Protection is a pet love
YEAR on year, the work of animal welfare organisations unwittingly proves the grim reality that, for all our perceptions, Britain might not be a nation of animal lovers after all.
By Debbie Watson
YEAR on year, the work of animal welfare organisations unwittingly proves the grim reality that, for all our perceptions, Britain might not be a nation of animal lovers after all. Fortunately, there's also a lot of very caring volunteers of which our community in particular can be proud. Here Debbie Watson reports on 75 tireless years behind the country's Cats Protection.
IT'S almost impossible to count the number of feline friends sauntering casually past me toward the door.
Barely vocal, but each with a very individual presence, they offer their own curious glances in my direction and then capture the reassuring gaze of their owner.
Black, tabby, brilliant white and the perfect marmalade-ginger, each one of them has come to this home through a story of abandonment, neglect – and occasionally, the legitimate need for re-homing.
For each one of these cats is a testament to the work of a body which celebrates its 75th year this year – the national rescue organisation, Cats Protection.
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They have been compassionately taken under the wing of Ipswich branch co-ordinator, Judy Mills.
To her credit, 58-year-old Judy has taken in literally thousands of cats – albeit often temporarily – and has done her best to deliver them the love and the care from which they have been so desperately lacking.
A member of her organisation for 12 years, Judy claims she is no 'mad cat fanatic' but that she simply wanted to 'do her bit'.
"I got involved in Cats Protection simply because I saw an advert in the paper for fosterers and thought 'oh yes, I could do that, couldn't I'.
"I liked cats, of course I did, but I wasn't particularly passionate about them," she said. "It was simply that I realised I could offer something which was very much in need – and that was it."
Judy, who lives alone in Chantry, slowly found herself taking in more and more rescued cats as an active member of the Ipswich, Framlingham and Saxmundam branch.
Each time someone called the HQ – or the branch – to say they wanted to find a home for a cat, Judy and her CP colleagues would share the duty to give the feline friends new hope.
Cats Protection, in its entirety, homes more than 75,000 cats a year. It aims to rescue stray and unwanted cats and kittens, to rehabilitate and re-home them.
Often, according to Judy, that quest can be a thoroughly frustrating – not to mention depressing – one.
"Since I've been involved with Cats Protection I've grown more and more aware of the careless attitude with which people regard their pets," she said. "So many of the calls we receive are from people who have literally decided that they no longer want their cat.
"There doesn't even need to be a reason for it. They just decide they don't want it, and so they call us and demand that we come and pick it up."
And the alternative is that some even more inconsiderate owners will simply abandon their cats altogether.
Judy said: "Other times, people decide they don't want to go to the effort of finding a new home for their cat, so they try and encourage it to go off.
"It's then that we find it abandoned, or we get a call from a member of the public saying that they have a stray they've seen regularly, and that they'd like us to take in."
Judy sighs at the attitude of some owners and relays just some of the tragic stories of people having moved house and left a cat to fend for itself because it no longer 'suits their lifestyle'.
She picks up her phone and plays me a typical series of messages left on her answer-machine in a normal day.
"This is what I come home to most days," she said after playing the 14 calls. Just one call came from a lady wanting to adopt a cat, and one other from a person wishing to make a donation.
"Sadly, the remaining dozen were from people who no longer want their cat, or who think they've discovered a stray.
"I can take as many as 23 calls like this in one day, and that's where it can be quite upsetting because you realise what the reality is," Judy admitted.
"To make matters worse, many of the less considerate owners just can't be bothered to get their cats neutered and so you know that there's plenty more kittens out there who are roaming the streets unwanted.
"That really upsets me. There's absolutely no excuse for not getting a cat neutered – and its essential if you realise that a cat can get pregnant from six months old, and will have no problem in having three litters in one year."
Encouraging neutering among cats that are not required for breeding is another massive goal of Cats Protection.
In her 24-hour role, Judy is forever jumping in to her van to collect strays and unwanteds – and many of them have resulted from an absolute ignorance of neutering.
"We're finding more and more mums and kittens on the streets that have only come about because Mum's owner did not get her neutered."
Guiding me through six pens of cats at the bottom of her garden, Judy added: "We're also seeing more and more ferrel cats (those that are very wild). I have a couple here with me now, but we're very aware of how aggressive these cats can be.
"They've been abandoned in the original instance, then they breed, and their kittens breed too. There are millions of cats out there without homes, and that's something that society obviously just isn't fully aware of."
Such is the problem of stray and unwanted cats – in particular in the area of Suffolk – that the original branch to which Judy joined realised three years ago that an independent Ipswich branch would be appropriate.
Judy took the role of co-ordinator, and she already has an army of ten fosterers for this young branch.
"Starting up the branch was proof that we were in enough demand to justify it, and all the time we're getting more and more calls," she said.
"I'm not thinking about giving up my involvement – I get too much satisfaction out of re-homing – but sometimes I wonder what an impact it would have if I and some of the other fosterers did leave.
"I suppose it's ridiculous to think you're indispensable, but when I see how many messages I get on my phone, and when I realise how many cats I take in week on week, I realise that the organisation cannot afford any less help and support than it already has."
She added: "For 75 years it has done some truly wonderful work, all funded by our charity efforts and donations.
"I've seen that work from the inside, so I'm absolutely committed to ensuring that the organisation gets a helping hand on its way to achieving yet another fantastic 75 years of cat-caring."