The next time you wake up for an early morning run and spot a shabbily dressed rag picker with a gunny bag – stop running and go home to check on your pet(s). Chennai’s animal activists claim there has been a steady increase in the number of neighbourhood cats going missing over the last three years, and they blame gypsies (narikuruvas) for the most part. The issue was stirred up again recently when a volunteer of the Blue Cross of India caught a large group of gypsies in the act outside Raj Bhavan in Guindy. Asked about the frequency of cases Sathya Radhakrishnan, joint secretary of Blue Cross, responds, “We got at least 300 call-in complaints from cat owners last year. And barely three months into 2013, we’ve already received close to 75 complaints from worried pet owners in the city.”
This is despite a closed-door meeting with the former Commissioner of Police and members of the narikuruva community last year, promising an alternative livelihood for them. Beyond the obvious reason for cat-nabbing – for meat – high-end localities present a dual gain for gypsies; well-fed cats mean a better catch for meat purposes, and residents of these localities often employ them to ‘clean up’ an apartment building or street of strays. Minal Agarwal, animal activist and cat owner, explains there are other avenues of interest as well. “People who are not members of the gypsy community seek out cat meat through a broker as well,” she claims. “Apparently cat meat is said to be therapeutic for asthma patients.” The word on the street is that a grown cat, skinned and cleaned, sells for a tidy sum of Rs 600.
While cases that are filed with the police on grounds of animal cruelty are followed by a remanding of the persons responsible (if caught), the disappearance of residential cats continues to be on the rise just the same. “For now, rather than just preventive measures – awareness of Section 11 under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 is our aim,” states Sathya. He explains, “Earlier we would spend an entire day at a police station filing an FIR because such cases were considered unusual; now with a rise in sensitivity among officials the process is a lot faster.”
Another reason that cat disappearances are not taken seriously is that these animals are known to wander outdoors and sometimes migrate to other places. However, veterinarian Priyadarshini Govind states, “Once neutered, cats tend not to wander. They get more territorial about their living space and home.”