Written by Jeanien Venter
Professional photography by Riaan van der Merwe
As life goes, stuff happened and, in 2013, I found myself resident of a place for destitute people called Filadelfia Ark.
Needless to say, these were dark times for me personally. But, in a weird and wonderful way, I found my soul right there. And the vehicle of this miraculous discovery of “me”… CATS!
I couldn’t leave the kitten to suffer
It all started with Whiskey, a tiny kitten of no more than eight weeks old who’d been locked in a caravan on the premises, with no food or water, by a man rumoured to have thrown her mommy into a fire.
Having been a resident for only a couple of weeks, I knew I could get into trouble and even be evicted, but I couldn’t just leave the kitten to suffer and, ultimately, probably be killed by this man. So, my partner at that time and I “cat-napped” the kitten and took her in to live with us, regardless of the “No pets allowed” rule.
After all, she too was destitute and in need of a safe haven.
Not winning the war
It soon became clear that Whiskey was not the only cat there. Every so often I would see a feline shape dash across the road or a little pointy-eared head peek out from under a bush. We started feeding the feral cats and the magnitude of the problem soon became apparent.
There were a total of 52 feral cats on Filadelfia, constantly breeding. The way these numbers were “controlled” was by killing them; as an animal lover, I could not accept this. Unable to turn away, I took in more and more cats into my “Wendy house” (cottage).
Through outside donations, mainly from fellow cat-lover Henna van Niekerk from Pretoria, we managed to keep all the cats fed and well looked-after; we even got 22 of them sterilised. The problem was that, being an individual and not a registered shelter or NPO, by the time we could sterilise four, another 20 had been born. And still these cats were seen as pests that had to be eradicated.
I contacted countless organisations begging for help for these cats. I don’t know whether it was because I was living where I was but nobody seemed to take me seriously. We clearly were not winning this war.
Alone with 28 cats
Then, in 2017, my partner was evicted. So there I was, with no income and 28 indoor-only cats. Even though I could stay, the owner decided that I had to get rid of all the cats. But being there without the cats was not worth it to me.
Again, Henna van Niekerk came to the rescue! She offered me employment with a place to stay – and I could even take eight of the cats with me. The SPCA was contacted to collect the 20 that I couldn’t take with me; I figured that, at the SPCA, they’d at least have a minute chance of being adopted, whereas if they stayed at the mission, they’d most likely just be killed.
Having hope for cats
All went wonderfully at my new flat with my eight cats for about six months. Then, horror of all horrors, Henna had to let me go. Her business was not doing as well as it had been and she was forced to downsize.
Of course, my big question was: MY CATS? WHAT ABOUT MY CATS? This is where the relationship between The Cat Foundation and me began.
I contacted Sandy Baumgartner of The Cat Foundation. Sandy is obsessed with the plight of cats – especially feral cats: She says, “I spend every waking moment thinking about them and caring for them. I’ll wear my husband’s clothes because I’d rather spend every cent I can on bettering their lives. I’d fly to the moon on my broom to do a home-check or rescue a kitty! They’re all I talk about – they are my passion.”
She kindly helped me through the whole process of looking for homes, doing home checks and finalising adoptions. I found homes for all of them except Oreo, a special needs boy. And, of course, The Cat Foundation took him in. What a wonderful organisation with wonderful people!
But that was only the beginning…
The Filadelfia Desperados
I still thought about the feral cats at Filadelfia constantly and felt so sorry for them. And I worried… Who was feeding them? Were they being killed as a means to control the population? What could I do to help these cats? I was desperate.
I discussed it with The Cat Foundation and, soon, my dream of four years was about to be realised. With the agreement of Filadelfia Ark’s Dirk van Vuuren, a feeding programme was launched in order to set things up for the next step: Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)*.
The Cat Foundation donated food for all the cats on a weekly basis. They liaised with Filadelfia to put up feeding stations and started a regular feeding schedule for the feral colony in order to make a TNR project possible. Besides the feral colony, a lot of the residents had taken in feral kittens and raised them as pets. These would also need to be checked and sterilised.
Making a difference
I don’t think any of us were prepared for the numbers that were signed up for a sterilisation drive at the end of the day. But The Cat Foundation kept their word and, on the weekend of 13 to 15 April 2018, 96 cats were sterilised and vaccinated, and a whole bunch of kittens vaccinated.
There was now more tolerance towards the cats of Filadelfia, who’d put in place a “one cat per household” rule so, at the time of the sterithon, 12 cats were relocated to The Cat Foundation’s premises. A register was drawn up by the Filadelfia community – another 26 cats still had to be relocated in order to comply with the rule. This was done with agreement from the cats’ owners to surrender them to The Cat Foundation.
Time to panic! Where on earth could we relocate 26 cats to when The Cat Foundation was already bursting at the seams?
Animal Ambulance to the rescue
Maria Conradie of Animal Ambulance in Pretoria became aware of the situation and the plight of “The Filadelfia 26” and offered to open their doors to all of them. On the 27th of April 2018, all 26 were relocated to Animal Ambulance, where they’d be safe and cared for. Maria went a step further and offered space on their premises where The Cat Foundation could erect an enclosure for cats that might need to be relocated in the future.
Animal Ambulance invites all animal lovers to visit them – and meet and play with The Filadelfia 26. They also have volunteer dates available on their Facebook page.
The next step
We are already planning the next sterilisation drive at Filadelfia Ark for the feral cats that eluded us in round one. Then the dogs of Filadelfia will also be sterilised.
The Cat Foundation is currently looking for sponsors for a monthly outreach programme to vet/deworm/deflea the animals at Filadelfia Ark. Healthy animals are an important part of a healthy community and the aim is to create a manageable, healthy population of animals, without constant breeding, sickness and neglect.
What about Whiskey?
Five years on and Whiskey is still living at Filadelfia Ark. She was under the care of one of the residents, Daniël Joubert, and he strongly protested when I asked him if he wished for us to relocate Whiskey – so she stayed with him. Tragically, Daniël passed away earlier this month (May 2018).
At first, we feared that we would need to find a new home for her… but then Filadelfia’s founder gave us great news: Whiskey could stay on as their animal welfare mascot.
Whiskey is a very special cat to be able to bring all this about… a very special cat indeed.
There are so many people to thank for their help and support and hard work:
Henna van Niekerk for donations and support since 2013 to help the cats of Filadelfia.
The Cat Foundation for the incredible work they do to help cats. For fundraising and pulling all the resources together for the sterilisation drive and subsequent relocation of the cats.
Alice Diogo for assisting with the trapping of the feral cats.
A private vet (who prefers to remain anonymous) who came all the way from Johannesburg to sterilise 96 cats over three days. You are a spay-neuter machine!
Animal Ambulance for offering a new home to The Filadelfia 26 and space on your premises for an enclosure.
Of course, thanks must go to Filadelfia Ark’s founder, Dirk van Vuuren, for working with us, agreeing to allow some of the cats to stay, and permitting us access to the Filadelfia Desperados for the feeding programme and sterilisation drive, and Madeléne Strampe, the liaison between ourselves and Mr Van Vuuren.
And last, but definitely not least, the many cat-loving residents of Filadelfia, in particular Tamsyn Reece Edwards, Bettina Gross, Louisa Cooney, Sarie Botha, Ronnie Lightfoot, Petro Coote, Johan Lawson, Wilma Karsten, Amanda Burger and Anton Burger for your tireless efforts to help us help the cats during our visit there.
More about the organisations involved
The Cat Foundation (NPO. 2015/303197/08)
The Cat Foundation is dedicated to the management of feral cat colonies and promoting goodwill towards feral cats and other felines. The organisation specialises in TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) and aims to spread awareness and raise support for feral feline colony management and infectious feline diseases, as well as furthering research into feline diseases and care.
Donations: The Cat Foundation
Animal Ambulance (NPO. 2010/012064/08)
Animal ambulance is a 24-hour emergency shelter for sick and abused animals. Founded in 2002, the shelter takes in animals in desperate need of help, rehabilitates them and, where possible, rehomes them.
Donations: Animal Ambulance
Or SMS “HOME” to 38114 to donate R15.00 to Animal Ambulance.
The Filadelfia Ark is located west of Pretoria. The mission provides a safe haven for some 500 people in need, including children and the elderly. All able-bodied residents work on the farm, with projects that include growing crops, raising chickens, milking cows, building wooden furniture and cottages, etc. Outreach projects help needy people further afield.