dirt road makes me nervous. It’s a good thing there’s a strong phone signal here in the middle of nowhere!
Soon, the sight of the distinctive emerald-coloured roof atop a two-storey building up ahead makes me sigh with relief. I’ve arrived at the shelter and sure enough, a moustached man clad in a navy blue t-shirt is already standing outside and beckoning me to come in. That must be Jebat, I figure. “Not bad, you can find the place! I thought you were going to call and say you were lost. I know this place isn’t easy to find. Tau tau, awak dah sampai (next thing I know, you’ve arrived),” he jokes as he ushers me in.
The sound of meowing fills the air as we step into a large room with green flooring and large spacious enclosures. Lively cats of varying sizes and multitude of colours clamour for our attention. I learn from Jebat that these have been spayed and are in good health. Soon, he says, they’ll be put up for adoption. He doesn’t stop here for long; instead he leads me to the adjacent room where two cats are being kept in separate large enclosures.
I recognise one of the cats almost immediately. The wound on the left side of the head is familiar from the photos I came across during my research. “Combi!” I exclaim delightedly as he brings her out. Her injury still looks fresh and I try hard not to be overwhelmed by the sudden rush of emotions which flood through me.
Patting her tenderly as she nestles on his lap, he shares: “She used to be aggressive due to the injury. She wouldn’t let anyone come near her. We continued to shower her with love and now she’s much better and friendlier. Manja (pampered) also!”
“Isn’t she pregnant?” I ask, recalling the article I read.
“Miscarriage,” is his short answer, his voice heavy, as he gently places Combi back into her enclosure.
Mission and vision
It’s a quiet day here today at the shelter, with just Jebat and another full-time worker. On the weekend, he tells me the place is busy and teeming with volunteers ranging from university students to working professionals who help around the shelter.
“This shelter exists on the dreams of like-minded animal lovers. We pooled our ideas and resources, and coupled with public donations and money from our own pockets... here we are!” divulges Jebat proudly. He was unanimously voted as the chairman because of his love for animals and his years of experience in volunteering with NGOs such as Mercy Malaysia and Rela.
The mission for this registered shelter is simple — to achieve zero stray animals. He tells me wryly that they often receive complaints about stray cats being perosak (pests) just because they’re often ugly and sick.
“That’s the public perception of stray cats. Our focus is to nurture all the injured cats to health so they will be loved again,” shares the former car workshop owner who hails from Sg Besar in Selangor.
The team created a suitable environment for the cats so the latter would not feel stressed out after being rescued from the streets. “It’s important not to cage them. That’s why we built spacious enclosures so they can roam free. If they want to climb, they can climb. But of course, there are some we have to cage owing to their health,” explains Jebat.
A panel veterinarian visits weekly to check on the cats as health is a serious matter where these cats are concerned. “There’s no Googling for treatment. We won’t take any shortcuts,” assures Jebat, adding that the cats are also provided nutritious food along with lots of love and tender loving care.
He adds that those put up for adoption will be vaccinated and neutered or spayed. This is to avoid owners from having to deal with the burden of taking care of kittens. “There’s a chance these kittens might be abandoned and that would take us back to square one,” he says.
Helping, near and far
“Eh, how did you get out?” Jebat murmurs, cutting off our conversation as he spots a tiny grey kitten strutting across the room. “This little one just arrived yesterday. I picked her up from Kedah,” says Jebat as he picks up and strokes the youngest resident of the shelter gently.
It’s evident he’s willing to travel anywhere for the sake of stray cats. “Someone called from Kulim and reported that he spotted an injured male cat,” he says, telling me that he made the trip there to rescue the cat. His heart sank when he discovered the cat to be paralysed from waist down to his hinder legs. The cat, which Jebat named Kulim, now shares the same enclosure with the little grey kitten as they’ve yet to be checked and assessed by the vet.
“He has a strong will to live. Despite being paralysed, he’s healthy. I’m so happy to have been able to save him,” enthuses Jebat.
“Do you remember your first pet cat?” I ask him and his face lights up at once. “Her name was Cici and I found her on my way back from primary school. My mum was angry at first but she soon warmed up to her. We took care of Cici for seven years until she died of an illness,” recalls the 43-year-old, who owns a few cats at his home.
He finds satisfaction from taking care of these animals, although it requires huge amounts of patience, compassion and commitment to care for them. However, the real challenge, he divulges, comes from people who try to hinder his work.
“There are complaints about mismanagement of funds. What rubbish! We keep records of every cent we receive and use. All donations are channelled solely to the centre and we don’t get paid. There are also those who think we’re doing this for fame. We just ignore these baseless claims. After all, we’re doing an honest job here,” he declares firmly.
Moving forward, the shelter will get some additional features in the form of a proper treatment room and a cat village which is an outdoor park specially built for cats. While he admits there’s still long way to go before they reach zero stray animals, it’s not impossible if there’s support from the public, the government and the authorities.
“I really hope that people out there will be more accepting of stray cats and even dogs. If they’re unable to help, then allow us to. If they wish to send in stray cats or even dogs, they can send them here. But of course, it’s quite a journey to get here as you already know!” he concludes with a grin.
Looking at the work Jebat and his team of animal lovers are doing, I’m inclined to think that sometimes travelling off the beaten track (coupled with a GPS of course) can be well worth the journey. After all, no journey is too far or too difficult to undertake if it means you can save a life. Especially if it’s a cat.
What: Sahabat Kucing Jalanan
Where: Kampung Sg Buah, Dengkil, Selangor