In Paradise, the Cats Don’t Make You Sneeze

Langkawi, Malaysia



I’ve been allergic to cats for as long as I can remember, which is probably why I’ve never liked them much. But last month, during a stolen weekend on the island of Langkawi I got completely blindsided by a new, unexpected relationship.


This is “my” cottage at Langkawi’s Bon Ton Resort. Actually it belongs to the little guy in the lower right hand corner. He’s one of about a hundred cats on the property who’ve been rescued by the Bon Ton’s animal loving Australian owner, Narelle McMurtrie.

In addition to her resort and restaurant, Narelle runs and funds an animal rescue center nearby (Guests are invited to donate–or, even better, volunteer–during their stay). It’s the only such facility on the island. She takes in homeless cats and dogs, sometimes injured ones. I was greeted one day at breakfast by a cheerfully barking little guy who maneuvered his way towards me strapped into a kind of wheelchair. Four years ago this dog had been left for dead, paralyzed by a hit-and-run driver, but Narelle scooped him off the road and nursed him back to health–and had the wheeled device shipped in from the U.S. so he could get around.

It’s almost a cliche that you go to an island resort to get away from it all, to reacquaint yourself with the feel of the sun, the smell of the sea and the warm wind. But what I discovered during my weekend at Bon Ton was another forgotten pleasure–non-human companionship. At Bon Ton, rescued cats and dogs loll everywhere, and as a guest you move, in a St. Francis-like rapture, through a garden of contented creatures.

The eight cottages at Bon Ton are abandoned wooden Malay village houses that Narelle dis-assembled, shipped to Langkawi, rebuilt and repaired. Raised on stilts and open with slatted windows on all sides to the warm breeze, they have extraordinary ventilation, which made it possible for this allergy-ridden cat-avoider to move from a two dimensional love for “Hello Kitty” into a real-life fur and whiskers relationship. I spent most of the weekend stretched out on a Planter’s chair, reading mystery novels, with the cat curled and purring in my lap.

Yeah, I know that this cat will be just as cozy with the next tenant of the cottage. I wasn’t expecting monogamy. I just hope she still remembers me when I return to Langkawi.