“Cats are not small dogs…” (Cat Assistance Team)

Written by Melissa Smith, Volunteer at C.A.T. Garden Route

Rita Brock, founder and head of Cat Assistance Team (C.A.T.) Garden Route, was once a prosperous pharmaceutical formulation manager who decided to pursue a more meaningful life.

Terrified of witnessing suffering, Rita chose to volunteer as an admin worker at The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS) in Kommetjie, Cape Town, back in 2000. It wasn’t long before she was sent to the cattery section to help out.

This is where it all started for Rita: “In seconds, it was clear to me: cats are not small dogs. Their behaviour fascinated me. Their subtle ways of communicating opened a new world that became my passion.”

Most welfare organisations are well-geared towards assisting dogs but not so much cats, and certainly not feral or wild cats. Perhaps it’s partly because dogs are highly visible; the general public notices when a dog is in trouble and some respond.

The problem with cats

Stray and feral cats are mostly unseen. They hide from the view of strangers and, even if noticed, are difficult to approach. They live around the fringes of society, surviving on food from garbage bins and other waste sites, as well as on rodents that are attracted to the same source of food.

Many people are under the impression that cats can look after themselves if deserted, which is mostly not the case.

“These abandoned cats and their offspring lead miserable lives, competing fiercely for food, fighting viciously and often developing horrific infections. Once feral, there is no way to home them, so those that wind up at shelters are simply put to sleep as the most humane option,” explains Rita.

Rita quickly realised that the less glamorous task of helping feral cats was largely ignored and that, left to fend for themselves, feral cats became a humane nightmare. “Abandoned and feral cats reproduce early and often*, so the problem gets out of hand quickly, with two cats easily turning into 30+ cats in just two years. Also, many people want their children to witness ‘the miracle of birth’, thinking that they will find homes for the kittens. Truth is, there are very few good homes for cats out there and many homed kittens wind up on the streets a few months later when the ‘cute factor’ has worn thin,” she continues.

*Cats can go on heat as early as four or five months and have two to three litters per year with around four to eight kittens per litter.

After some research Rita discovered that the best way to stop the suffering is by humanely trapping, neutering and returning (TNR) the cats. This internationally recognised system allows cats to live out their lives free of the breeding cycle. Once sterilised and tested for illness, they continue to perform the valuable service of rodent control to the community.

“People are well-meaning but sometimes quite ignorant,” says Rita. “We often get calls from neighbours asking us to remove street cats, thinking we have a list of homes waiting. The truth is that, if removed, these cats are mostly put to sleep because there are so few people willing to offer homes.

“Besides, a feral cat’s home is outdoors. Also, removing feral cats does not ‘fix’ the perceived problem because new cats move into the territory and the whole cycle starts again. Tragically, some people resort to inhumane means to rid themselves of the ‘problem’.” This is particularly sad when there really is a simple, humane solution…

The single most humane solution

“The single most important factor in reducing suffering is sterilisation. My dream is to have all South Africans embrace the importance of sterilising their cats, and to be able to offer sterilisation that is both accessible and affordable,” says Rita. “It is far less costly to sterilise a few hundred cats than it is to try to end the suffering of thousands of unwanted cats.”

In 2016 Rita established C.A.T. Garden Route, which operates in mostly poor communities as well as in the industrial and rural areas of the Garden Route. Rita and her team sterilised over 500 cats in 2016 and are well on the way to meeting the target of 720 cats in 2017. Considering that each of these cats can lead to hundreds of unwanted kittens in future, this makes the world of difference.

With the endorsement of the Garden Route SPCA (Rita is on their committee), and some generous donors, C.A.T. Garden Route is trapping, sterilising and otherwise helping cats every day of the week, unpaid and with only a handful of volunteers. And they’d love it if you could help them.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Make sure that your cats are sterilised by six months of age and encourage your friends to sterilise their pets too.
  2. Sponsor the sterilisation of neighbours’ or work colleagues’ pets. Ask your veterinarian for a reduced rate for sterilisation of poorer community cats.
  3. Adopt an adult cat (or two) from your local shelter.
  4. If you see abandoned or feral cats, set up a feeding routine and get your local welfare to assist with TNR.
  5. Support C.A.T. Garden Route with donations, or ask for training to set up your own TNR team in your neighbourhood. See www.catgardenroute.co.za or follow us on Facebook @catgardenroute

To find out more, please contact them on 072 425 5843 or via Facebook.

C.A.T. Garden Route is registered as a Charitable Trust. Reg. number IT000919/2016(C).

To make a donation, the account details are:

CAT Trust
First National Bank
Account number: 62615670800
Branch: George, Western Cape, South Africa