As I have been reviewing recently what we have achieved so far this year, and since I started Almerimar Strays, I thought it was a good time for reflection on our work here in Almerimar with the stray cats, and how ALStrays has developed into so much more than my initial plans.
Almerimar Strays has slowly taken up more and more of my time over the past 18 months. I have a number of great people who regularly help out, Pam Roberts being my main ‘partner in whatever is needed cat-wise’ and Chris ‘technology wise’, but I spend several hours most days, in what has become quite a passion.
So how I have become SO involved, to the extent that I am continually looking for foster homes, emailing a cat rescue charity in Germany, taking photographs & video for their web-site, helping to fund-raise, sorting medications and vet visits, keeping accounts and cat records, feeding some strays and at times still helping to clean litter trays at our local cat home? Recently Chris and I also adopted our third strays cat, gorgeous little Oscar. How did I become SO committed to the cause?
I know where it all started, with Mori, our beautiful first cat that we took in at 7 months, 2 and a half years ago. He appeared, very thin and hungry, at the bottom of our street and after a few days of leaving out small amounts of food and milk, I decided that he was far too beautiful to stay out there any longer. My sister had been telling me for ages that I should have a pet, and we had been travelling far too much, so maybe Mori was a sign to stay at home and look after something other than ourselves! I grew up with labradors and have always liked animals, but didn’t realise exactly how much I would grow to love cats and care for them so passionately.
The summer after we had Mori, I volunteered to feed some of the Almerimar stray cats for my friend Pam who had hurt her knee. On the second day this little black female cat appeared who was virtually the image of Mori with the same big green eyes, and that was it! It took me several months and one litter of kittens before I persuaded Chris to have another cat (as like Mori was at this stage, Chris is an only child!), but in January 2008 Saidi came home, and after that I was completely hooked.
I carried on helping to feed Saidi’s wild kittens who were 3 months old at the time and in the course of trying to find a way to re-home them, in April 2008 we came across an amazing German lady, Gisela, who until recently (she no longer takes in cats due to ill-health) ran a rescue home locally. The aim of the Casa de los Gatos was to take in stray cats and kittens and ultimately re-home them where possible in Germany. This seemed a great way to try and alleviate the stray problem here in Almerimar, and I felt positive that we had the start of a plan.
We organised a fund raiser, The Almerimar Treasure Hunt, and although that money went pretty quickly, we have continued to raise small amounts (and receive donations) specifically for the cats), more recently via Pam’s great monthly book sales. Casa De Los Gatos didn’t work out for Saidi’s kittens as they were too wild, but Gisela’s support helped us to castrate some of our semi-ferals, and Saidi’s grandkids we caught early enough for them to be among the cats that we sent there for re-homing. So started my involvement with Casa De Los Gatos and more importantly as it turned out with the Katzenhausen in Germany.
Casa De Los Gatos turned out not to be the answer in itself. In fact due to Gisela’s unfortunate health issues and her having to go into hospital for a month last summer, we ended up keeping the Casa running for her, which was definitely an experience as anyone who helped out during this time will agree. There were 60+ cats in residence, about a dozen of which were our Almerimar cats (and responsibility), and consequently a very large number of litter trays! This was a truly, unpleasant test of how much we all cared about the cats, as although we had some laughs, we were definitely not doing it for the fun!
I impressed myself however with what I was willing to get stuck into, and I also found out how much I had come to care generally about the animals, and how great it felt to be giving something back and effectively doing some voluntary work. Many of us give to charity from time to time, but to me it is much more rewarding when it is local and personal, and giving time (which I am lucky to have some of right now) is as important as giving money.
Even after Gisela came out of the hospital we continued to support her, and my role in liaising with the Katzenhausen in Germany gradually grew. I had met Kerstin earlier in the summer at the Casa, when she came over to help Gisela for a time. We had exchanged emails and stayed in touch, which is how I subsequently met (online!) Martina, Cony and Petra, and learnt much more about the German organisation and everything that was needed to get our Almerimar cats re-homed.
The Casa itself remains a part of my plans to help the Almerimar stray cats in the future. Gisela no longer operates as an ongoing cat rescue home, and she no longer herself works with Katzenhausen, but I know she will always help our cats, and recently took in Tommy and Caesar for us, as emergencies for a short time, while we found somewhere else for them to go. It is the Katzenhausen however that is now the biggest part of my ongoing plans.
It is my relationship with these wonderful girls in Germany that is the key now to a lot of what we are able to achieve here. They make so much of our work possible, by finding foster homes and adopters in Germany, and through their recommendation I also now have a relationship with Jos and his vet Miguel at the dog rescue, which facilitates all our work in re-homing and population control.
Miguel helps us with sterilisations and blood testing of the cats at hugely subsidised prices, and along with the discounts for vaccinations, chips and passports, that our own vet Begona in Almerimar, has kindly given me, this has made helping more cats so much more possible.
Making the money go further is a key part of making this whole project work, but the pieces are all slowly slotting into place. In addition to getting good prices for vet treatment, I have also started to order basic medicines like Frontline, worming tablets and even antibiotics online. We are learning all the time about how to treat minor ailments and do the basics without needing to incur vet costs, which is a big part of running our own mini cat rescue!
Marketing is also now taking up a lot of my time. It is one thing to get our rescue cats ready to travel to Germany, but I am now doing everything I can to help them find homes as quickly as possible, which is where great photos and where possible video is key. My goal is that all of our cats already have real and not just foster homes to go to when they leave for Germany. This is better for the cats and better for us, as we get funds back from the new parents fast to fund helping more cats here.
We have made huge progress in the last year, but one of the results of our success, is that we are becoming known for our work, and are now getting calls about additional cats that need help outside our current feeding program. This puts further strain on money and resources, which is why I am putting sponsorship firmly into our new process. We do raise money monthly via the Almerimar Strays booksales, but each cat we help costs net in the region of 50€ and we cannot find all of this money ourselves. We need more donations and sponsorship for specific cats, particularly where someone is asking us to take one on for them.
I am aware that there are many people who don’t support what we do, and don’t even agree with people feeding the stray cats. I have discussed this whole issue with Jos and his vet Miguel and we are in agreement; it IS potentially a problem if people ONLY feed the stray animals, because the population can become out of control and a nuisance, but this is exactly why I became more involved. Almerimar Strays is taking a very responsible approach to helping the stray cats here.
My initial objective was to sterilise as many of our street cats as possible. We then found the infrastructure to start re-homing some of the more tame ones, and it didn’t take me long to realise that many of the cats out there in the street were completely tame! It is ok for people to say that the stray population should be left to fend for itself without human intervention, but that only stands a chance of working if people don’t add their pets to the population, or the kittens of their pets that they haven’t bothered to sterilise.
Even the most hard-hearted non-animal lover, can surely understand that an abandoned house cat or 4 week old kitten has very little ability to fend for itself, and needs our help, and for those who think the problem is too big and we can’t make a difference, our response is clear.
Nothing is perfect, but for every cat we help, then we HAVE made a difference, if only to that one animal. This blog has pictures of all the cats we have helped, and already there are a LOT of happy faces, many of the photos showing our cats in their new homes in Germany. Yes, we even get feedback and updates which I share with all the people who have been involved in helping our cats.
Sometimes it is hard as the girls in Germany will agree. It is hard to understand how people can be so cruel and uncaring. However for every person who dumps their animals, there are I think more who do care, and then there are the lovely people I have met who give a lot of their time to help the animals.
There are people out there who will drive hundreds of km to take our cats to their news homes, and spend hours of their time for the cause, and there are new parents who will fly from Switzerland to collect a Spanish kitten and give it a loving home. These are the people who it is a pleasure to work with, and we will continue to try and make as much difference as possible. It is hugely rewarding to watch these lovely animals respond to love and care, and what makes it all so worthwhile.
All those happy cat faces don’t mean that we only care about cats. Pam and I have recently also rescued a beautiful female hound dog we found abandoned at a local petrol station, and after our original Treasure Hunt fund-raiser, we did help with some dog sterilisations. My partners, funding and experience now however are very focused on cat rescue and this takes all and more of my free time. I also have great trust in Jos’s dog rescue organisation as a well-run solution, for which there is no cat equivalent. Almerimar Strays as a blog however, is available to help anyone who wants to become more involved in dog rescue here.
Our aims are now clear in supporting the stray cats. We want to sterilise our Almerimar street cats, rescue and re-home as many of the more tame adults as possible, rescue all of the kittens, and all of the abandoned cats and kittens. We are always happy to talk to people who know of cats needing help, but only here in Almerimar, as we don’t have the resources to do more.
More help is always needed, so please get in touch if you’d like to get involved. We need foster parents (in or near to Almerimar) to take in cats for the 4-6 weeks needed to get them ready to travel to Germany for re-homing, short term (few days) for emergencies and post vet treatment care, flight partners if anyone is traveling to Germany, people to help transport cats locally and clean at the cat rescue when needed, and of course fund-raisers, donators and sponsors for individual cats. For every cat or kitten we want to rescue, we must have funding for vaccinations, sterilisation if needed, blood test, chip and passport, AND a foster home in place before we can get involved.
I’m also really interested in hearing from other organisations who are doing similar work. It is great to exchange ideas and good new stories, and new partners are always welcome.
Please contact us if you would like to help, make a donation, or if you would like more information, AND of course if you would like to adopt a cat or kitten. Giving a home to Mori, Saidi and Oscar, is still the best of all I have done for the strays here in Almerimar, and the thing that has given both Chris and I the most pleasure. We look forward to hearing from you.