A Love Letter to Cats, Specifically My Cat

Ali El-Sadany · August 8, 2023

7 min read

Back in elementary school, whenever I had a day off, I’d bug my mom to take me to the pet shop just to hang out with the cats. Adopting a cat was a dream, but I knew my parents weren’t keen on the idea. So, spending time with pet shop cats was my compromise…

Then, about twelve years ago, something changed. I spotted a stray cat wandering around in our backyard. On a whim, I put out some food for him, hoping he would return. And he did. Over time, the cat kept coming back, and once my mom got used to his presence, she also started feeding him. Eventually, she let him sleep in our garage. And, not long after, my dad began to let him sleep in the house. Somehow, without really planning it, that stray cat adopted us.

I’ve had Tiger (I named him that because I found him when I was 10. He looks like a tiger and I was an extremely perceptive ten year old) for about 12 years now. He’s an outdoor cat, so I let him out in the morning and make sure he’s back before sunset.

His hobbies include going for walks outside—walks that I’m now obligated to join, even when I’d rather stay indoors. He’ll start by pawing at the window and staring menacingly (see above) and if I ignore him, he moves to more drastic measures. I have no choice in the matter; he’s figured out that I don’t appreciate him scratching up the couch. So, when I resist his walks, he’ll position himself next to the couch, paw menacingly resting on the leather, as if negotiating with me. It’s become a sort of unspoken agreement—I must comply to save the couch.

I recognized shades of Tiger’s terroristic tendencies in Ceyda Torun’s, Kedi, a delightful Turkish documentary centered around the cats of Istanbul. Kedi (2016) artfully introduces a cast of seven cats each strutting their own distinctive character and habits against the backdrop of Istanbul’s diverse scenery. Yet, Kedi goes beyond just whiskers and paws; it offers a symphony of community life in Istanbul, celebrating the city’s kaleidoscope of experiences, through the eyes of their most valued citizens: the cats. The cats of Kedi go beyond documentary subjects, they are individuals with their own personalities and quirks. Just like Tiger’s menacing paw threats, the deli cat, Duman, had (albeit a more dignified) way of pawing at the window when he wanted to be fed. I saw Tiger in so many of these cats; I saw Tiger in Gamsiz, the neighborhood troublemaker. But I didn’t see just Tiger — Kedi is a love letter to cats and all their personalities. 

During the summer of 2023, I found myself in Istanbul on a 24-hour layover. As I was planning the list of sights I wanted to see, I found a neighborhood that seemed familiar and I recognized it as a spot featured in Kedi. Suddenly, my layover was no longer an extended vacation;  it became a quest. I was on a mission: I was going to meet every single one of the Kedi cats. My Kardashians. Of course this was before I actually ever stepped foot in Istanbul, and I hadn’t realized that finding seven cats in a sea of millions would be impossible. Still I was committed. I was a man on a mission. I planned my course and set a path around some tourist sites and locations highlighted on the Kedi site. 

Once I reached Istanbul, it hit me: there are so many cats in Istanbul and there would be no way I’d identify a specific cat in this sea of millions. Still, I was in heaven. This was their city, cats ruled the streets and I was simply a guest in their home, lucky enough to be blessed by their hospitality. Each cat I met was friendlier than the last, and I was engulfed in a wave of pure joy. While I couldn’t cross off all the cats from my list, I held onto the hope of meeting Gamsiz, the bakery cat. I was able to find the specific bakery he frequented and the areas he circled. With the help of Google Translate and some limited Turkish, I found my way to a few people who directed me to an old lady who informed me that Gamsiz had passed away, a harsh reminder that the documentary was filmed over seven years ago. The moment was bittersweet. The woman and I overcame our language barriers and bonded over photos of Gamsiz; it was clear he was extremely special and would forever be immortalized in the neighborhood.

Even though Kedi may have immortalized Gamsiz in our hearts forever, Gamsiz is only a cat, just like the thousands of others I met that day in Istanbul. Every cat has their story, and each cat has left their immortal mark on the hearts of so many. Still, unfortunately cats don’t live forever. It’s heartbreaking that I personally won’t be able to pet every cat in the world, but in Istanbul, a city where cats reign supreme, the generations of cats that grace Istanbul’s streets are symbolic of life’s cyclical nature. Our responsibility lies in offering love and care to each cat we encounter, embracing the lessons they teach us about companionship and the fleeting beauty of existence. Every cat, like every moment in life, is a fleeting blessing. Meeting these cats and hearing their stories was a privilege I’ll forever cherish.

When I returned from Turkey, I had to work hard to earn Tiger’s forgiveness. I’m almost certain he knew that I had spent time with other cats and his jealousy was palpable. This wasn’t the first time I’ve returned home with evidence of another cat. His grievance process for this type of situation is a pretty consistent two step process. First, he pretends to be mad and ignores me for a few days. This is his form of punishment. After a couple days of the cold shoulder he does a complete 180. He gives in and doesn’t leave my side for a full week. Zero concept of personal space. He will make sure I am unable to do anything except give him my full undivided attention for the rest of the week. This includes work; he has figured out that I do not like it when he smashes his paws on my work laptop while I am working. Once again, I am forced to comply.

I’m reminded every day of how lucky I am to have time left with Tiger. He’s 14 now, he’s getting a lot older. I know it’s coming and his loss will one day break me. Tiger’s age has become a constant reminder that our time together is finite. As his whiskers grey with time, I’m reminded of the memories we’ve made together – from his persistent walks to his inexplicable love for disrupting my work. While I can’t predict the future, I’m determined to treasure every moment we have together, especially when he’s being a handful. I’m so grateful for the years we’ve had together, the stories we’ve crafted, and the moments we’ve shared. I’m incredibly thankful for the time we’ve had, and the time that we have left, beyond grateful for the chance to keep giving him a fraction of the love he deserves.

Ali El-Sadany is the co-editor of Film Slop

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