The battle to control hungry and mangy animals, re-home them and keep the city rabies free is confronting, but a weekly necessity for a group of Indonesian cat catchers.
It’s hard to go out in Jakarta without stumbling on a feral feline somewhere — hanging around a shop or sitting at a bus stop perhaps — usually scrounging for leftover food.
Some areas are worse than others and Petamburan, a run-down area in the city’s south-west, is overrun by cats.
But these are not your typical domestic pets that sit on your lap and purr with affection.
These are hungry, mangy, dirty things with missing fur and facial wounds still raw from the latest fight.
Jakarta has been free of rabies since 2004, but it takes vigilance to keep it that way.
In a mostly Muslim country, where dogs are not so popular, cats pose the biggest threat of the disease and that means government vets need to go out with nets, at least two to three times a week, to keep the city’s cat population under control.
“People from other areas often dump cats at the market here,” says Handono, the village head.
“Then they breed, so people start feeding them but they don’t clean up after them and they leave their faeces lying around.
“We’re concerned about rabies. If the cats were pets then owners would vaccinate them, but these strays aren’t vaccinated.”
The ABC visited Petamburan with Jakarta’s chief vet Hasudungan Sidabalok and his team of cat catchers.
All men donned thick rubber gloves and face masks for protection. It was immediately clear why they needed them.
Every minute or so the catchers would spot a cat prowling along the street or peering warily from a corner.
Quickly they would pounce, often grabbing the cat hard by the tail, and trapping a now angry animal inside the net.
The cats were then carried by the scruff of the neck — still inside the net, yowling and scratching — and placed in one of several large cages in the back of the ute.
The vets wear a glove to catch the cat, and carry it by the scruff of the neck. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
The more a cat tried to bite or scratch itself free, the more roughly the catcher pushed back — squeezing it with brute force into the cage before it or any other cats could escape.
With every newcomer to the cage, the cats inside would hiss and scratch in rage. First two, then five, 10 or more cats in a single cage, all screeching and spitting at each other — and at us.
It wasn’t a pretty sight, or smell, and the stench of cat pee was overpowering.
Standing well back from the cages we could see the spray and saliva of more than a dozen cats shooting into the air.
But it wasn’t only cats the catchers had to contend with.
‘Crazy cat woman’ of Petamburan
Wenny Triastuti keeps scores of stray cats in the apartment next to hers. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
Upstairs in a nearby block of flats, Wenny Triastuti is known as the “crazy cat woman” of Petamburan.
In the 14 years she has lived here, she has collected dozens of stray cats from the streets and taken them in.
On the day we visit she’s wearing Hello Kitty pyjamas.
She has two flats in fact — one for herself and one for the cats — and there are 16 cats inside in cages, and more outside on the landing.
These are clearly well-fed and much-loved cats, with healthy fur and regular meals but the flat is tiny and neighbours have complained.
Jakarta’s chief vet says Ms Triastuti’s apartment is not suitable to keep many cats. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
“She claims to be an animal lover,” Dr Sidabalok said.
“But that place is not suitable for an animal. They’re all caged. There’s no sun in that space.
“And the stench of the place, the neighbours can smell it.”
When Dr Sidabalok’s team tries to take the cats, Ms Triastuti bursts into tears and puts up a fight, screaming at the cat catchers in fear.
Wenny Triastuti says she takes proper care of her cats including feeding them and taking them to the vet. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway.)
“They said I’m disturbing the area but how is that possible? I never bother anyone and I don’t ask them for money,” she said.
“Why are you doing this to me? They don’t poop on the floor. I clean my cats.
“If they get sick I call the vet. They got the flu recently and I had them vaccinated.”
Eventually, the catchers leave the cats inside Ms Triastuti’s apartment but seize the cages on the landing and take them down to the ute.
City vets remove cages filled with cats from Wenny Triastuti’s balcony. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
A never-ending problem
By now the catchers have collected 43 cats.
They take them to a quarantine centre where old or sick cats are euthanased and younger, healthier cats are put up for adoption.
“We will sterilise them at first. We’ll castrate the males and females we’ll spay,” Dr Sidabalok said.
“After that we’ll vaccinate them against rabies and then we’ll give them proper food and put them up for adoption by people who have homes suitable for a pet.”
And within a week or two the team of cat catchers will return to Petamburan once more to carry out the whole operation again.
The cats are checked for diseases, sterilised, vaccinated and put up for adoption. (ABC News: Phil Hemingway)
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