Soon, our compound was home to as many as 60 cats at a time, their numbers carefully tallied by Younis and Saif, the enthusiastic young Iraqis who prepared heaped platters of rice and lamb and beef and, as a special treat, cans of cat food trucked across the desert from Jordan, over highways synonymous with ambushes, kidnappings and bombings. As The Times's bureau chief, part of my routine was to ask, each night, how many cats we had seated for dinner. In a place where we could do little else to relieve the war's miseries, the tally became a measure of one small thing we could do to favor life over death. The American military command has a battery of "metrics" to gauge progress, and the nightly headcount of the cats became my personal measure, my mood varying as the numbers went up and down.
THE CATS OF WAR....John Burns writes about the impromptu cat shelter maintained by the New York Times's Baghdad bureau in 2005: