In Arshad Hasan's 100 square feet apartment at Mirpur section-11's Bihari camp, there's barely enough room for his family of four.
Yet, the family houses two-and-a-half dozen cats within that space, earning a reputation as something of a kitten sanctuary. What started with only two cats some four years ago, has now ballooned into around 30.
"Anytime we come across a stray cat that's ill or too weak to survive, we bring it home and nurture it to full health," said Rahila Anzum Khushbu, Arshad's daughter. "Our neighbours also call for our help any time they see a struggling stray."
It's hard to walk inside the apartment without risking stepping over one of the cats. When this correspondent went to visit the family recently, he saw Arshad cooped up on a table laid out for boutique work, with cats everywhere around him.
There were a few on the table, a few under the chair, some more under the table, and a couple others on top of Arshad's body. Right beside the table, a few more were eating rice and fish from a bowl, while a couple more were resting around a brick enclosure set up at the corner of the flat as a restroom for them.
At another corner, a bunch of prescription bottles could be seen. Asked, Arshad said, "We keep medicines to help with the primary treatment of the cats. We also keep antibiotics. When needed, we take them to a veterinary hospital."
Arshad said the family visits Gulistan's Fulbaria Veterinary Hospital at least once or twice a month.
"We have to spend around Tk 300 daily to take care of our cats. We need at least two-kg rice and one-and-a-half kg fish to feed them six times every day," Khushboo said.
Finishing her honours back in 2017, she said she couldn't pursue a master's degree due to financial troubles. Asked why they spend so much for the cats, she simply said they are bonded with the animals with love and can't stop taking care of them.
The family doesn't exactly keep the cats forever though. If anyone expresses interest to care for a cat, they cross-check their personal info before letting them take the one they desire.
However, "There are neighbours around the area who see the cats as nothing but a nuisance. Among them are two women who regularly harass our family. They
shout at us and even threatened to beat us up," Khushboo informed.
When this correspondent spoke to some neighbours, they said the cats do not disturb the neighbourhood's peace at all. "Sometimes they will come out and roam around, but they go back home as soon as their owners call for them," said one neighbour.
However, not all have the same sentiment. Some are demanding that the family either let the cats go or leave the area.
A few months back, their water supply was cut off. The family took this to the leaders of the Bihari camp, but to no avail. They simply did not care enough to intervene.
Khushboo said they then complained to the local police station at Pallabi and filed a GD. They also sought help from police, but were instead advised to take this up with the local leaders.
Contacted, community leader Sadakat Khan Fakku said, "We have heard of the incident and we are trying to make sure that the family is safe."
This correspondent also tried to contact Shahana, one of the persons named in the GD, but she said she will speak later and avoided talking.
The situation only got worse with the coronavirus pandemic. As news began to spread that the virus can be spread by pets, another set of locals started pressurising the family to release the cats.
The situation took a turn for the worst when two of the cats were beaten to death. All of this prompted some neighbours to release their pets, some of which found their way to Arshad's home.
Despite the pressure, the family held on.
"We do this out of our love for cats, and we intend to keep taking care of them in spite of any obstacle thrown at us," Khushboo said.