One sick cat leads to the discovery of a large cat colony near a municipal sports centre. With at least three daily feeders, they were thriving, but as numbers mushroomed, the problems were increasing.
It was easy to see which cat it was that we had received an email about. Less easy to catch him, though. The poor boy had blood around his nose, mixed with pus, and was underweight, having clearly not been able to eat or drink properly for some time. The feeder who had contacted us was able to stroke him, but as soon as she tried to get a hold of him, he would dart away in rightful suspicion. The trap and dropper cages had the same effect – one look at them, and he would disappear into one of several hiding places in the forest around the sports facility.
A popular dog-walking area, it had turned into a common dumping ground for unwanted pets. Several of the younger cats in the large colony we found there had, according to the feeders, been abandoned. Many others had not survived: free-roaming groups of dogs are rarely good news for cats. Added to that, the fence under which the cats had previously been able to slip at the first sign of danger had been blocked up with wooden boards. And a sign posted on the fence, by the employees whose work place lay within, asking that no-one remove the blocks, since the cats were getting into the building and making a mess. The simple option of closing the building’s door seemed not to appeal to them.
Either way, it was clear that, although this was far better than the majority of places where stray and abandoned cats struggle to survive, there were issues to be addressed. A mutually beneficial plan needed to be made that suited the cats, the disgruntled employees, and the feeders. The dirty food and water bowls and table scraps lying around were not helping. Nor was the exploding population of unneutered cats, giving birth to ever more and larger litters with the plentiful food from at least three daily feeders.
The first job was catching the ill cat, accomplished thanks to cat catcher extraordinaire Mr Giannis and his nifty net. Ten days at the vet on antibiotics cleared up his severe rhinitis, and once he was breathing, eating and drinking comfortably again and had regained weight, he was neutered before being returned to his place.
With the help of one of the feeders, a compassionate and responsible girl who had been trying to get help for the sick cat (trying to catch him and/or access a trap, without any luck), we then worked systematically over the next month. We caught the cats, all of them beautiful and many extremely friendly; we took them to the vets to be spayed/neutered and receive anti-parasite treatment, then returned them when they were ready.
Our discovery of the colony had come shortly before we launched our World Spay Day appeal, so we added the photos and descriptions of 13 of these cats to the collage. Thanks to the incredible support and generosity of our friends of Nine Lives Greece, all of the cats on the World Spay Day 2015 collage were sponsored for neutering/spaying, among them Duchess, Ash, Cinder, Flicker, Stelios, Topaz, Truffle, Thomas, Caprice, Lupi, Romeow, Sheba and Phoivos.
We also started a vaccination programme: although the initial ill boy was one of the worst affected, he was by no means the only cat there to have the cat-flu that is so typical in large and unneutered colonies.
One day, when visiting to check on the colony, a white-and-black cat came wobbling up to us, trying to meow and kneading his paws in affection, his whole face covered in mucus. His eyes could barely open, and he obviously had trouble breathing. We asked one of the kindly feeders we had met, an elderly man who came to sit with the cats every lunchtime, please to watch the cat while we raced away to get a cage, as we had come unprepared. This cat spent nearly a month at the vet, so severe was his case of rhinotracheitis. The first week he was unable to eat, so the vet had him on fluids.
When the time finally came that he was well enough to be neutered and then released, the vet (usually a taciturn man), told us, “This is not a cat for the streets: he’s one of the friendliest, most trusting cats I have ever had in my clinic.” We had already been worrying about returning him after such a long time at the vet, and had the added concern of the regular feeders saying that he must have been newly abandoned as they did not know him. And now this from the vet. Thankfully, a space had just opened up in one of our very few foster homes, and this charming cat, now named Artie, is flourishing there, purring in his foster mum’s arms and sleeping on her bed, while awaiting the perfect family to offer him a loving home.
The feeder has also had a talk with the employees there, pointing out that the colony will now stabilise and be healthier, as they are sterilised and vaccinated. She found that they were not hostile to the cats, just concerned about the overpopulation, as well as the mess left by some of the feeders. The next task is to persuade all the many feeders of these cats not to deposit leftovers or leave rubbish, and not to feed so close to the buildings, but further away where the cats also have easier access to safety when chased by dogs. We always encourage stray cat-feeders to feed with dry-food, which is formulated for cats and leaves no mess or smell. But many people are not in the financial position to do so, and simply bring what they have left from their own meals.
This is a work in progress. Although the existing cats there are now spayed/neutered, there will undoubtedly be kittens dumped in spring. But at least the cats that have managed to make a life for themselves there are now facing a healthier, less stressful future, without producing hundreds more unwanted kittens or being exposed to diseases, or fighting-related injuries.