Monday, October 15, 2007
What Cats Know About War
IT was a bitterly cold night in the Baghdad winter of 2005, somewhere in the predawn hours before the staccato of suicide bombs and mortars and gunfire that are the daily orchestration of the war. Alone in my office in The Times’s compound beside the Tigris River, I was awaiting the telephoned “goodnight” from The Times foreign desk, eight time zones west, signaling that my work for the next day’s paper was done.
That is when I heard it: the cry of an abandoned kitten, somewhere out in the darkness, calling for its mother somewhere inside the compound. By an animal lover’s anthropomorphic logic, those desperate calls, three nights running, had come to seem more than the appeal of a tiny creature doomed to a cold and lonely death. Deep in the winter night, they seemed like a dismal tocsin for all who suffer in a time of war.
With others working for The Times in Baghdad, I took solace in the battalion of cats that had found their way past the 12-foot-high concrete blast walls that guard our compound. With their survival instincts, the cats of our neighborhood learned in the first winter of the war that food and shelter and human kindness lay within the walls. Outside, among the garbage heaps and sinuous alleyways, human beings were struggling for their own survival, and a cat’s life was likely to be meager, embattled and short.
Cat populations in the wild expand arithmetically with the supply of food, and ours multiplied rapidly, with as many as two or three litters at a time out in the shrubbery of our gardens, or beneath our water tanks.