Designer Mana Kobayashi with Gilbert, George, Marron and Koko
First of all, we would like to thank Ms. Kobayashi for sharing her time with us. She is an interior designer who has worked to create retail spaces for companies. She also renovated her place to make it a better place for cats to live. We hope you will enjoy the story of her life with 3 cats and a dog from the animal shelter.
― To start with Marron, was she found on a beach in Chiba Prefecture?
Yes, a friend of mine found a new-born kitten meowing for a help on a beach in Chiba. She was left alone and her eyes were still closed. I guess she was only a few days after birth but had vitality for life.
― Did you take her in from your friend?
Yes. My friend who rescued Marron is an artist and works worldwide. He somehow meets stray cats often. Marron must have sensed that he would help her and meowed loud. I was working on a project with him around that time and I took over Marron’s guardianship when she was about 3 months old.
― By the way, Marron has an unique way of sitting. Where did her hind legs go?
I know it’s weird. I can’t see her hind legs (laughs). It looks like pigeon-toe… She is chubby, too…
― （laughs） Ooops, she’s listening to us. Is she biting a photographer’s hand?
It has gotten better but she still has a habit of biting.
― Was there any change on 14 years old Gilbert and George since Marron joined in 2008?
Gil and Geo actually started losing weight. As I said before Marron has vitality for life. We were despising Marron because she was only a kitten. However, she ate a lot. I mean a lot. Before Marron joined, Gil and Geo were sharing their food on a plate. They didn’t even finish the whole plate at a time and started eating again when they feel like eating. It was so called “Nekogui, the way cats eat food on their own pace”.
― So, Marron wasn’t a Nekogui-type of cat?
There was a time my husband and I went out to travel for a few days. We left cat food on a plate enough to cover for 3 days. However, the plate was unexpectedly empty when we came back. Then we watched them carefully and found out Marron doesn’t stop eating. She finishes as much as I feed. So, I guessed it was the same when we went out for a few days. Since then, I started to ask my friend to take care of them whenever we go out for travel or business trips.
― What happened to this cat food issue after that?
I separated their food on each plate and watched them eat until they finish. Gil and Geo were getting greedy, therefore I can’t go out leaving their food any more.
― Did three of these cats get used to each other’s presence soon after Marron joined?
It took a while. I had Marron sleep at the entrance hall for the first month. It was the begging of autumn so I placed an electric hot carpet to keep her warm. During the day time, I took her to the office so that they spent time together only whenever I was home. Marron had no siblings and didn’t know how to play with other cats. Even when she bites to play, she does it so hard. So, Gil and Geo were quite often tired of her. I had been watching them very carefully for a while.
However, when it got gradually colder out, I found all of the cats sleeping together as if to say “It’s cold, lets’ snuggle” Since then, they started sleeping together.
― As for Gilbert and George, they were initially born with 3 more siblings under a home of your cat-loving niece’s friend. How come you decided to take these two?
Well, I can’t choose animals because they are all adorable to me. When I was little, I used to have a dog, a cat, hamsters, parrots, ducks, and even quails. I happened to meet them and used to take home to live together.
When I met these kittens along with Gilbert and George, I was going to take a friendly black cat which was interested in me. However, I thought it would be easier for this cat to find a family with this friendly character. Meanwhile, I saw two cats hiding behind the things.
Because Gilbert started meowing, George goes back to him even though he was curious. They were doing this again and again and it made me feel that those two cats shouldn’t be separated. Not only that they are male brothers but also I thought it would be nice to have two cats. So, I took both of them home.
― Did they adapt to living with you quickly?
It had been the same as when I first met them. They didn’t come out from under the bed. We slowly started playing with curious George, then Gilbert gradually started showing off, too.
Also, they liked brushing, so whenever I make a noise with a brush, they started to show off. We became good friends by playing together. Now, they cling to us.
― Where are Gilbert and George right now?
They are in the storage room. They hide in there as soon as they hear the doorbell.
― What would happen if you take these 2 cats to other people?
Hmm… instead of running, they freeze. They are easily scared. One day, they actually showed off to a photographer who kind of blend into the air. They were there before I knew. It was a surprise.
Our dog, Koko, always stays with us. More than that it seems like she knows what we say. When a photographer says “Let’s go over there and take a picture” she lightly walks and poses at a photographer.
― Speaking of Koko, I would like to ask you about your volunteer activities for animals. You are fostering dogs rescued by the animal shelter, Mignon You are taking care of Koko until they finds a forever family for Koko. Could you tell me what made you start volunteering?
It was since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. Having known the circumstances of devastated animals actually helped me slowly understand the situation of animals in Japan.
― Did you know Mignon’s representative, Ms. Tomomori ?
I knew about her activities through Twitter. I was looking at my friend’s re-tweets and there was a person who seemed to enter devastated areas every week. Then, I started following her on Twitter. That was the start of how I knew about her, Reiko Tomomori. She was tweeting things like “Please leave relief goods in front of the shop by Wednesday evening. Leaving here at midnight!!”, “I’m good. Took a nap on a dog cage”, “Some prefabs needed for shelters”, “Yes!! I got them!!”
Then, I got to know that she runs a pet salon business and was going to devastated areas on her day off every week. Through looking at her twitter, I found out she also rescues dogs and cats from an animal center and looks for families for them.
― Did you actually meet her after that?
She was holding charity events for devastated animals, “INUNEKOUSHI-MATSURI” I went there and talked to her. Then, she was like ”Are you an interior designer? I just found and rented a place for a shelter. Would you mind helping us? ” I drew a plan and with the help of many other people, we got the shelter completed in 4 months.
― Did you start volunteer dog-walking later on?
Yes. I was busy with travelling overseas for business around that time. Therefore I started walking with dogs from the shelter but only when I was in Japan.
There are two categories of animals in the shelter, ones need new families and the others have families but who are also sufferers from the earthquake. Therefore, the latter ones are temporarily stay until their families get back to normal life.
While doing voluntary dog walking, I started to have a feeling of “Maybe I can take care of a dog at home,too” then talked to Ms. Tomomori. I asked her to choose a dog that seemed okay with living with cats. Then, we started living with a large breed dog, TAKE.
TAKE was a big one but seemed very gentle to get along well with cats.
He was already old so we were prepared to have him till the end. However, his condition changed suddenly at the beginning of January 2014 and unfortunately he died soon after. What was very nice at the time was his original family from Fukushima-prefecture could make it to see him. We stayed with TAKE for about 3 hours at the emergency animal hospital saying “He did well. 15 years for a large breed dog is enough. He has a peaceful death”.
― Koko is the second dog you foster?
I thought staying in sorrow doesn’t help to decrease the number of dogs and cats gassed. I started fostering Koko after only 10 days from Take’s death. I was the same as when I asked Take, a dog that seems to get along well with cats.
Ms. Tomomori saved Koko from the animal center where she was brought to be gassed in the end of December, 2013. She then started staying with Ms. Tomomori at Mignon’s salon. Mignon takes dogs too old to be in the animal center and Koko was miserably one of them.
― Ms. Tomomori is famous for giving unique names to rescued animals. (Laughs)
Koko was called SHIBAA-chan (come from SHIBA+Baa-chan(Grandmother)) at Mignon. I named her Koko because wherever I spread a rug, she rolls herself on it and sleeps just like “Here, I like it here (Here is Koko in Japanese)”
― How was she like when you brought her home?
She had no physical response to anything. Her legs and body were stiff and she did not show her interest in food or smells. I even had doubts about her vision as she just stared straight. She just walked straight without any curiosity while taking her walk.
When I had TAKE, I actually went to school to learn about dog training. For dogs it’s important to use their sense of smells. However, Koko had no response to other dogs and food but just blankly stares. So it made me feel like I know she is a dog but why is she different?”
― Now she eats and has response even to dog snacks?
I asked some advice from a dog trainer. She said I don’t need to feed them for a day or 2 if they are not interested in food. So, I didn’t feed Koko for a day. Then, she started to have appetite and started to look at my eyes. Moreover, she started to sit. It took about 3 months until she got to this condition. I learned that it’s not that she can’t do it but we need to train her.
― How long have you been taking care of Koko?
It turned just 1 year on January 21st, 2015. Koko was very weak at the beginning and was even slipping on the wooden flooring. Now, she is healthy enough to chase Gil and Geo.
― She looks very relaxed and I can tell she lives with lots of love. However, you are taking care of Koko as a foster family”. Will you still hand over if there is a family for Koko.
Yes, I was and always will. I have a feeling in the bottom of my heart that Koko is not mine which I had the same feeling when having had Take. It’s always my goal for Koko to be adopted by a new family and I always want to train Koko to become enough to be happily adopted. Her condition recently is good enough as she’s healthy, has interest in people and has started to have curiosity about many things. I learned that we can still train old dogs !!
― Isn’t it sad to say goodbye to Koko after you are taking good care of for so long?
Of course, I truly hope her to find a new family. However, I have no idea of how I will feel about it until the moment comes. I’ve actually never thought about it even though I have a feeling of “How come nobody wants her. She is such a lovely dog”
― What’s the difference between becoming a voluntary foster family and an official family? Will you repeatedly take care of dogs and cats until they find an official family?
Basically yes. I don’t even want to talk about dogs and cats being euthanized. However, unfortunately there are a lot. I hope what I’m doing will help to decrease the number of these animals. It’s actually true some foster families repeatedly take in and hand over dogs even in short terms because foreign breed of dogs are easier to find families no matter how old they are. Foster families are of course sad every time they say goodbye. You will be attached to each animal regardless of how long or short you have them.
― Nevertheless, you don’t still adopt but a foster family.
“One animal per adult” is Mignon’s rule. We already have 3 cats. Therefore, not only that we can’t take in any more but we have to give one back if something happens. It actually makes sense because I would not be able to evacuate with many animals.
― I see. Well, let me change the topic a bit. Could you tell me more about the interior at your place? You moved into this place since you took in Gilbert and George. Do you have any unique spaces for living with cats?
To make it harder for them to leave the house, I put double doors in the entryway. It’s trend now. Climing/jumping is a much better work out for cats compared to lateral motion. The cat staircases that I had put in are actually an artwork by Kyoko Taniyama. After seeing it at her exhibition, I thought it could be used for cats. So I placed an order and she built it for me. I created a feeding alcove for the cats in the kitchen.
― Also, this cat house”CATTOY ARCH” made out of cardboard is your product,right? It looks so pretty when the cats put their paws in from the small holes on the sides. It is designed to hit the cats’ favorite spots.
Marron especially loves it. She stays in there like the head of the house. Sometimes, I can’t tell if she’s around but she loves it much to fall asleep in there (laughs). We used to sell this product but we don’t have stocks anymore.
― Do you have any elements arranged for you, your husband, Takashi or lets’ say people?
We have a raised-floor bed. My husband unfortunately has asthma. So,I wanted to prevent him from breathing dusty air especially with the cats running around. It’s actually very dangerous to get off there when you are still in half asleep in the morning though (laughs).
― You have 3 cats and 1 dog. Could you tell me about good and bad things about group-feeding?
I love watching them spending time together. It especially makes me feel good when I see them stick and sleep together. It’s so pretty.
A difficult thing is that they one by one get sick after they turn 10 years old. So, medical expense every month can be a lot. Recently, it’s been getting difficult for Geo to eat. I would like to stay with him and feed him a small portion constantly as he can’t eat enough each time. But both my husband and I work, I’m concerned we can feed him only twice a day.
Other than that, it’s fun having cats and a dog. It’s like a zoo.
― How do you balance your business and taking care of animals?
Because I have many business trips, I ask my friends to take care of my animals while I’m gone. I truly recommend participating in a community of cat and dog lovers. There are many things you can’t deal with by yourself. Therefore, I think it’s valuable for people with pets to have friends that support each other.
― What kind of good things would happen being a member of cat and dog lovers community?
I have a cat loving friend in the same building. She helps me a lot when I was on business trips and am very busy with work. I was talking to other friend about how to take a dog walk. Then, she started kindly taking Koko for a walk with her family. They are now like “Our children like cats and dogs. So feel free to ask us if you need a help”.
I think there are many people who love pets but can’t have them for many different circumstances.
― So, having a community is very reassuring. It’s also nice to exchange the information.
Yes. I also think it’s good to have a reliable vet. I changed our vet recently and she is so nice. I told her how much I worried if something happens to our animals during my business trips. It was really nice to hear that she said she would come there to see them in an emergency.
― Are you happy living with cats and dogs?
OF COURSE!! I had never lived by myself. Even after I got married, it felt very lonely being alone when my husband was on business trips for a long time. It actually made me feel like I can’t do this. However, cats changed it. (Laughs)
― You seem too happy to explain how happy you are.
I can’t express how I feel about this.
I often see Ms.Tomomori saying to animals “Don’t worry. It’s okay even if you can’t do anything”.
And truly I think so, too. There are many helpful dogs. However, I sometimes think it’s no problem for them to be not helpful.
For instance, being home alone for Koko can be boring but I think this life is good enough for Koko. Not only she but also we are satisfied with our life.
Of course, I would like her to learn some basic stuff especially when we go outside for a walk. She has bad ears and can’t hear well. I’m concerned about when an emergency happens I can’t call her back to me. So, I started to train her to have a habit of looking at me. So, I’m trying to give her a treat whenever she looks back at me.
Although she can’t be helpful, I’m still happy she knows the basic rules and relaxed to spend the rest of her life.
― Training to look instead of listening if they have bad ears
What’s more important is how much you communicate with them during daily life. Those who are foster dogs from the shelters don’t know their home. Therefore, they will have no choice but wander about if they by mistake get loose.
― Is Koko changing since she came to your house?
We laugh about her getting younger from “Grandmother” to “Aunt”(laughs). Looking at her humpback actually makes me think maybe she was sleeping lonely, just huddled by herself in the world with no stimulation.
We have 3 cats but I don’t think Koko likes them so much. However, I think they stimulate in a good way to each other. Just with nice interiors, with some stimulation, and with some food, they have a peaceful life.
― I think your warm and happy life is giving animals and people a good life. Thank you so much for your time today.
＜CAT’S AND DOGS PROFILE＞
Gilbert & George; Male, Birth 2001/ Marron; Female, Birth 2008
Koko; Female, Birth about 2001 *Found a forever family in April, 2015
interview, edit Tomoko Komiyama
photo Jun Takahashi
translation Chiyoko Kimura