Monday, August 15, 2011



It's the collective belief of many frequent travelers, that one of the best ways to understand a country is to understand the people. Having just escaped from one of Malaysia's more monolithic malls, the kind KL is famous for, I first spotted Jamil 'the catman' Ismail. The bustling cityscape of Bukit Bintang seemed an odd place to chill out with a large number of cats and one lone monkey, so I decided to investigate.

It turns out that Jamil has spent the last fifteen years saving cats from the city streets, and for nearly a decade has been doing it full-time. An impressive feat anywhere, made all the more impressive by Malaysia's lack of animal rights.

"Not just Malaysia, all of Asia is a cruel place for animals," says Jamil. "There is no law protecting them, they have no rights." In a complete contrast, it is the cats who call the shots in Jamil's home. For the last ten years, he has shared his home with feline friends, who at last count outnumber him 104 to 1. They have the biggest room in the house, and Jamil assures me, 'there is not a mouse in sight.'

While taking pictures of the cats, a small monkey appears out of nowhere and grabs at my camera. This little primate pest is shooed away lovingly by Jamil as he recounts how he came to adopt her.
"An Arabic couple left her as a baby in a hotel room, they got bored," he says with disgust. "The hotel owner happened to know me and asked if I could help out."

Surprisingly all animals get along very well, with the monkeys helping the cats rid themselves of fleas. While admiring this little monkey's striped blue shirt and pyjama pants, a passerby stops to ask how much the monkey will cost him. Jamil's look of utter contempt is less than subtle, but soon changes to a sheepish grin as he replies sarcastically, "Three million dollars. US dollars. Cash only, no checks and no negotiation."

If a homeless cat could talk, it would probably say, 'Give me shelter, food, companionship and love, and I will be yours for life!"

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