The Moggie Blog

Friday, 15 April 2011

One in a Million

We often use the phrase "one in a million" to describe something rare or even something we just hapen to like very much.

In Jasper's case though, he really is a cat in a million - or according to some statistics - a cat in four million.

Jasper is a very rare thing, a male tortoise shell cat.  Genetics demonstrate that male cats cannot exist (see notes below), but our little Jasper is very much alive and male.

He was found living in the garden of an empty house.  The kind people who found him fed him for several months and brought him to our centre recently.  He will be advertised and then neutered (he is likely to be sterile) and he has been reserved in the event that no one claims him, so he has a new home waiting.

It is such a shame that someone saw fit to abandon him.  In our looks-obsessed culture, we are amazed that something so rare and beautiful isn't prized, and yet, from our point of view, although Jasper's appearance has caused a stir, we would consider any cat to be "one in a million" as they are all unique with different personalities, habits and characteristics.

In cats the colour gene is carried on the X chromosome. Female cats have two X chromosomes so can have colour from both chromosmes, whereas male cats have an X and a Y chromosome, so only one (the X) has the colour gene. So in a female cat, black can be inherited from one parent and ginger (red) from the other which results in a tortoise shell cat (sometimes called calico or chintz). A male cat from the same parentage, having only one X chromosome, would be either ginger or black. Male tortoise shell cats are found to have a mutation giving an XXY chromosome set-up and are usually sterile.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

I'll have chips with mine ....

Hello everyone

My name's Harriet, or maybe Harry, or actually maybe it's Tigger.  You see, being a cat I can't speak so I can't tell you.

Here's my story...I was found straying in a Bradford suburb in a pretty poor condition.  Thin, hungry and dirty.  The kind lady who found me made enquiries, but no one knew where I'd come from, so she took me in and offered me a home.

Because she didn't know my name, and because she thought I was a boy cat (perish the thought!), she called me Harry.  A few weeks later, I went along to the vets for "the snip".  They took one look under my tail and realised that I am a girl.

My kind friend tried very hard to keep me, but she had been rescuing quite a few stray cats and we were all getting on top of each other, so she asked Haworth Cat Rescue to find me a place at their centre with a view to rehoming me.  When I got to their lovely centre, they decided to change my name from Harry to Harriet to reduce confusion about whether I am a girl or a boy.

Another thing they did was to check me for a microchip to see if anyone had owned me in the past, and yes, their machine went beep-beep (which made us all jump!) because just under my skin on the back of my neck is a little piece of fantastic technology no bigger than a grain of rice.  This little microchip (or chip) has a number which is readable by the little magic machine which cat rescues and vets have, and the number is registered on a database alongside my owners' name and address.

Haworth Cat Rescue wrote to my owners to tell them I was at their centre, and they were thrilled to bits as I had been missing for over two years.  They hotfooted it to the Centre and recognised me straight away - and told the staff and volunteers that my real name is Tigger!

So I am now back at home and very happy to be here.

There is a moral to my story (well, three, actually).
1. Get your cat (and dog and any animal you can) microchipped - it doesn't cost a great deal.
2. If you move house, make sure you update the details - had my owners moved and not updated the details I would never have been reunited.
3. If you find a cat who appears to have no owner, take him or her to a vet to be scanned.  A vet won't charge you and it will only take a minute or two.  Although I will always be grateful to the lady who found me and helped me, had she had me scanned, I would have been reunited with my owners many months earlier.

And a little plea to any vet reading this - please scan any animals that you haven't seen before, particularly if the person bringing it in doesn't know where it lived previously - microchips only work if the animal is scanned!

Friday, 11 March 2011

A Tale of Two Kitties

Kittens are so cute - we all love their little faces peering hopefully at us as they wait for new homes.  And we love to snuggle them close, play little games with them and laugh at their antics as, safe in the knowledge that they will come to no harm, they jump and pounce and chase.
But what of their less fortunate cousins?  Those baby cats who are born away from loving homes, out in the wild in old dilapidated buildings, under bushes, behind broken fence panels.  Cats are such a hardy species that their survival rates are high, and their mums are such good hunters, catching mice and other rodents that usually most of the litter will survive.
The main issue with kittens born away from homes, is domestication.  It is essential that kittens are handled in the first months of their lives so that they quickly learn that human hands are  kind.  Because kittens born in the wild are hidden by their mothers until they are able to walk out of the nest, around 5-7 weeks old, people are often not even aware of their existence until they are big enough to run away.  And that makes taming them much much harder.
Whenever possible we would encourage people who notice such kittens to catch them, handle them and play with them - the earlier they are caught, the sooner they learn to trust, in fact in some cases it can be as little as four or five days. If they are left until they are bigger - they take much much longer to tame.
Take Nessa and Hettie, pictured above.  They were noticed at about eight weeks of age by a kind lady who started to feed them.  Because their mum was tame and friendly, the lady assumed that the kittens would learn by example - but this isn't the case with cats - they let their instinct drive them, and their instinct says "DANGER!".  
Nessa and Hettie were about four months old when they came to us, and they were absolutely terrified.  We had to put them in indoor cages for a few weeks to get them used to being handled, and gradually teach them to trust.  At the time of writing, Nessa is almost ready for rehoming (to an experienced owner), whereas Hettie will be some time before she is confident enough.
The person feeding them did well, and meant well, but had she caught them and handled them, they would have been far tamer.
Contrast this with Mary, who came from a similar background.  In her case, the lady feeding her mum knew that Mary had to be caught and handled.  When Mary came to us for rehoming she was used to being handled, and used to people being around, and although she was nervous in crowds of people, we were able to rehome her to a relatively quiet home very soon after she came to us.
If you spot tiny kittens playing in your garden, don't be afraid to catch them and play with them - the few weeks of handling you can give them at the start of their lives will make a huge difference to all their remaining years.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Botox for cats? No, not really!

Aslan is a big hunk of a cat who came to us in the wintertime after being spotted hanging around a local housing estate for several months.  He was a big lad, with an enormous head, and rather jumpy and nervous if approached, although not unfriendly.
It was immediately apparent that there was something wrong with his eyes - cat flu was suspected by the person who brought him in, but the eye discharge was not accompanied by any sneezing or other symptoms.

An examination by our vets revealed that Aslan had ingrowing eyelids, which were rubbing on the surfaces of his eyes, causing them constant irritation and making them sticky.

An operation was called for, and duly carried out.  Tiny strips of skin were removed to open his eyes a little more and to remove the excess skin which was folding in and causing him such irritation. ("Botox for cats", as one of our volunteers called it!).  He was also neutered and had several teeth removed or cleaned.  

Aslan has a very large head which is normally caused by a build up of testosterone due to him being un-neutered until we got him - by which time he was already middle aged. 

The transformation from a squinting, smelling, sniffing scared lad to a big clearsighted, sweet-smelling, clean-breathing softy has been a joy to behold.  The nerves which caused the aggression disappeared quite quickly and we believe that they were simply due to the poor vision that his condition caused.

It is easy to fall prey to the belief that any cat with runny eyes has cat flu - and indeed this may often be the case - but Aslan demonstrates that other conditions may be the cause.  Any cat with runny eyes should be examined by a vet who will be able to advise the best option.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Return to sender - not this time :(

With the number of stray cats who come to our centre, you'd think that a reasonable proportion would end up being reunited with their owners.

One great way to reunite lost cats is the microchip, a small implant put under the skin in the cat's neck, which contains a unique number. The number is then registered on a central database along with a description of the cat and the name, address and other contact details of the owner.

One of the biggest highs for our volunteers and staff is when we take in a stray and are able to reunite him or her with loving owners who have been looking for him. Sometimes the cat is found quite close to home, other times it can be many miles away, always prompting the question "how did he (or she) get that far?"

Sadly, the reality is, that most cats who come in as strays aren't microchipped, and very very few end up being reunited - once they're advertised in the paper local to where they were found we rehome them. Of course, there may be a desparate owner searching frantically in the next town for their much-loved pet, but we have no way of knowing where the cat may have originated from, and so we cannot advertise in the correct town.

Almost worse than that, though, is the cat who comes in as a stray, turns out to be microchiped but to our disappointment is microchipped to the wrong address. Presumably the owners have moved and declined to pay the small administration fee to have the address details updated.

In these cases we have a small advantage - we can advertise both in the location where the cat was found, and in the location where the cat is registered as living, but sadly very very rarely does this result in a match.

This is exactly what happened with Charlie, pictured above. A lady had been feeding him for some time, had made local enquiries to see if anyone knew him, but had drawn a blank. She brought him to our centre and we were delighted to find his microchip, but hugely saddened when his owners could not be traced from it. We have advertised locally and are trying to contact all people in the phone book with the same surname - luckily it is not too common! But the chances are slight that we will locate them.

We would love to see all owners taking responsibility for their pets. Microchipping them and then keeping their details up to date when they move. It would help cut down the number of strays, and the heartbreak that owners feel when their pets go missing.

As for Charlie, he will probably be with us for a couple of weeks whilst we try to find his owners, but failing that we will have no option but to put him up for adoption. Hopefully his new owners will keep his microchip details up to date.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A Wandering Minstrel I Shall Be

You would think, wouldn't you, that the neutering message should be starting to filter through by now, but there is still a large percentage of cat owners who through ignorance, arrogance or sheer laziness don't get their cats neutered.

Some people think that it isn't fair - that a cat should be allowed to "enjoy" the opportunity to mate, but in fact what they are doing is imposing human feelings onto something which, for cats, involves no element of choice.

Female cats come into season whether they'd want to or not, and for several days until the season ends, they are relentlessly pursued by tom cats, determined to mate with them. For the female cats, the actual act of mating is very painful - nature's way of stimulating ovulation to produce as many kittens as possible. This is one reason you may hear screaming from mating cats. That's without the risk of disease, bites and the possibility of getting lost or injured as they run from the waiting toms. A queen (female cat) can be mated many times during her season, and she can produce kittens from each mating. For female cats, this is repeated at least twice and sometimes four times each year.

Tom cats don't get a much better deal. To successfully mate, he firstly needs to find an in-season queen (and this may involve a journey of several miles) and once he finds her he needs to fight all the other tom cats to get himself at the top of the pecking order and first in the queue. This is another reason that you may hear screaming when there is a queen in season. After he's mated her (sometimes several times) he will go looking for another queen, and so on. Of course, like the queens, he is exposed to disease, danger from becoming lost and injury and accident. Gradually, most tom cats forget where they live, they establish a territory with places to sleep and eat (if they're lucky) and become less and less used to going home and interacting with people.

The tom has absolutely no choice in this behaviour, his hormones dictate his behaviour and he has no possibility of denying his actions.

We see a number of youngish tom cats each year, who have embarked - without intent - on such a life. Generally speaking these are friendly cats, although they may be initially nervous, and they often come in with injuries and/or parasites. They are normally reported to us as strays or nuisance cats - cats who enter homes through cat flaps and steal food for the feline residents. They may nest in gardens - greenhouses or sheds - or make use of open windows or cat flaps to access a home - and of course worst of all from the home owners' point of view is the smell they leave when they spray urine to mark their territory.

Freddie, pictured above, is a typical example. He's a young-middle aged lad, un-neutered who was found straying in someone's garden. He'd been visiting her for six months, and she'd been feeding him, but couldn't keep him as he did not get on with her cat.

He came to us with a large abscess on his head caused no doubt by fighting, dreadful earmites - his ears were almost solidly filled, and the usual complement of worms and fleas. He wears an aroma of tom cat which would make all but the most hardy faint, and he eats as though every meal is his last.

But he is such a friendly lad, loves to be stroked and petted and will curl up and sleep on a comfy lap if anyone sits in his pen for more than a few moments.

The really sad thing about Freddie, is that at some point in his past he has been loved. Some family, couple or individual will have been thrilled to bits with their new baby kitten - all fluff and breezes and chasing his tail, the things that all baby cats do. They will have taken photos, told all their friends about his latest antics and maybe put his picture on facebook or other social media sites.

Then, one day he will have gone out - missing for a couple of days and they will have worried themselves daft, wondering where he'd gone. But hey! It's OK, he's back and he's safe. A week or so later he will have done it again - they would have been concerned but not quite as much because, after all, he came back last time. And sure enough, after a week or so, he's back. Tired, a bit bedraggled and hungry but OK. And so it goes on. Gradually he stays away longer; gradually his owners get used to it, and stop worrying. In fact after a time they don't notice when he's gone - in fact they're surprised when he comes home. And eventually he doesn't come home at all.

The owners don't care, he'd stopped being loving to them some time ago. He didn't have time for cuddles and purrs, he just wanted to sleep and eat - regain a bit of energy before his hormones pulled him out back on the treadmill again. But they still want a cat, so off they go and get another one - again usually a male because after all they don't want to be irresponsible and have kittens - and the cycle begins all over again.

Meanwhile, their previous furbaby/bundle of fluff/cute kitten is sheltering from the rain under a hedge while he fights off other tom cats for a few seconds of testosterone-driven pleasure with a queen.

Wouldn't his life have been better if he'd been neutered, remained that "love sponge" that he was in his kittenhood, and slept by a radiator or on the foot of a warm bed every night?

Freddie has been advertised as a found stray. No one has responded. He will be neutered very shortly and then we will find him that loving forever home that he so greatly deserves.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Wild thing - I think I love you :)

As many of our readers will know, the primary role of Haworth Cat Rescue is that of a rehoming centre. We take in strays, and cats who are no longer able to remain with their owners and find them new homes.

Most cats are in and out of our centre within a couple of weeks, undergoing neutering, microchipping and any other veterinary treatment beforehand. Stray cats tend to be with us slightly longer as we need to advertise them first, in case their owners are still looking for them.

In most cases, it is a relatively quick process and the cats aren't unduly troubled by their enforced holiday at our Cat Rescue.

In some cases, however, cats can be with us for many weeks and sometimes months. Typical cats in this category are elderly cats, cats with chronic medical conditions, cats with behavioural issues and feral cats.

Feral cats are quite simply cats that have not been domesticated. They are usually the result of a domesticated cat being dumped or getting lost, then getting pregnant and having her kittens in a quiet place away from humans. The kittens grow up without any trust in people, and see humans as an enemy. It is learned behaviour, not inherited, so a domesticated cat can give birth to a litter who become feral, who in turn can give birth to a litter who (if handled) can be completely domesticated. Sometimes adult cats can be domesticated but it is a difficult and long process, and not to be undertaken lightly - the success rate is very low.

Kittens under about 3 months can usually be domesticated if they receive intensive handling, but older cats take much longer and many never tame. What they may do, however, is become comfortable with certain people, so although they may not become lap-cats or allow themselves to be stroked, they may approach certain people quite closely, and even take an interest in whatever is going on.

Many people fear feral cats, and think that they will attack, however, like may wild animals, their instinct is to flee, not fight. The only times people are at risk from feral cats is when the cat is cornered - and may inflict injuries on people as they try to escape - or if a mother cat has a litter of kittens she is protecting.

Some organisations euthanase feral cats, however, we aim to give them a chance of a life with some quality, and so we look for suitable outdoor homes on a farm, stables, smallholding, or even a nursery or public gardens etc. Anywhere where they will have shelter, food and not need to mix with people if they don't want to. We have rehomed feral cats in the past to safe factories and light industrial units too - where the cats do a great job at keeping rodents at bay - and probably amuse the staff too (just don't tell the boss!).

Eva and her mum Gracie, pictured above are two young female cats who are both feral. It is likely that Gracie's mum was abandoned, and managed to raise her so that in turn she had kittens of her own. Eva is only about 6 months old and we don't think Gracie is much older. Both ladies, now neutered, have been with us for some months now, they aren't as happy in their current situation as they would be in a safe outdoor home, so we hope that before long someone with a mouse problem decides to get the best deterrant nature provided!

We are currently fundraising to build a new centre and we intend to have a feral sanctuary attached to this, so that feral cats waiting for new homes can at least have some freedom whilst they wait, and don't need to live in cat pens.