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.

Monday, 25 January 2010

A Tom Thumb kitten tail!

As a rehoming centre we get our fair share of kittens, most of whom are either fostered out for a brief period until they're old enough to be rehomed, or who are old enough to go to new homes almost straightaway. Usually the former have a lovely mummy cat to nurse them, and to teach them the things that all grown up cats need to know, and the latter are usually old enough to have left their mum, full of cat-lore and knowledge to enable them to live long and happy lives.

There is another group of kittens, a small but select group, and these are the orphan kits. These are the kits who no longer have a mummy, and come to us aged anything from 1 day upwards. They have usually become orphans either because somethinghas separated them from their mum (she may have died or they may have been removed), or because she has rejected them.

It's hard work, but usually if something has happened to separate them from mum they have a good chance of survival. Sadly if they have been rejected by their mum, their chances of survival are less - mummy-cats are very good at sensing if something is wrong. So if we're given a litter of orphans, we usually reckon that their chances are good, but if we get a single kitten, particularly if it is found in an unusual place, such as the middle of a garden, or car park, or just out in the open somewhere, there is a strong possibility that there will be something wrong with it and it won't survive.

Such is the story of Remus, who came to us on Hallowe'en 2009, aged about 10 days having been found on his own in someone's garden. We hoped that his mum had been moving him and been disturbed and dropped him, but only time would tell if he was well enough to survive.

So began the routine of feeding him every two hours or so. The amount they eat at that age is miniscule (about a teaspoon full), and you are hard pressed to believe that it is going to be of any benefit. As time progresses, however, the amounts they eat do increase and bit by bit they start to grow. It is usually around the five weeks stage that any problems manifest themselves, as the kit becomes more active.

Here are some photos of Remus shortly after he came into our care (the ginger kitten, Freddy was about 10 weeks old, Remus about 2 weeks old).

Remus did really well until the dreaded five weeks milestone, at which point he simply stopped growing - for about three weeks he hardly grew at all (apart from his stomach which seemed to be huge!), and we were concerned that serious health problems were starting to manifest themselves.

At about eight weeks, he suddenly began to grow again, and grew steadily until he reached the required weight for neutering - three weeks behind schedule.

Despite his shaky start, Remus has grown into a lithe healthy kitten, rather over-confident (which is often a side-effect of hand-reared kittens), and we were delighted to be able to rehome him at the weekend. We think that he will finally grow up to be a big cat.

We wonder what happened to his poor mummy...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Thrown out with the rubbish!

Many of our local readers will have seen us on Yorkshire TV before Christmas, when we were featured because of a story that appeared about us in The Keighley News.

The story was about Snudgie, a white and grey cat with four kittens who came to us after suffering a terrible ordeal.

Snudgie's story began one cold night in November last year when a householder in Leeds went to throw some rubbish into a nearby skip. Just as he was about to let go of the bag he heard crying from inside the skip and fortunately his curiosity got the better of him. Looking inside the skip he saw movement from underneath some material, and further investigation showed that the material was a curtain tied up with something inside it.

The "something inside" turned out to be a mother cat and four tiny newborn kittens. Needless to say, he took them back with him. What a lucky escape that he didn't throw the bag away - it would in all likelihood have landed on the cat and injured or killed her and/or the kittens.

The finder contacted a veterinary surgeons who put him in touch with West Yorkshire Animals in Need. This organisation (amongst other things) does valuable liaison work between animal rescue groups, vets and other animal groups. They were able to contact us and we luckily had a fosterer available who could take them.

Snudgie and the kittens came to us via WYAIN and were placed in a foster home, where they have thrived, luckily none the worse for their ordeal.

It is terrible to think of the dreadful death Snudgie and her kits would have had, had the householder not been there. There are many ways to rehome an unwanted cat, but throwing them into a skip is not the way to do it.

We believe that Snudgie actually gave birth whilst in the skip, or very shortly before, and of course the cold alone might have been enough to kill the babies.

Snudgie is now ready for a new home, and her kits will be neutered shortly and will be ready soon. At least their futures are secure, we shudder to think of other cats and kittens in similar situations through no fault of their own.

Please encourage anyone you know to have their cat neutered.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The not-so-dirty dozen >^..^<

It's not uncommon for us to be asked to rehome a pair or a small group of cats - usually a family group such as a mother and her kittens or a group of siblings.

We were rather astounded recently when we were asked to rehome a household of twelve cats. Their poor owner had recently been diagnosed with a severe illness, and this, compounded with a change in his domestic circumstances meant that he could no longer keep his cats.

He actually had nineteen altogether, but had managed to find someone to care for five of them whilst he was in hospital and had rehomed two directly himself.

The tragedy of this situation is that these were very much loved cats - all neutered and up-to-date with medical treatment - and in normal circumstances their owner would have expected to keep them for the rest of their lives.

It is such a shame that he did not make arrangements long ago for the cats to be cared for "should anything happen". Too many people either think that they will be alright and will be able to keep their cats forever, or they assume that in the worst case scenario, a relative or friend will take responsibility for their cat. We often hear "I would never let my cats go to a rescue centre" - but sometimes, this is the only option. The best way to ensure that your pets don't end up in a rescue centre, is to make
concrete arrangements for their well-being, even when all is well in your world. Hopefully you will never have to call upon these arrangements, but if ever your situation should change for the worse, you will have a fall-back solution for your cats.

Take these simple steps:
1. Ask someone to care for your pet - repeat this for each pet you have, even if different people take different pets, at least they will be safe and cared for.
2. Make a clear note and put in somewhere prominent in your house "In case of emergency ...XXX... will take care of my cat [name]. Put a copy with your legal papers too.
3. Check every six months or so that the arrangement is still valid - remember, other people's circumstances change too.
4. Make a reciprocal offer to a friend or relative - but remember to tell them if your circumstances change.

The rescue centres are there to help, but particularly in these hard-pressed times, they are struggling to keep afloat, and quite a few rescue centres in our area have closed, or are temporarily not taking pets in. This is one way to try and ensure that your pet doesn't end up in a rescue centre, or worse.

Hopefully, you won't need a friend, and you and your pet will live happily ever after, just as Pamba, Taiba, Polgara, Jacob, Henry, Kheldar, Bazo, Aboli, Tungata Zebewe, Dufford Charliewood, Rumbo and Sarah are now doing.

Monday, 4 January 2010

The Rocky Road to Success

As a rehoming charity, we generally only see cats for a relatively short period of time. Most cats who come into our Centre need only basic medical treatment, such as neutering and dental work, and are then ready for new homes.

Sometimes, however, we have cats who need a lot more attention and care. One such cat is Rocky.

Rocky is a black and white tom cat who came into our Centre some months ago. His owner no longer wanted him and two other cats due to changes in the household, and asked us to rehome them all. As he left, Rocky's previous owner mentioned that he could be a bit bad-tempered at times.

That proved to be an understatement! Rocky was so traumatised that he would leap at the heads of any of our volunteers who approached him. This behaviour is extremely rare in cats, most frightened cats flee rather than attack. He also sat in a permanently hunched up state, eyes wide, ears flat to the head and his body poised to spring. This was much much more than a bad-tempered cat, this was a very traumatised cat.

Our initial approach was to let Rocky have time to settle and to get used to life at our Centre. He was in a pen on his own and although he could watch people and other cats, he could not be easily approached by them. When - after a few weeks - this didn't seem to be making a difference, we decided to create a completely safe space for Rocky by surrounding his pen with "curtains" and giving him plenty of boxes to hide in. We also limited his contact with humans, allowing only one volunteer to clean his pen and feed him.

This reduced his wariness to an extent, insofar as his ears stopped being flat to his head and he stopped jumping at heads! His progress was much slower than we hoped, however, unlike other cats who had gone through a similar rehabilitation process and had relaxed in a matter of weeks. After three months Rocky was still showing every sign of being traumatised.

At this stage, we felt that the only option to ensure that he had a quality of life was to enclose him indoors in a very small cage and to teach him by association that humans could be his friend. So this is what we did.

It became apparent very soon that he hadn't been neutered and after a trip to the vets to have this operation performed his rehabilitation proceeded in earnest.

At first, the cage was completely covered, but we realised quite soon that he was less stressed if he had some visibility.

At first, we left Rocky to his own devices, but once we noticed that he was looking out and taking an interest, we started talking to him. We noticed that he allowed us to put food into his cage and to remove empty dishes without striking us, so for a few weeks we gave him several small meals each day, which reinforced for him the fact that human hands could be kind.

Along the way our volunteers were quite badly scratched in the process, but we persevered, and gradually Rocky came to welcome attention and started talking back. After a couple of months one of our voluteers, wearing gloves, started to stroke Rocky, and within a couple of days of this, Rocky started responding, looking forward to being stroked and even grabbing the hand as it retreated to try and obtain more strokes!

We are now at the stage where we are considering letting Rocky out of his cage. He has been there for some time now, a situation which is distressing for the volunteers who deal with him, but we can't believe the turnaround in his behaviour. He is really starting to tame up, and we are even thinking that at some point this year we may be able to do what we planned originally to do for him ...find him a loving forever home.