I spend a fair bit of my spare time involved in cat rescue work with Croydon Cats Protection, and usually have several 'lodgers' sharing my studio with me, waiting for a new home to come along.
Visit my foster cats, past and present - click on the pawprints to go there!
They are just about tolerated by my own two cats Willow and Cocoa. (Willow is also in the little icon on this page).
Cocoa, 17 (left) and Willow, 15 (right) in close-up.
These two long-suffering souls allowed two newcomers into their domain...
Merlin, a half-Chinchilla grey tabby, and Bracken, a male tortoiseshell - only one in 10,000 cats are male tortoiseshells.
Bracken was one of a litter of 3 unwanted kittens (two torties, one black - the other tortie was female) we were given. As he is so rare we wanted him to stay within the group and I was asked if I would adopt him! Our worries were that he might otherwise be adopted for his novelty value, or with the misconception that money could be made by breeding from him - however as only one in a million male torties are actually fertile, this just won't happen!
Bracken aged 3 years (June 2002) Bracken aged 10 months (January 2000)
Merlin aged 3 years (August 2002)
Merlin was one of a litter of 6, all grey/silver tabbies, who were born to a pedigree Chinchilla that was handed over to us by a breeder who was fed up with this cat not mating with the required stud cat. Twice Chloe (the Chinchilla) escaped whilst on heat and during the second pregnancy she was abandoned to us. All 6 kittens had to be hand-reared from 2 weeks as Chloe's milk dried up. Happily they all lived and are all now homed.
Merlin's mother, Chloe, lives with another member of Croydon CP. Would you like to see her?
Visit beautiful Chloe's home here
Merlin and Bracken when very small
Both of these gorgeous babies are rescue kittens.
In 1996 I also adopted Wonky, a rescue cat who was semi-feral, that is, fairly wild and not liking human contact. He was the result of a thoughtless owner who allowed her 6 cats to run wild and breed uncontrollably, and by the time CPL were called in there were 50 offspring to deal with.
Wonky lived here for nearly 2 years, and below is the story of his rescue.
"And then there were 50"......
In October 1996 a call was received from a woman who needed CPL help with neutering her cats. She was being evicted from her council house, and could only take her cats with her if they were 'done'. She said she had 6 cats, which she'd had for 10 years or so. So one of our volunteers duly went round to take the cats to the vet.
The house was an old Victorian villa, rambling over 3 floors and an attic, near a busy high street. The garden was rather overgrown. No cats to be seen outside. As she walked up the path a distinctive aroma could be smelt... cat pee, in a high concentration.
On being let in to the house an unimaginable sight met her gaze. And the smell was enough to make you choke. The electricity and gas had been cut off some time ago, so the house was in pitch darkness. By torchlight, knee-high piles of rubbish covered the floor - old cartons, possessions, rotting clothes, empty cat food tins. The floor was no longer covered in carpet - this had rotted away under the assault of cat urine, 10 years' worth. Every surface - vertical and horizontal - was covered in sticky, slimy, brown furry gunge. This included the cooker, table, bath, staircase.... Litter trays lurked in corners, clearly filled up a long time previously and never emptied. Black dribbles down the walls turned out to be cat pee that had soaked through from the floor above. And in all this filth and mess, her cats had been living and breeding for 10 years, never allowed outside.
Our volunteer made a rough count of the cats she could see, which came to about 30. They were scared, semi-feral animals, not used to daylight let alone human contact. Realising the scale of the task, she took the woman's 6 cats that she had been told of, and went away to call the RSPCA in to help. The woman claimed to be amazed that she had more than 6 cats.
A major trapping operation then took place. There were cats of all ages, everywhere, under floorboards, in the attic. None of them were tame. Two weeks later, a total of 50 cats and kittens had been captured and taken into care - the RSPCA took 28 and we took 22. I went back with our CPL volunteer to fetch the last trap. The woman had been moved out by then, and the sorry, sub-human conditions are a sight that I'll never forget. The last cat had been heard moving in the attic, purely by chance, and fortunately was lured by hot chicken and entered the humane trap. She was a thin, longhaired calico, scared and hissing. We left a plate of chicken down, to see if any was eaten by the next day, as otherwise we would assume all the cats were taken out.
Then began the task of fostering the cats and accustoming them to human company. Clearly some were tamer than others. Some were obviously quite feral, and these were neutered and held awaiting a feral home for a small colony of 4-6. Some of these cats were so unused to the light of day that they sat with their eyes closed against the sunshine.
The tamer cats went into foster homes, and were neutered and vaccinated. Every single cat had terrible ear mites, and some cats had deformed ears as a result. But as the neutering continued it was clear that the cats had more problems than ear mites. The spay wounds were not healing, but becoming infected and troublesome. Our suspicions were confirmed when we had these little females tested - they were FeLV positive, every one of them. They went rapidly downhill, and had to be put to sleep, which was quite heartbreaking given all they'd been through. So then all the other cats were tested. It's times like this that our isolation policy really pays off.
Out of the 22 cats, 12 were positive for FeLV. (after two tests) With great sadness we had to have these put to sleep. Cats with FeLV cannot be released into the outdoors, and will die anyway within a short time. The other 10 cats were clear and tested negative. They were very, very lucky. FeLV is infectious, and in the conditions they had been living in, it was a miracle that some had escaped the disease, whether due to natural immunity or otherwise.
I had been fostering Wonky for 6 weeks, one of these FeLV negative cats. He had a crumpled ear, due to chronic ear mites and haematomas (blood blisters under the skin) because of him scratching and shaking his ears. He was unhandleable, and given to howling at night! He wanted to mix with my own cats, but I couldn't let them catch the ear mites, so he had to stay penned up. I couldn't get hold of him to put the drops in his ears, and he'd already sent my boyfriend to casualty when he had a go, by sinking all four fangs into his hand (through a garden glove). Wonky couldn't be homed, couldn't be released into a feral colony, and couldn't be treated. He was destined to a life of chronic ear infections and being driven mad by the irritation of the ear mites. We were seriously considering having him put to sleep, when one of our vets we use made the offer of taking him into the surgery and treating him there, twice daily for a week, for nothing. This saved Wonky's life. He was cured of his ear mites, and I was able to give him antibiotics in his food which he wolfed down.
Still no home for Wonky, though all the other cats from the 'house of horror' had been homed. After months of waiting, I decided he could stay here as one of my cats. If a home came up he could go, but he deserved more than a temporary status. Wonky met my cats and turned out to be quite a one for the girls (deep sniffs of the females' behinds, eyes closed in bliss!!!), even sneaking a quick leg-over until he was caught. (This was after he was neutered!) Poor Wonky was also quite deaf, because of his years of ear mites. This explained the howling - he still howls if he finds himself on his own, until one of the other cats comes into sight. He is also obsessed with the litter trays and covers up for ages, then announces the all-clear. When he runs and plays he curls his tail up like a piglet's tail, and is quite demented. I can't handle him at all, but have managed a quick stroke when he's been fast asleep! But he does like company, and although he keeps a suspicious eye on me, is never far away.
How many other 'horror houses' are there? Little lives being brought into the world, only to be neglected, catch fatal diseases and die after just a short time? The woman was lazy and ignorant, but ignorance kills. 12 of her cats were lucky and were given new, clean, loving homes, but what a waste of the others. Stories like this spur me on to continue helping cats that suffer at the hands of human ignorance and cruelty. I hope you reading this, will think of doing the same. If you even help just one cat or kitten that you find as a stray or adopt from a shelter, it will be worth it. We can never help all the cats out there, but all of us are individuals, and every one effort goes towards a greater whole.
You can see a few of my ex-foster cats and also read another story about Katie, a cat of great personality who we rescued - click here.
If you would like to help yourself to a few of my cat cartoons click here; they are low-res for web use, but if you would like a high-res version for using to the benefit of a cat rescue group, email me. They were done for Croydon CPL's posters, web site and newsletter originally.
9 Lives is a London UK based rescue group helping to save the lives of cats which are elderly, disabled, or have a health condition and tries to find permanent homes for them.
9 Lives is run by volunteers and only receives funding by public donations. All monies received go towards helping the cats and no monies are taken for personal expenses or office space.
Links for anyone who has a cat, or is interested in cats and cat rescue. If you have a cat rescue charity which you would like added to this list please email me with the details.
Feline Advisory Bureau
Feral Cat Coalition
Friends of Campus Cats
Cornell Veterinary School
Encyclopedia of Feline Veterinary Medical Information
The Cat Basket
Cats @ nationalgeographic.com