VOCAL to the rescue!
I first visited the plot of land belonging to Maria in November 2008. There were two separate pens, one for all the dogs and another for cats. The cat pen had 23 cats living inside and also 3 puppies. Maria had gradually collected the animals, some dumped and others found. She was afraid to allow the cats to go outside incase any were poisoned. I was pleased to hear that all but two were neutered and all were vaccinated, the cats looked in reasonable physical health. The pens were of excellent structure with a sound roof and tiled floor, plastic sheeting protected the sides from weather. However I was not happy to see the conditions they lived in, and noted a lot of stress and depression in the cats. There were no toilet trays, the cats and dogs defecated on the tiled floor, and of course the puppies were stepping in it and spreading it everywhere. There was only one large food bowl, no beds, only one place to jump up onto, no toys and no scratching areas. It was a miserable and boring life. However, at this time VOCAL had other serious problems to deal with, we were swamped with work. In addition, I had recently been asked for a help by another Greek lady in Agios Nikolaos who had 50 cats living in her house, in quite appalling conditions. I had to make a choice about which to give priority to, and at that time, I decided to deal with the house first, and come back to Maria’s plot in the New Year. I tried to discuss the conditions inside the pen with Maria, including putting in toilet trays but she was adamant they were fine, and assured me that when her house, under construction on the site, was completed and a huge fence built, the cats would be released!
When I returned in February I was shocked to see how the situation had deteriorated with the cat pen. The dogs were in a similarly poor state. The cats were painfully thin, many had bald patches. Blood stained, slimy faeces lay in pools all over the floor. The cats were dying from malnutrition and sickness. There was one small older dog inside with them. We found out that the personal situation of Maria was in a perilous state, her husband was with-holding money, they were separating and she had health problems that involved regular trips back to Athens. She told us that during one of her absences two dogs and one cat had died. We acted immediately. The two un-neutered cats were operated on and the other cats examined by a vet. The faeces tested positive for giardia which was not surprising but nonetheless quite depressing news. Five of the cats were immediately put into quarantine with a VOCAL volunteer, and therapy started for giardia. After contacting my animal welfare colleagues in Germany, we were quickly able to send four of those on to foster homes. I took one cat to quarantine him in my home because his fur was so matted with faeces he could no longer wash himself. His bottom and back legs were red raw.
Alfie, one of the worst of the affected kittens.
Giardia can only be effectively treated with a combination of two drugs, Panacur and Metronadizole. Toilet trays had to be completely emptied at each visit, twice per day, and scrubbed with chlorine and flushed out with scalding water. We had to take all this with us as there was no electricity on site. The tiled floor was scrubbed with water and chlorine. We set up wooden pallets and cardboard boxes lined with newspaper for the cats to use as beds so that they could be replaced daily. The cats love these boxes and as soon as they have filled their bellies they jump in the boxes to groom and sleep. The biggest challenge has been to find innovative ways to get the cats to take medication twice per day. For the first two days they were so starving, they swallowed them down without hesitation. As they became less hungry we were tested each time to find something tempting. Liver pate, tuna, fresh tiny fish, cheese, we have used them all!
Thankfully through the help and support of the Mirtos Project in Holland and animal welfare activists in Germany and Austria, all the cats have left the pen. The final two are in a foster home on Crete waiting to travel to Germany soon. We hugely appreciate the help to find homes for each and every one of these cats, despite the fact that 4 of them tested positive for FIV.
The hard work and persistence of the VOCAL volunteers and our friends overseas has triumphed. However, the financial cost has been huge. In a period of less than 8 weeks VOCAL has paid out over 3000 euros for the care, treatment and rehoming of these cats. Other projects are now on hold until the bank balance can be brought back into credit!
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In July 2008, Dierenhulp Kreta most generously donated flea treatments and boxes for VOCAL.