Author Archives: jimdwyer

In the Shadow of the Mill

in the shadow of the Mill

The cats would pour out of the old mill in a torrent of upraised tails when the women appeared. Every evening, after 6 o clock, when the businesses had closed for the day and things quietened down, the ladies would come with their meagre supplies of food, held in burlap, potato bags, to feed the forgotten cats. The cats were generationally wild. Litter upon litter of these cats were born in and around the old mill, which itself had been built just after the famine in Ireland. The nursing queens, the female cats with kittens, made their nests deep within the hidden places of the mill where humans would not discover them or their babies. From these dens a struggle for survival was forced upon the tiny kittens, born blind, born deaf, completely dependent on their mothers for life, these tiny creatures had to undergo a veritable gauntlet of challenges just to emerge from their nests. They were in danger of being attacked by rival Tomcats who wished to mate with their mothers. The rats that infested the mill were a considerable source of threat and would happily seize and eat any newborn kitten. Then there were the endemic diseases; cat flu that first blinded the babies and then sealed their nasal passages shut leaving the tiny, fledging cats, to starve to death, unable to smell their food source. Then there were the truly horrible diseases whose lethality was hidden by their innocuous acronyms; FeLV , FIV, FIE, an entire alphabet that spelled nothing but a miserable end for newborns that had not yet left the nest. But the single biggest danger the cats faced were human beings whose indifference, neglect, and downright cruelty, ensured that the suffering would continue in an endless cycle.

‘So as you treat the least of my creatures, so you treat me’ or words to that effect. How many times did I listen to the priest intone those words at Sunday mass. The congregation sat in various states of emotion, that ranged from utter and complete boredom, to rapt, face gleaming attention , as the weekly ritual of the catholic mass unfolded. The message was always the same; ‘Behave, Be Good, Be Kind towards those weaker than you’. And how often these admonishments were left behind in the church along with the Parish Bulletins and unread catholic papers. ‘Things were different back then’ or so it is said by today’s commentators. Ireland in the early 1960s. Back then we were all catholic, republican, and played GAA. Those that didn’t fit that description were all English. Rugby playing, Protestant, heathens, Communists, and Atheists. We all had to fit within very narrow job titles. To step outside the definition was to invite ridicule.

I was a very small child when I first noticed the Mother and Daughter. They quietly walked along the quay side by side. Clutched in their hands were potato bags filled with discarded food waste and scraps, collected from the Town’s businesses during the day. They always went to the high entrance gates of the mill where they distributed the food to the feral cats that boiled out of everywhere. To be honest the women frightened me at first. The Mother seemed to have a stern face, a ‘cross’ face as children like me would see it. Back then the ability to gauge the temperament of an adult from his/her face was a survival requirement for kids. Ireland was not a child friendly country then. The Daughter disquieted me even more. As a child I couldn’t articulate what it was, exactly, about her that made me stare so hard.

When the two women reached the gates of the mill they were first greeted by the ‘waiters’ the cats who knew they were coming. But within a few minutes the cats and kittens poured out of the mill, from every direction, frantic for the food the women had to offer. These felines were the wildest of the wild yet they greeted the two women with great love and dignity every time. The Mother and Daughter went about their feeding amidst a forest of upright tails whose tips were turned over in that classic, inverted ‘J’ shape, of cordial cat greeting. I remember pausing to watch the women and the cats who rubbed up against their legs and twined sinuously around the women’s ankles. I was jealous of the obvious love the cats had for these two women because I never received any attention from any of these wild creatures. No matter how often I approached them, the cats either totally ignored me, or, worse again, hissed and spat, before running away into their dark and mysterious hiding places within the mill. The two women spoke to the cats. Called them by pet names and the cats responded. The big adult males, bruisers all, would get the first cut from the food supplies followed by the sleeker females. In between this roiling mass of women and cats would dart the kittens, braving blows and hisses from the adults, but determined to get their share of what was on offer. The Mother and Daughter did their best to control the feeding and to ensure that even the littlest kitten got something to eat. The big bullies would be chased away and space made for a kitten to get a morsel to eat but the bigger, faster cats, always got the lions share. When the feeding was done the two women would leave, side by side, and just as sedately, walk away back down the quay. The cats would linger by the gates awhile longer hunting for any remaining scraps before they too would silently merge back into the shadow of the mill.

I grew up with cats. We had a little grey Tabby called, ‘Puisin’ (Pro. Pusheen) which is Gaelic for, ‘Little Cat’. As a child, I discovered Puisin had given birth to a litter of kittens in the bathroom cupboard. My father promptly dispatched the kittens by placing them in a cotton wool lined shoebox that was impregnated with chloroform. I still remember the frantic cries of these newborn kittens and their puny efforts to escape their fate within the shoebox. Poor Puisin would run about the house crying for her kittens and trying desperately to free them from the box but the humans always won and the kittens died. I suppose this is shocking for some readers but in 1960s, rural Ireland, this was an outrageously expensive way of disposing of unwanted kittens. Why go to all that trouble and spend all that money when there was a perfectly good river nearby? Discovering bags of drowned kittens was a frequent childhood experience and one consequence of playing in the river. The county council street cleaners, a particularly villainous looking bunch of men who went around the town in a horse drawn cart always had a few dead cats tied to the side of their cart. Then there was the bodies of cats and kittens. They were everywhere to be found. Lying in hedges and ditches. In back alleys and side streets. A cat that was dying of disease or that was unable to move because of injury, was considered fair game for a sport of kill the cat. Cruelty didn’t come into it. This was the weak and unfortunate of society, the people of the margins, discovering something even more weaker and defenceless than themselves. They could cause pain and torment to an animal, secure in the knowledge that society wouldn’t seek retribution for their crime. Some might describe this as cruelty but it was the pain filled, and the tortured, inflicting suffering on another, ‘lesser’ living thing, in order to relieve their personal pain. It was tough at the bottom in those days.

It’s hard to break the era of a story but I have to jump forward many years to finish the tale. The two women continued to feed the feral cats at the mill. Year upon year, as the country about them changed, the Mother and Daughter made their daily walk of mercy bringing food and kindness to the abandoned and forgotten cats of the mill. I grew older and away from the town following my own path in life. The mother grew older too, inevitably, and then she passed away leaving her daughter alone to carry on the task. As a man, I passed the mill one day and there was the daughter, alone, feeding the cats. As always the cats milled about her feet, tails aloft, meowing and chirping, happy to see her and the food she brought. As usual a few ‘young fellas’who were passing, paused to shout some undecipherable catcalls at the girl as she cared for her charges. I was now big enough to shout back at them and told them to be on their way. They informed me that the Daughter was, in their words, “Fucking mad” . So what? That what was almost the entire town thought of the Mother and Daughter and used to go out of their way to let them know. Who but imbeciles would go to so much trouble to feed a bunch of useless cats? And do the task year upon year upon year? As I saw off the hectoring youths a series of images I had unconsciously collected through the years began to form a pattern in my mind. I looked closely at the daughter as she bent to her task, especially at her face. The same calm, almost serene smile was still there, as it always had been, but the face lacked the animation of thoughtful intelligence. The Daughters actions were stiff and slow. Even simple tasks seemed an effort. The girl obviously suffered from some sort of intellectual disability. Yet the love and kindness, both the abilty and desire to reach out to other creatures, that her Mother had inculcated in her, remained, even though her devoted Mother was gone.

Once upon a time the Mother was a beautiful young woman who married a man and together they produced a baby girl. I know the Mother was a beautiful woman because even as a child I could see the remains of that beauty. The child was born with an intellectual disability and into a time in Ireland when such births were viewed as a mark of God’s disfavour upon the Mother. The husband, unable to face the shame of such a thing and the inevitable public comment, abandoned his beautiful wife and baby daughter to their fate. Now, to add to the ‘shame’ of the baby was the humiliation of desertion and the desperation of being a single parent in a society that heaped opprobrium upon such families. Mother and Daughter lived in poverty for all of their lives. That poverty was evident in their clothes that never changed year after year, becoming more dowdy and repaired as time passed. The Mother and Daughter seemed to pass through the streets unnoticed and friendless. The shopkeepers knew them because they collected the waste food everyday but no passerby ever seemed to stop and engage in casual conversation with them. Yet every evening Mother and Daughter walked serenely along the dark quay, laden with potato bags that contained precious food, for the forgotten cats that lived such short lives in the old mill. Ignoring the taunts and jeers of the town they fed, and cared, for hundreds of cats.

A number of years ago I passed the mill and there was the daughter feeding the cats. She had a companion with her, another woman who appeared slightly embarrassed to be standing in the middle of a lot of cats. That was the Daughter’s carer, appointed by a state agency to look after the Motherless girl. Then, one day, the Daughter was gone as were the mill and all its cats. In its place was a block of apartments, the kind advertised as ‘Contemporary living in an historic setting’.

Today we have Rescue Groups and TNR groups. There is a much wider public acceptance of animal welfare issues. Animal cruelty is a crime as is any harmful actions towards children or those with intellectual disabilities. Single parents are no different from two parents. There are laws to prevent all kinds of injustices in our society. But I walk the quay now as an older man with memories of another time and another place. If I look hard enough I see them coming towards me, a woman with her daughter. The Mother has a kind, compassionate face and she walks with her Daughter at her side. They walk, bound by love, bound by sadness, to a place where their children await them, eager for whatever scraps of food and human kindness the two women can offer them. They walk unheeding of the taunts, and jeers, that greet them most evenings from townspeople whose tiny intellects cannot fathom that love itself is a journey all of us must walk, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. And if we can love something other than ourselves, no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in, than something good and kind and eternal will emerge and live on after we are gone. For the Mother and Daughter, unknownst to themselves, and to me, planted a seed that lay dormant a long time. And then came the spring and the seed began to sprout. Community Cats Network will commence the neutering of every stray and feral cat in Bandon town in the memory of the forgotten mother and daughter.

” For one small act of kindness can inspire others to go on to do greater things”

The Bandon TNR project has been ongoing for some time and we have already neutered some 500 cats and kittens in the town and its hinterland. This project has been funded in part by the Hairy Project. We humbly and gratefully acknowledge and thank those of you that donated goods for auction and those of you that bid on the items for sale. CCN will be running its, PURRFECT AUCTION, soon, in order to raise the bulk of funds required to complete the Bandon TNR. CCN calculates it will take between 2-3 years to complete the neutering of the estimated 2000-2500 remaining cats.

Many Thanks

Our next Purrfect Auction will take place this coming Thursday the 30th of July to August 9th. Click here to join us for some goodies and fun. Our Chief Auctioneer will be Annie Brabazon again, we are all looking forward to some good fun and of course shopping!!

Click here if you would like to donate directly to this project.

Ike & Tina

We stood in the old barn in a state of shock. Cats. More cats. And yet more cats and kittens, everywhere. The farmer had assured us he had two white cats. We counted eight while standing there in the middle of this huge colony. At the rear of the barn was a wall of giant, circular, hay bales. Climbing down this vertical wall of hay was a black and white cat. As he descended we could see heads sticking out of gaps in the bales. There was adults and yet more kittens hiding in there. This wasn’t a colony but a megacity of cats and kittens.

It was the first TNR for Community Cats Network in West Cork. We possessed the grand total of one, spring operated, trap, and a collection of kitten and Queen cages in which to hold captured cats. This job was going to require considerably more equipment than we possessed. It was the sheer number of cats and kittens that shocked us. Every evening when milking was over the farmer carried two pails of milk down from the milking shed and poured the warm,frothy liquid, into a pair of giant tins. Then he threw a couple of handfuls of cat kibble into a few bowls that lay scattered around the floor of the barn. The cats erupted from everywhere, anxious to get a share of the meager nourishment before their companions ate it all. The adults, unencumbered by young, were the first to reach the bowls. The nursing mothers who had made nests for themselves and their young in the hay were the next to reach the food. Finally, the younger kittens arrived, fighting amongst the melee of older cats to snatch a morsel for themselves.

It was the white mother that attracted my attention as she descended the wall of hay bales. In her mouth, swinging from side to side, was a tiny, white kitten, maybe six or seven days old. The mother was obviously frantic to reach the food before it was gone and quickly clambered down the bales and ran across the barn with the kitten still dangling from her mouth. As she approached the food she spotted us standing there and hesitated. She dropped her kitten into a nearby pile of hay and approached the food on the side away from us. When the food was gone and it only took a few minutes for every last drop of milk, every morsel of kibble, to vanish, the mass of felines disappeared back into the shadows of the barn. Only one or two hopefuls still nosed around the empty bowls and dishes seeking an overlooked scrap of food. And there, atop the pile of hay, was the little white kitten. We went over to investigate.

It was obvious that the little one was is some serious trouble. The white fur around its eyes was yellow with discharge from cat flu. It appeared undernourished and weak as it lay there on the hay, mewling and crying for its mother who was nowhere to be seen. We had to make a decision and make it fast. There were many kittens in this colony. There were also many cats, a considerable number of which appeared to need some serious veterinary assistance. CCN was a new organization, so new that we hadn’t existed the previous week. We had, to put it euphemistically, limited resources. And that’s a nice way of saying ‘broke’. What to do?

We went for the kittens first; running around the barn, chasing the little furry bodies into piles of hay and then dragging the hissing, spitting, bundles of fury, back out, and placing them into our ragtag collection of cages. Within the space of a few minutes we had 10-11 little ones rounded up and on their way off the farm. In the car with us, wrapped up in a Puffa Jacket for warmth, was the little white kitten. Upon our arrival home we dispersed the kittens into our various cat houses where they immediately made themselves at home. The piled up bowls of cat food were a considerable help in settling the little guys down. The white kitten, however, was an entirely different problem. We quickly established the fact that she was a female and we called her ‘Murray’.  But Murray was too young for solid food and needed to be bottle fed. This in itself presented further problems. Bottle fed kittens are difficult to feed. Murray needed to be stimulated in order to urinate and defecate following each feed. She had to fed every three hours. Her weight needed to be recorded to ensure she was gaining weight. Her cat flu presented us with a quandary because she was too young for heavy medication. Any medication would only be a symptomatic treatment anyway as cat flu is viral. In short, we urgently needed a foster mother.

Help came from the most unlikely quarter. In the middle of the farm TNR, Maggie began another one in the back garden of a house in Macroom. Thus the beautiful but psychotic ‘Lily’ and her babies came into our lives. Maggie had just trapped Lily when ‘Little Miss Psycho’ decided that now was a good time to give birth. Lily promptly delivered 9 babies in the cage and had to be rushed straight to our specialist, ‘Mother and Baby’ compound, a large, plushly furnished house, enclosed within a huge cage that came complete with an outdoor, feline activity centre. Four of Lily’s brood died the first night. A litter of nine kittens was too much for her. But it was a silver linings moment for Murray whom we tentatively introduced to Lily. For a few, horror frozen, seconds, we watched as Murray nuzzled and grizzled her way along Lily’s flank, seeking a teet. Then Lily raised her head and pushed Murray into position. Murray latched on and began to suckle. Lily shot us a malevolent look and settled back down to feed her, now, six kittens.

That first summer,the summer CCN began,was notable for two things. The absolutely lousy weather and kittens. We had seventeen fosterers….and Lily. Lily was the most loving cat, or so her carer assured us. She was a pet. A doll. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. We would stand outside the Mother and Baby cage watching this paragon of love and gentleness hanging upside down from the cage roof, hissing ,snarling, and spitting at us and we would draw lots as to who would bring the food in to her. Lily hated us with a passion, but she was a superb mother to all her kittens, including the little orphan, Murray.

Lily’s own five kittens were named after ‘Soul’ singers from the 1960’s. Thus we had Ike (Turner), Muddy (Waters), etc. And Murray. When Lily’s brood had been weaned, we neutered Lily and returned her to her carer. Lily spat, hissed, snarled, bit the bars of her cage, and tried to swipe us on her way home. We carried Lily’s cage into her carer’s house on the end of a forty foot pole and deposited ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ on the kitchen floor. We then retreated to a safe position behind the dresser. Lily’s carer opened the cage and this sweet, doting, loving creature, emerged, and twined herself around her carer’s legs. We emerged from our safe zone to examine this miraculous transformation and were met with hissing, spitting, snarling, etc.

We began to rehome the ‘Soul’ family. Otis went. Martha went. Poor Muddy was killed on the road. And Ike and Murray went to live in Cork city with Sarah. CCN moved on. More TNR’s were conducted. We moved along through various farms in West Cork and began to experience cases of cruelty and neglect. There were many cats and kittens to deal with. Each TNR made different demands on us. The workload grew exponentially as CCN became more professional in its approach. The human cost of dealing with sick and dying cats, indifferent or unpleasant humans, began to take its toll on us. The optimism and idealism of the early days began to be replaced with a certain weariness. Trapping cats was just the beginning. Then came the transportation. The feeding. The aftercare. The systems of care. Getting bedding for the ferals. Providing  safe and hygienic bedding. Getting cat food. Kitty litter. Fundrasing. Keeping accurate records. Providing flea and worm treatments. Chasing people for payment. Getting ripped off by members of the public who equated  ‘Animal Charity’ with ‘Idiots’. Dealing with vets. Trying to provide the most humane and efficient system for dealing with feral cats. 16-18 hour days became the norm while we operated in all weather conditions. Riding the ferry home from Cape Clear in a force 10 gale while trying to keep our caged ferals dry and safe. Fighting between ourselves as we attempted to formulate a code of ethics, and policies and procedures, that placed the welfare of ferals first.

In the midst of all this we would occasionally see posts on Facebook from Sarah. She had renamed Murray as Tina and now was Mom to Ike and Tina, as well as her family of neutered ferals. Sarah kept us updated as to the progress of her cats. When they were sick. When Ike was tormenting Tina. When the two cats were stretched out luxuriously on chairs in front of the fire. The FB posts were little vignettes of cared for, cats lives. Ike and Tina were living the good life. Sarah is a compassionate and responsible cat carer. It is inconceivable for Sarah to be anything else but kind and caring.

We TNR’d a farm down in west cork once upon a time. It was a little hill farm tucked away up a Boreen, away from public gaze. What we immediately noticed upon our arrival was a little, Ginger and White, Kitten, crouched by his mother’s side ,both eyes eaten out by untreated cat flu. The little kitten was slowly starving to death as he was both blind and unable to smell his food due to the build-up of muscus in his nasal passages. He was the first of ten such kittens we collected that night. We brought the kittens home and placed them in two hospital cages. We placed food bowls in front of each kitten and then positioned each kitten in front of the bowls. The kittens could neither see nor smell the food. The little creatures ravished the food and when they finished eating, they began to purr and groom one another. The following morning we took the ten kittens into the vet and held each one as the vet euthanized them.

So you see, Sarah. Those little posts about Ike and Tina are soul food for us. They reassure us that there are humans who care enough to reach out to change lives and make the world a better place. That there are human beings who prove that mankind is not all doomed by indifference and selfishness.  We will leave you with the old Jewish proverb:

‘Save a life and you save the world entire’

Click the link to view the kittens.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvkvdXnS4Cc     (Ike is scratching one)

Behind the Veil

Yesterday, we took 5 kittens to the vet. There were 2 Tabbies, a smaller, younger one, and a larger guy. There was a Tabby and white. A Black and White, and a Black. These little creatures were nearly all that remained of group of 20 kittens we had discovered during the course of a TNR job. We had trapped these 5 waifs the night before. Well, trap isn’t the right word, we picked them up off the ground from around the empty food bowls that lay strewn by the back door of the house. These 5 kittens really did not have the strength left to resist because of the hunger induced illnesses that had ravaged their small bodies. Gaunt, bony, ragged, matted fur, big eyes in small pinched faces, runny noses, these unfortunate animals were a picture poster for deprivation and neglect.

The adult cats sharing a few scraps

We brought them home following their capture and put them into the overnight cages. Generous quantities of food, warm dry bedding, and fresh water, were provided for them, yet they cowered at the back of the cages, big eyes staring, terrified, at their human captors. The smallest Tabby caught our eye. In a better place, perhaps on another planet where empathy with all living things is the norm, this little guy would have been a stunner. But this was here and he was dying slowly, and badly, because of sheer human indifference.
In the morning we collected our kittens and transferred them into transport cages. There had been an outbreak of diarrhoea during the night and the holding cages were destroyed in faeces. They had to be scoured clean before we left because of fears of cross infecting our own cats, big, sleek, over fed monsters, who preened around the house, as well as our foster kittens and a couple of patients we were nursing. We loaded our kittens into the car and set off for the vet.
We arrived at the veterinary practice and were greeted warmly by our friend, Leslie, a veterinary nurse with years of experience in dealing with cats and who has, herself, saved hundreds of kittens from death. We informed leslie that we had a group of VERY sick kittens and she immediately understood the inference. Kevin, the vet, was summoned. The situation was explained. A quick surgical exam was conducted and sentence was passed. With extreme speed all 5 kittens were put to sleep. The last kitten to be PTS was the little Tabby. He sat and stared out of his cage, eyes still frightened by these strange surroundings, wondering where his companions had vanished to, and waited his turn. He was damned by the fact of his birth. He was damned by a society that cared for nothing outside of itself. He was damned because those onto whose property he was born, despite their obvious wealth and material possessions, didn’t consider a tiny, frightened, Tabby Kitten, worth a bowl of the cheapest food.

Most of these kittens have died from starvation and cat flu

It is a tribute to the humanity and the competency of the vet Kevin, and nurse Leslie who comforted each and every kitten as the fatal dosage was administered, that the little creatures suffered no great trauma in their dying. There were 4 of us in that surgery and not one of us wanted to be there. As each kitten was injected one of us held them in our arms, holding and cradling while awaiting the end to come. They all went quickly, the starving bodies unable to resist the powerful drug for even a minute. Then all 5 bodies were laid out in a row while we inspected them for any signs of life. There were none. Kevin showed us the signs on their bodies where the constant diarrhoea has stripped the fur away from their legs and burnt the very flesh beneath.
When we started this TNR job there were 20 kittens alive. These were the survivors of the 50-60 that would have initially born before the lady called us to deal with her ’cat problem’. We had our plans in place to deal with these survivors when the lady of the house rang us to say she was going on holidays and she didn’t ‘want us around’ while she was away. Of course no cat was fed while she was off sunning herself. 11 more kittens died in the interim from deprivation. By the time we resumed there were 9 kittens left. Now there are 4 remaining survivors and they are in our care where they will be fed, doctored, made well, and rehomed.

We brought the pathetic corpses back to the lady to show her. She glanced briefly, then quickly averted her head. She called ‘one of the boys’ to come and remove the dead kittens in a potato bag. Maggie placed a little bunch of fuchsia into the bag. A mark of respect but also a sign of her anger and despair at the sheer, utter futility, of some people’s existence.

One of the survivors

We have to move on. There are TNR projects everywhere that need our attention and fast! But we left with the images of this last one, in particular the Little Tabby for whom we could offer nothing. A scared little kitten, one of the estimated hundreds of thousands, who die through human indifference and neglect every year in Ireland.
That little Tabby, his anxious little face staring out through the bars of his cage as his companions were put to sleep, will haunt me for a long time to come.
God Damn that women for having put us in that position.

Lieutenant Dan: To Be or not to Be?

Lieutenant Dan, after being brought to The Cat Hospital

Back in September, a feral kitten was brought to The Cat Hospital after a road traffic accident.  The kitten, who was later named Lieutenant Dan, needed an operation to have his leg amputated.  The operation went well and Lt Dan recovered quickly thanks to the loving foster home Maggie and Jim offered to him.  Soon, Lt Dan was running around the place, apart from the odd tripping from his foster sisters.

Lieutenant Dan has learned to live with his disability

However, worries were not over for Lt Dan who had to be brought back in emergency to The Cat Hospital because an enormous abscess had appeared on his head.  It was emptied and Lt Dan was put on antibiotics.  However, two weeks later it reappeared, and again two weeks later.  It became evident that it could be something serious.  We also feared that the infection would get to the bone and infect the marrow, resulting in poisoning the blood.

Lt Dan falling asleep on Maggie after having had his head cleaned, something that has become a ritual for the two of them.

Clare explained that an operation would be needed to properly clean the abscess, but also take a culture to be sent for analysis so that he would receive the appropriate treatment. 

This post is called “to be or not to be” because too often animal welfare people are left to decide of the destiny of the animals they rescue.  It is a difficult choice and should not be so.  Animals should be loved and treated with respect and compassion by what we call “humanity”, but this is not so, they are left to suffer because too many members of our society believe that their own little comfort is more important.  Maggie and Jim though decided to go ahead with the operation and try to offer a better quality of life to Lt Dan.

Lt Dan’s head after his operation

Necrotic (gangrenous) skin

The operation took place at the end of November, leaving Dan with a huge scar.  The culture was sent to a laboratory and all waited for the result with expectation since it would enable Clare to prescribe the appropriate treatment.  However, the results showed nothing wrong and Clare was uncertain as to what should be done next.

Lt Dan feeling sorry for himself

At this stage things with Lt Dan have got desperate: countless trips to vets, numerous examinations, several operations from which tissue was taken and sent for cultures to be grown, and no result. Lt Dan’s recurring abscesses have proven to be a complete veterinary mystery. There is no detectable infectious agent present. There is nothing that can be eradicated through the use of antibiotics. But still the abscesses pop up, and out, on poor old Dan’s head regularly. The only treatment that could be offered to Dan was the nightly removal of the scab and bathing the abscess with salt water in order to keep a channel clear so any puss could exit the wound areas. This was far from an ideal method of dealing with Dan, who had already suffered a great deal in his short life. It was also becoming obvious that all this ‘pulling and tearing’ at Dan was having an adverse effect on the cat’s wellbeing and he was starting to exhibit signs of stress.

Wound before treatment with the scab removed

A lady called Emma Robertson contacted us and offered to treat Dan with laser therapy. Emma, who is a chartered veterinary physiotherapist, also specialises in a range of holistic therapies and very kindly offered to take the problem of Dan’s abscesses on. So Lt Dan was marched (unwillingly) into the car and over to Tower to see Emma. The actual treatment took a matter of minutes and involved no intrusive or painful procedures that would stress Dan out even more. Emma has a portable laser generator and she merely took out a handset – it looks like a small torch with a right angled head – and held it over the abscess on Dan’s head. The laser light is red in colour and within a few minutes of beginning it was all over and Dan was back in his cage glaring at everybody.

Dan receiving his first laser treatment

 

Today (Monday) the early results look promising with no significant discharge from Dan’s head wound; the first time this has been the case in quite a while. The wound itself looks a lot drier and healthier than it has been. Dan is due to return to Emma for further treatments, spread over the next few weeks. We are very grateful to Emma for her kind offer to help Dan as both ourselves and Clare Meade are baffled by Dan’s refusal to get better. Emma does volunteer for the Donkey Sanctuary and is no stranger herself to animal welfare. She can be contacted from her Facebook profile.

Mr Ford

A call came in today. There’s a cat in The Cat Hospital with a string attached to one of his teeth and his back legs are a bit weak. We went to the hospital to investigate…
 
 
 
A local mechanic had spotted the cat hanging around his garage and had become concerned about his condition. He went to the cat hospital, borrowed a trap and caught the cat, which he immediately brought back to The Cat Hospital. A humane act by a humane man. The cat was examined by the duty vet.
 
 
When Maggie and Jim arrived, they named the cat ‘Mr Ford’ to give the creature a dignity and an identity other than ‘cat’. Mr Ford didn’t have a piece of string wrapped around his teeth. He had a large fragment of netting, the kind used to wrap meat joints, embedded around, and under, his carnassal tooth. It had been lodged there a while because of the ulcers that formed around it due to the constant friction of the netting rubbing against his gum. Mr Ford was walking with fleas. He had intestinal parasites. He had an appalling case of Lice. His hip was broken but was beginning to heal so the injury had happened some time in the past. He had nerve damage too. His bladder was massively swollen and the vet expressed doubt that he could urinate. He tested positive for FIV, the feline equivalent of AIDS, and it was at an advanced stage. He was extremely dehydrated and close to complete organ failure because of the absence of fluids. Lesley had to pump intravenous liquids into him just so that they could examine him.
 
 
Let me put all these symptoms into a coherent story. Mr Ford was born into a feral colony, so he was born with intestinal parasites. The fleas and, later, the lice, would have been a direct consequence of his birth and the poor conditions in which most ferals are forced to live. He would have had to survive cat flu as a tiny kitten, an illness that kills thousands of newborn kittens in this country every season, and would have been forced to struggle for his share of food. His food ration would have been determined by his ability to fight off weaker kittens and defend himself against bigger ones as well as the adult cats in the colony. This struggle for survival with its sporadic availability of food supplies kills off quite a few little ones as starving kittens cannot fight for their share of food. Mr Ford survived this stage of his development and would have been driven away from the colony by his mother, a normal developmental stage, to fend for himself. Somewhere along the path of his journey Mr Ford got in a fight with another cat. He was bitten during the course of the fight, which was probably over a female and mating rights, Mr Ford was unneutered, and became infected with FIV. As this disease progressed, helped along by insufficient food, poor shelter from the elements, etc, Mr Ford began to grow weaker. The opportunistic parasites, both internal and external, would have hastened this process, and the lice would have begun to literally eat the coat off his back. Then Mr Ford was hit by a car. His hindquarters took the brunt of the impact and he broke his hip. The shattered bones further damaged nerves along his back and the blunt force of the car strike probably damaged his bladder seriously so he could not urinate properly. All he could manage was a constant seepage which left his hindquarters constantly wet. Because he could no longer walk on his back legs he dragged himself along the ground using his front paws. The abrasions and torn flesh on his hind feet are testament to that. Because he could no longer hunt due to the shattered hip he began to starve. Somewhere, along this path of Golgotha, Mr Ford found a net bag that had contained somebody’s Xmas ham and the smell of the meat drove him to root through the bag thus ensnaring the netting around his teeth. He obviously dragged himself around for about another 7-10 days with this bag stuck in his mouth, now utterly unable to eat. Then he was spotted by a humane human being who rang The Cat Hospital. Two veterinary professionals and two animal welfare volunteers gathered around Mr Ford who lay on the examination table, eyes glazed from the painkillers and sedatives that had been administered. The vet outlined the diagnosis and then the prognosis. There was an intense discussion and several frantic phone calls were made but to no avail. If we can do nothing else for the cat, we will not let him die alone. That was the mantra of Anne Fitzgerald; it was ours today. A sedated Mr Ford was put to sleep by directly injecting his heart with a lethal dose of barbiturates as the vet could find no vein capable of taking an injection.
 
 
This writer would like to say that Mr Ford’s death made him angry today. But it didn’t. For weeks now we are taking cats to various vets to have them put to sleep for a variety of illnesses and conditions that are so easily avoidable or that would never happen to household pets. All this writer could register today was fatigue made worse by the certain knowledge that in 6-8 weeks time the floodgates will once again open as the kitten season, and this country’s utter apathy to animal welfare, come to fruition.
 
 
I know Facebook followers like to write things like ‘RIP Mr Ford’ as a mark of their sorrow at the passing of another animal. This time I’d like you to do something else. Support the animal rescue of your choice either by donating some money (€5-€10) or by volunteering to work with one. Foster some kittens. Adopt a rescue animal or two. Write or email your local TD and ask them what support they are going to give animal rescues or animal welfare legislation. Don’t  force the rescue people to stand in veterinary surgeries watching as yet another needless death occurs in front of their eyes. Make a difference. Get involved. This is a solvable situation.
 

Mr Ford: the embodiment of unnecessary and avoidable suffering

Snoffy

We were driving home following a long day at work. I was sitting in the passenger seat, part dozing in the warmth of the car, which made a pleasant contrast to the icy conditions outside. All of a sudden Maggie, who has excellent vision, exclaimed: “There’s a kitten on the road”. I started awake and looked around but could see nothing but the lights of cars passing us on the busy road. Maggie insisted she had seen a kitten and turned the car around in the forecourt of a nearby garage and retraced our steps. I could see that a long line of cars had stopped on the road but I couldn’t see what obstruction had caused the blockage. Then, the lead car in the queue swung out over the white line as if avoiding some hazard and drove on followed by the rest of the vehicles. Then I saw a blur of something white as a tiny creature ran across the traffic laden road to the footpath on the opposite side. Maggie pulled our car over to the kerb and shot out the door and returned with a small, very dirty, and very emaciated, black and white kitten. Due to the fact we were on a main road with lots of traffic we unceremoniously bundled the little waif into a jacket, sat it on my lap and resumed our journey home. On the way I tried to examine what I could see of the little kitten. It was extremely bony and shivering with the cold. Its black and white coat was matted with dirt. The kitten’s paws looked like the fingers on a skeleton but what immediately struck me was the creature’s demeanour. This kitten was the most beaten looking thing I had ever seen. It had clearly given up on life and was preparing to die. It lay supine in my arms with an attitude of ‘Do what you will. I don’t care anymore’ and when we arrived home it vomited up a slug. And I mean your common, garden variety, slug! One of those slimy creatures that slithers all over your prize Begonias and eats them. Just how starving must a cat be that it is willing to devour a slug?

Snoffy didn't stay long in the cage...

We brought the kitten into the warmth and light of our kitchen and sat it on the floor while we prepared some food for it. The little kitten just sat there on the floor, not moving, not reacting, while our horde of well fed, house cats, strolled over to investigate this new arrival in their midst. Following a degree of sniffing,
our privileged lot lost interest and wandered off to their favourite perches for the night. Maggie prepared a meal of many delights for the newcomer to see what foods it would eat and we quickly discovered it would eat anything and everything that was put in front of it. Then Maggie began the process of evaluation. The kitten’s first need following food was to be cleaned. We discovered our kitten was, in fact, a she, during the cleaning process, and that her nose ran incessantly. On account of the nasal discharge that reminded me of a small snoffly kid, we named her ‘Snoffy’ and so she remains to this day. Snoffy’s paws were in an appalling state, her pads were torn and ripped, each individual digit resembled nothing more than a piece of torn string, and she had great difficulty in walking. Her black and white fur was covered in dirt and riddled with large, adult fleas, and smelt of engine oil. Her bones stuck out through her skin and you could trace her entire skeleton simply by running your fingers along the outline of her body. Following food and cleaning, Snoffy was given a warm bed for the night and settled down to sleep.

Snoffy's paws

The following day we brought her to our vet, a man we both knew and respected for a long time, for her required vax, and worm/flea treatment. Maggie lifted Snoffy out of her cage in the vet’s surgery and put her on the examination table.

I have known our vet for a very long time and have always regarded him as a jovial, easy going man, who is quick to laugh and gentle with animals. When he looked at Snoffy my first impulse was to dive under the table and stay there. I have rarely seen such anger, frustration, and contempt, all mingled on a human being’s face before. The vet softly examined our little foundling while vocally expounding on the B******S, W****S, D********S, and W*****S, who had treated a little kitten like this. Snoffy was within hours of dying from starvation and dehydration. She was riddled with both internal and external parasites. Her coat was covered in dirt and sores. She had a constant runny nose and cat flu, plus a serious respiratory infection that required some serious medication to
shift it. We left the vet laden down with advice and medication and brought Snoffy back to her new home. Here Maggie sprang into action and Snoffy (or Snoffs for short) was put under a supervised regime of diet, medication and grooming. For three, long, months, Snoffy was medicated. Her coat was cleaned on a daily basis. Her battered feet received the best pedicures Maggie could offer. Her kitty litter was inspected to ensure all parasites had left her system (this job I gladly left to Maggie) and slowly her general health began to improve. What most concerned us however was her abject demeanour. Snoffy ate what was put in front of her. She stoically endured the medication and the grooming but she never showed any playfulness one would normally associate with a kitten. The greatest hurt Snoffy suffered was the crushing of her spirit by the hands of some callous human who had neither the wit nor grace to properly care for a kitten.

Look at her mouth

The day after Snoffy’s discovery, Maggie returned to the site and, on an impulse, looked over the low wall that bordered the road, only to find the body of one kitten lying in a stream and another little waif dead on the bank. These three kittens had been placed in a paper bag and hurled over the wall into the stream and left there to die. How long those babies had struggled to escape that bag God only knows. One drowned in the stream. One made it to the bank and died there, probably exhausted by the struggle to leave the water. And the third, Snoffy, fought her way out of the bag, made it through the water, and then had to struggle up a wall until she made it to the road. Here all strength left her and she sat in the middle of the road and waited for whatever was to happen to her next. It was then that karma smiled upon Snoffy because Maggie came along and spotted her.

We had Snoffy for about four months when on impulse I bought a silly cat toy. It was a mouse on the end of a long string that was attached to a handle. I brought it home and was dangling it in front of my overfed, over indulged cats, (who looked at me as if I was simple in the head. What! chase that thing?) when Snoffy suddenly burst out from under a kitchen chair, grabbed it in her mouth, and began to play with it. It was the breakthrough we had waited such a long time for. Snoffy was behaving like an ordinary kitten for the first time in her short life. From that moment on, Snoffy started to become something other than an ordinary kitten. Her early experiences left her with a permanent respiratory condition and she needed to have all her teeth removed due to pyrrhea (or periodontitis). Snoffy has periods when she becomes extremely sensitive to light and gets confused with perspectives and shapes. She sneezes and can hurl boogers across a room, just the thing when we have guests.

But it is when some little stray, bedraggled cat or kitten, is brought home that Snoffy’s specialness comes out. Every feline that comes in our door is met and mothered by Snoffy. When Li’l Red and his four sisters were rescued and brought home it was Snoffy who was waiting for them. She marshalled all five, frightened, kittens onto the cat bed and began to groom each and every one. She taught her charges how to bum ham from the humans and where to find the warmest beds in the house. She plays with all the kittens even though she is a young adult cat now. Unlike the other cats she has never hissed at, or raised a paw to, any cat that has been brought home. Snoffy has grown into a very loving, kind hearted, little cat, and little she is as she is half the size of any other cat her age. Snoffs will never grow any bigger; her wretched start in life has ensured that, but she is a colossus when it comes to extending a welcoming, loving paw, to all the waifs that cross our doorstep.

Snoffy babysitting

Snoffy is my girl. When things get bad for Snoffy she sleeps on my pillow, her furry little body wrapped around the top of my head. She sits on the kitchen counter top and silently meows at me to fetch her ham from the fridge. Sometimes she just looks at me and I dutifully trot to the fridge to fetch bacon products for her. Snoffy is my princess and we have an understanding; she commands, I obey.

Snoffy is a rescue cat who has touched the hearts of all those who have met her. Friends who call to our house. The vets that have treated her. And most of all the frightened kittens and cats that have been rescued off the streets and mean back alleys of this county. Snoffy, the cat who lived, has now become Snoffy, the cat that loves.