Written by Jenni Davies and photography by Helen White
Beautiful, furry… and almost invisible: feral cats. And they are everywhere. These small, secretive animals are in a grey area between wild and domestic animal. They behave like wild animals in that they avoid humans, hunt their own food, and are totally independent, but are a domesticated species (animals which have been bred and raised around humans for generations).
The good and the bad
The majority of feral cats originate from pets that ran away, got lost, or were left by callous owners. Because cats are very successful breeders (a female can go on heat as young as four months and have two to three litters per year for the next decade or more), a few cats can quickly become a big colony – and a big mess. The cats risk being harmed or killed by people frustrated with cats spraying, fighting and making a racket (typical mating behaviour); diseases spread and there may not be enough food, so they become ill and suffer.
Yet, when their breeding is controlled (spay/neuter) and they receive regular good food, a colony nearby can actually be a good thing. Not only does a stable, well-managed colony help in controlling vermin such as rats, mice, and cockroaches, they also tend to keep other, unsterilised cats away. Because feral cats are generally extremely shy of people, if a colony is managed properly, you probably won’t even know they’re there.
How caring about cats became Cat Care PE
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, small groups of women in what is now known as the Nelson Mandela Municipal Metropol spent their spare time feeding, trapping, having the cats sterilised and then returning them to their colonies – all at their own cost. Those women made a lot of headway with the colonies they were looking after, but soon realised that if they were to band together and form a proper organisation, a lot more could be done and funds would be more readily available.
It is for this reason that Cat Care Port Elizabeth was founded as a registered non-profit organisation in 1992; for the first 12 years this was in association with the Animal Welfare Society. Our principles remain unchanged from what that small band of women began.
Aiming to control and stabilise PE’s feral cat population
Cat Care PE’s aim is to control and stabilise the feral cat population in the Nelson Mandela Municipal Metropol and surrounding areas. We identify feral colonies, implement feeding programmes, treat sick cats if necessary, and rehome abandoned kittens young enough to be rehabilitated. Above all, our focus is on sterilising cats to stop the uncontrolled breeding.
We practice the TNR method – Trap-Neuter-Return. The cats are caught in traps and then sterilised (both males and females) and the ear tipped so it is easily identifiable as a sterilised cat. The fieldworker volunteer who trapped the cat then returns it to the colony after recovery. Removing feral cats does not solve the problem. For example, Cat Care PE volunteers have had several cases where business owners borrowed traps and, despite our advice, removed the feral cats. In all cases, three or four months down the line, we’d hear from those same businesses that they were either overrun with rats and mice (and please could we provide them with some cats), or more cats had moved in and they needed to borrow traps again!
Feeding programmes are in place – when feral cats are well fed, they are healthier and less likely to cause annoyance to people (e.g. stealing food). Cat Care feeds around 800 feral cats and sterilises 30 to 40 every month. Local factories, holiday resorts, nature reserves and residential areas have all benefitted from Cat Care’s work.
We often come across kittens; some are with their mother but many are abandoned because the mother has died or is too weak to look after them. If kittens are found with a healthy mother, both go into foster care, otherwise they’re removed from the colonies while still young enough to be socialised (less than six to eight weeks), are fostered by volunteers, and adopted out. We’re always in need of kitten fosters and forever homes.
Our adoption policy ensures that all cats and kittens adopted through us are sterilised.
How you can help
Cat Care relies solely on funds from street collections, stalls and tea rooms at the cat shows, collection tins, and donations. Whilst we receive no government assistance, we do receive discounted rates from selected supportive private veterinarians. We do not occupy any office premises and rely on volunteers’/members’ support.
Our biggest needs are, of course, funding and cat food. We also need reliable volunteers, sponsorship for the tea rooms, new traps and assistance with the maintenance of existing traps, donations of saleable unwanted goods for our fundraising stalls, good foster homes for kittens, and improvement of public awareness.
For more information – and if you’re willing and able to assist in any way – please contact Samantha Tilleard at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Facebook at “Cat Care Port Elizabeth” link: https://www.facebook.com/Cat-Care-Port-Elizabeth-114657711889623/?fref=ts
Donations are very gratefully received: Cat Care, Standard Bank Rink Street, Account no. 083989625, Branch no. 050417 – and please let Sam know so that we can thank you.
To read more about feral cats, read our feature article http://www.happytailsmagazine.co.za/features/cats-in-the-shadows/
Written by Jackie Grober and photography by Hilette Hatting
Ollie is a brave, confident, inquisitive kitten that is full of mischief. He also has one less leg than usual… After adopting two healthy kittens from Cat Care PE (now a year old), we wondered what it would be like to have a special needs kitten. Would we cope? How would he manage?
Well, let me tell you, he is no different from our other two cats. And truth be told, Ollie is the fastest cat in the house. He runs, jumps climbs and plays just like his brother and sister who, at first, gave him a bit of a rough time but now love him to bits.
Now and then we feel sorry for him when he hops around but, really, we shouldn’t. He knows no better and enjoys life to its fullest; nothing stops our Ollie. With the speed he skitters around our house and garden you might not even notice that he only has three legs, but that might also be because of his BIG personality. Adopting Ollie has certainly brightened our lives and, I have no doubt, his too.
Tara van Vliet, foster mum for Cat Care PE shares…
Jeanne Belling of Cat Care PE rescued Ollie when she was trying to trap a mother cat and kittens in dense bush near the Walker Drive Shopping Centre. As she walked towards where the cats had been seen, she saw the mom and kittens run off. But she also heard crying and started looking in the bush. One kitten was tied up to bushes by creepers...
If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed it: Jeanne had to uproot bush, creeper and kitten and bring the whole lot to Newton Park Animal Hospital just like that, as this feisty mite was extremely angry about being removed; he bit and scratched to be released.
I happened to be at the vet and saw them come in, shrubbery and all. Since I foster and am happy to deal with the super-wild ones, I offered to take this little one in. Dr Fick had to sedate him to remove the creeper from his leg. It did not look good; he couldn’t put any weight on it and there was almost no nerve response. We hoped for the best, but after caring for him for two days, there was sadly no improvement. Thankfully he’d calmed down by now and I took him back to the vet, where the leg was bandaged.
Three days later, I was back: the leg had begun to go septic. Worried that gangrene might set in, we opted to remove the leg and save his life. He sailed through the op and recovered fantastically, running around and playing well with all my other fosters. Gratefully, his operation was covered through sponsorship advertising on Facebook.
When Jackie contacted me about adopting him and we went through the process, I knew I couldn’t have found him a better home.