We bet you won’t find these many cats under one roof in the whole of Mumbai. For more than a decade now, a 37-year-old woman has been sheltering cats injured by vehicles and the ones abandoned by humans, forming such a bond that she resides in a 200-sq ft, one-room house in Juhu along with 70 cats, and three dogs.
Cina Shivdasani, who works at a pet store in Malad’s Orlem locality, said the other occupants of the room her mother and a caretaker – share her love for animals, so much so that they sleep in whatever space available after the cats and the dogs have sprawled themselves on the bed and every nook and corner. Enter Shivdasani’s room in Mayur Villa, near Chandan Cinema, and you’ll find cats staring at you from the cupboards, the shelves, and from the thailis hung on the walls.
Shivdasani, a former media professional, said she moved into the Juhu room owned by her mother eight months ago after she got into trouble with neighbours and the police at her rented accommodations in Madh, Taloja, Oshiwara, and Kharghar in Navi Mumbai.
At Madh, from where she moved into her mother’s room with her pets, the matter escalated to such an extent that the landlord disconnected the electricity supply for 52 days, and finally got her evicted from the house because of an order from the Mhada Component Authority Court in Bandra (E).
“I was paying a rent of Rs 16,000 a month for a row house in Madh. The house owner’s brother said he wasn’t told about the cats and tried every trick to throw me out. He disconnected the power supply for 52 days in February 2017. Imagine living without TV, refrigerator, and AC. Officials from Marve Police Station would often knock on my door and there were inspections from the animal welfare officers too. Finally, the Mhada Component Authority Court ruled in favour of the owner and I moved into my mother’s house with 70 cats,” she said.
“My love for the cats has made me so famous, officers from all police stations in whose jurisdictions I have lived know me,” Shivdasani laughed.
1999, when the love affair began
It is difficult to believe Shivdasani was once “petrified” to venture near cats and dogs. “It all changed in 1999 when her sister Sonia rescued a cat and named it Mau. Looking after Mau changed me and got into rescuing street cats,” she said. “Most of my cats are victims of accidents, many are paralysed. When Chintu (she points to one) first walked in, he had a twisted neck. They walk in and know instinctively that I will shelter them. Some were born here as I couldn’t sterilise those in the house as I had no money,” she added.
She said she’s had no problems with the neighbours at her current location. “The cats are never left unattended in my absence. They are kept in a clean and hygienic environment and hence the society members do not complain. These cats are my children, I have devoted my life to them,” she said.
An expensive afair
The love for the animals is an expensive and demanding job. Shivdasani’s day begins at 7 am when she prepares food for the 70 cats and three dogs –Forest, Mischief and Blackie. She spends at least Rs 400 a day feeding the animals, buying five-kg rice, chicken, and fresh fish, besides dry fish. Some of the cats have tooth problems and the food for them needs to be ground in a mixer. The owners of the pet shop where she works assist her in “taking care of the babies”, and she receives help from a vet, MS Chauthalkar, who has been treating her pets for the past 17 years.
“Through meowing and facial expressions, they convey to me if they are unwell. Dogs need attention and you must walk them, but cats are independent and high on grooming. Even when our door is open, they don’t leave the house,” she said.
Her saddest moments are those when her cats die. “Tasha departed over a month ago due to cancer. Cats too go through separation anxiety, just like dogs do. When I had to travel for work to Andhra Pradesh, my cat Chestnut, who used to sleep with me, collapsed and died,” she said.
Despite her problems with landlords and neighbours due to her passion for cats, Shivdasani said the good from the world “hasn’t completely diminished”. “There are many volunteers in Juhu who help bring food for the cats. When you think there is no hope there is always light at the end of the tunnel and the roads open.
Cats and dogs feel the same pain as humans do. It is just that they cannot speak our language. Unlike humans, their loyalties towards the ones they love don’t come with an expiry date,” she said.