We have asked our volunteers to tell us a bit about their experience of volunteering with CCN: what is their motivation, what they do and whether they find it rewarding.
I can’t remember a time before cats. I mean farm cats of course. They stalked and prowled, slinked and slunk high and low all around the edges, everywhere it seemed. Always around somewhere. Anxiously transporting mewling newborns to new hiding-places. Grimly trotting past with fresh kills in their mouths, crazed looks in their eyes. Many were adorably tame and ‘only wanted petting’ as my mother used say. But we knew cats to be wild, to be Other, to be animal, part of the tough economy of the farmyard, measured by their usefulness to the whole. After all, we observed no less in the mother cats themselves when they coolly cast off the weak, the disfigured and the unlucky.
But still, it was upsetting to see the stricken panic in the mother cat, duped into leaving her babies unguarded, our gentle Dad already gone to the river with another sackload to dispense. We considered kittens whose eyes had not yet opened to be less sentient and, dispatched quickly without fuss, humanely spared a life of miserable subsistence. You see, we knew what happened when mother cats successfully hid their litters until the eyes opened, when they‘d be considered off-limits for culling. The numbers would get out of hand and then we’d be over-run with sickly, in-bred, ghastly creatures: this in itself would be a terrible indictment of the farm’s ability to self-govern. Only clueless townies, with nothing better to do, put self-dramatising sentiment before responsible animal husbandry. That was how we saw it.
Of course cats could be heroes too. We knew that without them, the place’d be crawling with rats and that, well that was the stuff of nightmares. And therein lay the paradox of attitudes to farm cats. We needed them. Specifically, we needed them to hunt and yet it was considered foolish to provide more than the basic daily sustenance provided free: fresh cow’s milk and whatever farm-house left-overs were not wolfed down by the farm dogs. To provide more was considered not only to spoil the cats for hunting, but perhaps even cruel with its false promise of plenty. Needless to say, buying something called ‘cat food’ was unheard-of.
None the less, we considered the plight of the weak and the vulnerable not without compassion, because cruelty, wilful neglect and unnecessary pain were condemned as wrong and dishonourable in our rural code of inherited duty. Yet we applied to their struggles the same Darwinian detachment meted out to all the outriders, human and animal, in our society: we simply judged their misfortune to be beyond our control and halted our imaginations before empathy formed and became unbearable. We already lived with the paradox of control and powerlessness, of charity and ruthlessness. Animals didn’t always have easy lives; but then again, we believed, no-one did or perhaps should. That was how things were.
So anyway, I grew up and travelled, and fretted uselessly over skinny cats aggressively jostling for survival in Roman ruins and Turkish markets. I shut down when neighbours in Dublin and London told me not to bother feeding the frankly scary-looking ‘ferals’ (a new and weirdly alien word) because shure, weren’t the Corpo going to sort it out and make the problem ‘go away’? I was afraid to ask what that meant, not least because it might involve intervention on my part. So I’d just peer out the kitchen window at gangs of unhappy alley-cats and hope their charmlessness meant they felt pain less, and that because officialdom was involved, making them ‘go away’ would magically involve no pain at all…
So I closed my heart and mind to the suffering of animals, while professing to love, defend and crucially, as a farmer’s daughter, claiming a special intuitive awareness of them. I was passive about the welfare of animals but then I was passive about everything: about the destruction of the economy, of the social fabric, of the environment. I didn’t want to be drawing trouble down on myself so I kept my head down. But when trouble came anyway, that was no longer an option.
I made some decisions and one of them was to become more active in speaking up for my beliefs, learning more and volunteering my time. I didn’t really know how to go about that so I just kept my eye open for opportunities to test my new commitment to activism. And that was how I encountered Community Cats Network or specifically, the people behind CCN.
First there was Marika, desperately worried about two homeless cats who were ensconced in her back yard in town. But she was moving out and feared that none of the neighbours would care for them. It was the first time really I’d engaged with someone who was prepared to follow through on sentiment, assume responsibility for homeless animals and address their actual needs, even it meant inconvenience or slog. I agreed to help and through that encounter, I met Emilie, Maggie and Jim, the stalwarts of CCN, and my education in activism began.
It’s jaw-dropping stuff actually, the amount of work and hours these people put in. There’s nothing random, dreamy or self-indulgent about taking on the cause of the feral cat. Trap-Neuter-Return is a strategic intervention based on the needs of the wild animal in its habitat, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult the surroundings, and done with limited resources. But CCN do it all to an impressively professional degree with results that surprise everyone, not least the people who might initially regard the ferals as mere vermin but who come to regard their community cats as natural allies to be supported. I know. I’ve seen Maggie and Jim in action out on my family’s farm and they’re a crack team of operators, from the efficiency of the set-up to the professionalism of the after-care. I was even presented with a page of photographs and text summarising the care of each of our farm cats!
I’m proud to be involved with an organisation like this. The volunteering I do for CCN is mostly fun stuff: car-boot sales, promotion stands and a small part of the larger administration burden. It’s small potatoes next to the real work but I always feel appreciated, always feel I’m part of something worthwhile. CCN has helped change my sense of what’s possible and challenged my beliefs that nothing can be done. And of course, it’s good for the cats and good for communities, and that’s what it’s really about.
There are many ways to volunteer and support us to help the cats. For more information, visit our volunteering page. You can also join our “Helping Hands” Facebook group to keep updated of our various appeals.