Sleep has been a luxury not afforded to Wendy Tuara and her partner Taua in the past seven days.
They have cried countless tears for their cat Marmite, who died on Friday May 15, after being attacked in their yard by two dogs.
Tuara has been beating herself up about the “what ifs”.
“I keep thinking maybe if I had gone out there when I first heard the commotion, we could have saved him,” she says.
Scrolling through photos and videos of Marmite and his best cat friend Nala on her phone, she laughs and apologises for the grief she is suffering.
“People probably think I’m a crazy cat lady,” she says.
Six-year-old Marmite the cat didn’t have the best start to life. As a stray kitten, he used to live under Tuara’s house in Avatiu.
One day Tuara saw his “cute little face” peering straight at her. It was Tuara’s partner Taua, who “didn’t really like animals” that told her to start feeding him.
The affection was instant – he became a much loved member of their family.
While in her kitchen preparing raw fish to sell at her Aunty Wenz Wraps hut at Punanga Nui Market on May 15, Tuara heard what she thought were dogs attacking a wild chicken.
“I really didn’t think anything of it, I can remember saying to myself, aww those poor chickens.”
But as the attack continued, she went outside to find Marmite being mauled by two dogs.
She clapped her hands to scare the dogs away, but it was too late; Marmite passed away in her partner Taua’s arms.
“Marmite was really Taua’s cat – for someone who doesn’t like animals, he loved that cat,” she says. “It’s not something any pet owner should have to go through.”
What makes this whole ordeal extra heart-breaking is that on Boxing Day 2019, Marmite broke one of his legs. The options given by the vet were to either amputate or put him down.
A month before Marmite’s death, Aito the Punanga Nui Market Cat was killed by three dogs.
Tuara is an animal lover and began feeding Aito when he started hanging around her hut.
Aito means warrior, and Tuara said the cat lived up to the name he had been given. But coming up against three dogs, he didn’t stand a chance.
Although she has cried many tears for Marmite and Aito, Tuara doesn’t blame the dogs responsible.
“There comes a point when dog owners need to take responsibility for their animals,” Tuara says.
“These dogs are hungry or have a thirst for blood.”
Cook Islands Police spokesperson Trevor Pitt says they don't have designated officers on dog control .
The previous officers two have been reassigned since that last lot of culling the wild ones in Nikao.
Each of the shifts now follow up their respective complaints.
“We have had ongoing instances of attacks on animals, including goats. People have also been bitten in recent weeks,” he says.
There are far too many roaming dogs, which is indicative of the failures of many owners.
In following up complaints of attacks, police are often running into a dead end due to the inability to track owners.
Dogs of course don’t wait around.
“The officers do their best and have managed to identify some. Owners have also on occasion voluntarily put their animals down, if they've become troublesome to others and livestock,” Pitt says.
Over the past three years, police have destroyed over 100 dogs annually.
The figure may not be as high this year due to the other priorities but police continue to follow up on incidents when necessary.
Tuara says she has been talking to others about the possibility of a privately-run Animal Control unit.
She understands that police have a lot on their schedule and chasing dogs is not a priority.
“If telling our story raises awareness, Marmite’s death would not have been in vain,” she says.
“I would hate for a little child to be the next victim.”
Tuara chose to make a splint out of a plastic shampoo bottle; she and Taua nursed Marmite back to health.
He wouldn’t venture too far but, because he loved climbing on the roof of the derelict house next door, they kept him in a cage for a short time.
His best friend Nala, another stray that the family had welcomed, was more than happy to keep him company.
“Marmite was a very patient and clever cat, he let us put the splint on without a fuss,” she says.
“He tolerated Nala and they became best friends. She knows he is gone and sits by where we buried him.”
It took a few months for the break to heal, but the vet marvelled at his recovery.