Cats are often given less priority in welfare work, as they are seen as more independent than dogs and able to catch their own food. Although this may be partly true, they are also very vulnerable when they have no owner as they are left untreated when they are sick or injured; they are not treated for parasites and they breed unchecked, often within families, leading to genetic weakness and yet more sickness and deformity. Most kittens are born when summer resorts are open and they are unaccustomed to finding their own live food. Their mothers may take them to places where visitors feed them so they will not have an opportunity to learn the necessary skills. When winter comes and resorts close, these cats suffer great deprivation and many die of malnutrition and ill health.
The most important aspect of cat welfare is to sterilize and therefore stabilize the population within an area. Many local people like to have cats around to control the rat and mice population, and will feed them, but when the numbers grow too big they find ways of getting rid of them. If left un-checked, one female cat and her off-spring can produce about 10,000 kittens between them within six years. Over-population of cats sometimes leads to drastic measures of control such as poisoning or dumping young kittens into dustbins. VOCAL is working with local vets to sterilize female cats and therefore stop this practice.
Neutering cats is expensive so although we castrate males, we catch more females because this represents best value for money. The first task is to locate the areas where cats are living and to try to identify which are female. We talk to local people and try to encourage their acceptance and willingness to let us sterilize. We visit the area and feed the cats on a regular basis. This helps build up the cats’ health; familiarises them to the food we use for trapping, (if a cat is used to eating only scraps and fish heads, they will not be interested in anything else); and, if they are nervous of people, we must get them used to us being close by.
Female cats are very suspicious and much more difficult to trap than males, especially after they have had their first litter of kittens. If the first attempt is not successful it can take a long time before another attempt at catching can be made, so it is important to set everything up properly to improve the chances of catching them the first time.
Depending on circumstances either an automatic trap is set or a manual one. The trap is set up in the area where the cats feed, at a time when they are hungry. The trap is covered with a blanket and food is placed around the trap and inside. If an automatic trap is being used, the cat sets off a trap door when it steps on a metal plate inside. With using the manual trap someone holds a long string running from the door and when the cat enters, the door is pulled shut.
Once captured, the cat is transferred from the trap to a holding cage by means of sliding doors and transported to the vet who can do about 3 in one visit. The cat usually remains quiet in the cage if it is kept covered. Before surgery the cat is transferred into a restraining cage, again through sliding doors. The restrainer enables the vet to administer anaesthetic without handling, thereby reducing stress to the animal and injury to the practitioner!
The cat is given pain-relief, antibiotic and anti-parasitic injections. A small v-shape cut is made in the left ear so that the cat can always be easily identified as sterilized. Dissolvable stitches are used so that they do not need to be caught and removed at a later date. If a cat is found to have another health problem needing extra care, we keep the cat and administer treatment. In routine situations cats are transferred back to a holding cage and kept warm and quiet for 24 hours before being released back to the exact location where they were caught. Their powers of recovery are quite phenomenal, within a few days they back to normal in their environment.