I’VE always loved helping animals, for some reason, especially ones that are in need. Regrettably I’ve been holding back lately, having become a bit scared, ever since someone in Shanghai died of rabies weeks after being scratched by a dog on the street. I know it only happened once, but that was enough to freak me out.
I definitely changed my mind recently, though, after meeting nearly-60-year-old Mekaiel Shirazi, a very interesting man from Bangladesh who has lived in China for about 20 years.
Shirazi is the kind of guy who could keep you enthralled for hours with his stories, from the tiger his family had as a child to his adventures living in New York, right down to the story of his businessman uncle, Mirza Ahmed Ispahani, having an official meeting with former Chinese state leaders.
But it was spending an evening with him feeding more than 150 homeless cats in his neighborhood that I won’t soon forget.
For the past six years — except for 16 days recently when he went to see his gravely ill mother — Shirazi has religiously, every single night, fed the cats living around his neighborhood in Xujiahui. Even when he was away seeing his mom, he paid someone to feed the cats.
Without fail, rain or shine, Shirazi walks the streets of Xujiahui, dragging behind him a blue, two-wheeled hamper filled with cat food. Most are cat biscuits, and some is tinned wet food which he brings for those cats who can’t, or won’t, eat biscuits.
It all started six years ago, he says, when he began feeding around 25 cats just inside his complex. Now his nightly trek takes him around several blocks, where he eventually feeds upward of 150 cats.
“I just cannot stop feeding them,” he tells me. “I just cannot, it’s like a compulsion.”
He says he thinks of the cats all the time, and one night he tried to break free from the pressure by deciding he can’t do it anymore, but that didn’t last more than a few hours.
He stayed home that night, past the usual feeding time, and tried to forget about the cats. He cried for more than an hour and in the end decided he couldn’t quit. That night he fed the cats late and says they sensed something was up, so he hasn’t tried to give up again since.
I couldn’t help but think, though, that perhaps Shirazi was creating more of a problem by feeding so many homeless cats every day. By giving them regular food, isn’t it just encouraging them to keep having more and more kittens? Wouldn’t getting them neutered be better in the long run?
But he’s faced that suggestion before and says it’s impossible because that kind of operation leaves cats in a timid state, unable to survive on the tough streets of Shanghai. “The other cats can sense it,” he says. “Then the male cats won’t welcome them and protect them anymore and they just wouldn’t survive.”
The ultimate situation, he says, would be him starting his own cat sanctuary on a plot of land at the outskirts of Shanghai where the cats could roam free and have the regular food they are used to.
But that dream can stay on the backburner for now, he says, because at the moment he just needs to guarantee he can continue to make sure the cats have enough food in their bellies each night. And that’s tough, financially.
Shirazi says his business has “taken a nose dive” lately and he’s already changed his own diet just so that he has enough money to continue feeding the cats.
“I will be needing some help in continuing to provide sustenance,” he says.
He currently spends about 300 yuan (US$45) each night feeding the cats, around 9,000 yuan a month, an amount he says is not sustainable.
“I want to feed them until I die,” he says. But “it’s very difficult.”
If you want to help Mekaiel Shirazi out so that he can continue to feed these cats, please add his WeChat (michaelshirazi) and talk with him directly.
Andy Boreham comes from New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, and has lived in China, off and on, for the past five years. He has a master’s degree in Chinese culture and language from Fudan University and is interested in all things related to contemporary Chinese society. He welcomes your feedback on all of the issues he covers — you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.