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INTERVIEW: Have Pets Become ‘Additional Expenses’ in this Basic Budget Lockdown? Meet Fredrick and ‘Tuxie’

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown dawned on every nation across the globe and from March 28, 2020, most Ugandans were unwillingly ushered into the ‘stay home, stay safe’ practical slogan, by which we are still abiding even today.

While a lot has changed for the ever-busy human race, it’s been a huge shift for the pets too- the proverbial mankind’s best friend. Unlike in the ‘secret life of pets’ movie, pets all over the world must be wondering why their owners are spending way too much time at home.

In a period when households are doing everything humanly possible to minimize their daily expenditures, it must be a different case for those living with pets. Unlike humans, a cat and its owner might fail to come to an agreement on opting for brunch instead of breakfast and lunch apart.

To navigate the world of pets and pet owners, we approached Mr. Fredrick Tumusiime, who has quite an experience in petting. He let us in on his lockdown situation with none other than ‘Tuxie’, a male cat, his sole companion.

Mr. Tumusiime, for how long have you had this cat, and may we know more about him?

I have had Tuxie for close to three years. I picked him from the Uganda Society for Protection and Care of Animals (USPCA) in July 2017. I had lost my previous cat to a bladder infection, and USPCA – where surgery on the previous cat had been conducted, gave me Tuxie as a ‘replacement’ cat.

As with most male cats, Tuxie is neutered (castrated) so he does not father kittens with stray cats. It is a way of controlling the cat population.

With the COVID-19 situation, reports of a cat in Belgium and dogs in Hong Kong testing positive for the virus emerged earlier this year, what was your initial reaction? Did you ever have second thoughts about keeping it or distancing yourself from it?

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I have read the reports. Pets are vulnerable and rely on their owners for not just food and shelter, but health as well. Fortunately, Tuxie is 100% domesticated. He never leaves the apartment. In order to protect him, I have had to maintain social distancing and other precautions as given by the Ministry of Health.

Many households embarked on ‘chopping’ some of their expenses, among which was cutting down on ‘pet luxuries’, how have you handled the matter?

Tuxie is an important member of the household. I have not considered reducing his food portions or giving him away back to USPCA.  At times, I feel like his needs (food, litter) take precedence over mine.

For instance, while my groceries are considered on a day-to-day basis, Tuxie’s food has to be stocked. While I can improvise for litter (old newspaper cuttings), there is not much flexibility for cat food. I do not feed him on human food.

Forget the all grown fluffy cat, Tuxie was once a kitten, enjoying the palm patting from Fredrick.

When pets are treated like family, they behave like a member of the family. They share common spaces with the owners and require more attention. Has this been an enjoyable thing for you to do or is it ‘another tiring chore’?

Cats spend 16 to 20 hours sleeping. Compared to, say a guard dog, Tuxie is like an accessory. He’s potty-trained and has never failed to use his litter box. I guess during the lockdown, he sees me around the house more often and wonders what’s up. Other than that, he is been a useful companion. The lockdown would have been tougher without another living being in the home.

A few male friends of mine would rather pet dogs than cats. Their argument is “petting cats is a woman-thing”, why did you opt for a cat?

Cats are the pet of choice for folks that treasure autonomy. My work entails traveling now and then, it would be difficult to leave a dog unattended to for a couple of days. Cats are just fine on their own – as long as there is water and food for a few days (typically not more than three). Dogs require 24/7 care.

The lockdown has come with the need to spend as minimal pennies as one possibly can, how much are you spending on pet food and how is the access?

The lockdown has come with fewer options for cat supplies. During peacetime, Game, Shoprite, and/or Capital Shoppers are my go-to for both food and cat litter. Normally, I prefer “dry food” as it not only lasts longer but leads to less use of the litter box.

I am now stuck with “wet food” from the nearest supermarket (Best Buy, Bukoto).

For a human, it would be like a choice between roasted maize and filet mignon. Left to his own devices, Tuxie would consume a 400g-tin per day (Shs 6,000). I try to limit his appetite- as we do not know when the lockdown will end. Dry food (2kg goes for Shs 18,000) lasts a lot longer, and is cheaper than wet options.

We can probably name this ‘The Tuxie Stare.”

How are the people you reside with, if any, taking the lockdown and having to share pet responsibilities like fetching food, feeding, visiting the veterinary clinics if need be, and giving him a bath?

It is just the cat and I. The occasional visitors are used to Tuxie, but there have not been many during lockdown. Cats hate water/bathing so that responsibility is not a big one as we always fight. Vet visits are once a year, the next one is due in October and the vet comes home, fortunately.

What has changed about the long periods you have to be home with the cat, the highs and lows?

I think the lockdown would have been less bearable without Tuxie. Watching him play (when he is not sleeping), and then telling him not to do things I disapprove of, are enjoyable activities. Also, taking care of a pet is like looking after any other vulnerable being. It is full-filling and makes me a better human.

What advice do you have for those having a hard time dealing with pets considering the new stay at home routine?

I am on the Facebook closed group “Kampala Pets.” The stories I have seen about stubborn pets have to do with non-neutered ones. The adrenaline is less when cats are sterilized. I would say; they should hang in there, and do the best for their animal companions.

Any plans of expanding your pet family, and if any, which ones do you have a soft spot for apart from cats?

One cat is enough drama. I imagine Tuxie would be happier with a playmate, but the thought of two cats running around the apartment is frightening. My first pet was a house dog (Maltese), but some shameless Kampala folks stole it. No immediate plans to expand as of now.

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