In a third-floor apartment on Taipei’s Chengde Road, cats of all sizes and colors stalk or laze about in a 30 ping (99m2) area devoted to them. Completely unafraid of strangers, the felines give visitors only a cursory glance before returning to sunning on the floor or sleeping in their specially made beds. Despite this seemingly idyllic existence, all the residents of this cat paradise are disabled in some way.
The owner of the house, a woman who prefers to be known only as Lisa, is known among a small clique of animal lovers for her rather unorthodox methods in carrying out the city government’s Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for stray cats.
Despite her eccentric reputation, Lisa is wealthy enough to support all of the cats she takes in.
“The moment I embarked on the mission to take in stray cats, I made a promise that all of the cats I took in would live with dignity,” Lisa said, adding that this was why she imposed a maximum number of cats per shelter.
“I once saw a shelter packed with nearly 200 cats,” which she said made her think the cats would have been better off on the streets.
In comparison with these cramped shelters, Lisa’s cat sanctuaries are like five-star hotels, with an air conditioner in each room, a bed for each cat and consistently fresh litter boxes.
Recognizing that some people may not want to live next door to a dozen stray cats, the location of the shelters set up by TNR volunteers are kept secret, Lisa said, adding that the doors to the shelters are usually locked and appear no different from other houses.
In the Chengde Road shelter, Lisa started picking up every cat and telling their sad tale — whether they had been strays or had been rescued from being euthanized at a public shelter.
“It’s fate that my friends and I are able to save these cats,” Lisa said.
Stumbling over a chubby kitty, Lisa smiled and said the cat was named Chen Da-fu (陳大福) and had been a stray near National Taipei University on Minsheng E Road.
The area around the university has a lot of restaurants and since Chen has a passion for food, it had grown increasingly fat from the leftovers it got from customers at the restaurants, Lisa said.
Chen was sent to a public shelter after several incidents in which he jumped onto restaurant tables while customers were still eating and grabbed the food, Lisa said. She managed to rescue him before he was euthanized.
Chen has been at the shelter for two years and weighs almost 10kg, almost as large as the famous cartoon cat Garfield, Lisa said.
Picking up another cat named Jean Valjean, after the main character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Lisa said Jean had once belonged to the owner of a cafe near Hejiang Street that later went out of business.
Jean stayed by the closed cafe’s doors for half a year, waiting for its owner to come back until Lisa rescued him.
Lisa said Jean was like a feline version of Hachiko, the dog in the Japanese film Hachiko Monogatari, based on the true story of a dog who continued to wait for its owner at the train station after the owner had passed away.
“I still hope that I can find these cats a new owner and home. I’m only giving them a chance to live out their lives because even healthy cats have trouble finding new owners these days, much less sick, crippled or wounded cats,” Lisa said.
One of the more senior members of the TNR volunteers, Yang Mei-li (楊媚莉), said that while there was no shortage of people who were willing to spend some money to help give stray cats better care, there were few who were willing to spend a lot of money and try their best to create different shelters.