Reporter Louise Roseingrave wrote a feature on the Cape Clear project, which appeared on the Irish Examiner on the 19th of February. It came in timely as we were just back from another trapping trip on the island.
For those of you who may have missed it, you can read the article online here.
To read our posts on the Cape Clear Project, please follow this link.
Please, consider supporting this project by donating here. Every little helps and we, and the cats, would be much grateful for whatever small amount you could give to have the Cape Clear cats neutered.
Flowers don’t grow in my garden. Under the soil lie many stories of lost lives.
I live on Cape Clear Island; it’s Ireland’s most southerly island, located 45 minutes from the mainland by ferry. The island is 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide; we have a population of 120 people. We are reasonably self sufficient on the island but all our food and necessities depend on the ferry and the ferry depends on the weather, no ferry no food. We don’t have pharmacies or doctors so we have to go to the mainland for everything.
So to go back to the story of my garden… Some years ago I started to feed some stray cats that came around. I’m not a cat person, but I know how hard it is to survive on this island, so I started to bring home scraps of food from work to feed them. Soon kittens were born, some survived and grew up, but most of the little creatures that couldn’t take the bad weather succumbed to cat flu and died. This has happened year after year after year. I can’t go near any of the cats. I have fed them for years and they come to my call when it’s feeding time. I don’t know if cats have feelings or emotions, but when I see one of the mothers lying near her dead kitten in the garden it tears at my soul. I have fought many a battle to stay living on this rock in the Atlantic Ocean and thought many times about doing the same as many before me and leaving for a better life on the mainland. But what about the cats? I can’t catch them to get them neutered, I can’t transport 18 cats to the mainland for neutering and I can just about pay for their food.
Last summer I heard sneezing in the hedge at the bottom of my garden. I went to investigate and found another kitten. Its eyes were full of puss and it had that “please don’t hurt me” look on its face, that I have seen a thousand times, as I tried to reach into the hedge to get it out.
I couldn’t catch the little creature as it was so terrified. I spent days listening to its cries for help. As the days passed the cries got weaker and weaker until I entered the garden to the sound of silence. I found its tiny lifeless body hidden underneath the back of the hedge by the stone wall. I didn’t give the little kitten a name, because I have run out of names to give them all. They are all buried in my garden where the flowers don’t grow but under the soil lies many an untold story.
I didn’t know that people would give up their own time to travel over to Cape Clear to help us. That is until I met the members of Community Cats Network. Last summer they were over here helping one of my neighbours, Mary Francis, with her feral cats. I asked for help. They answered my call, but not just my call, the call of all the untold stories in my garden
If you’d like to help Marianne’s ferals and other cats on the island, please donate here.
At the beginning of August, we received a phone call from an elderly lady who is feeding 17 cats and some kittens on Cape Clear. She was very eager to have them neutered, but did not know how to go about it since there are no vets on the island. After a bit of thinking, we decided to take on the challenge and help out. All very well, but how to go about it?
After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that the easiest way would be to spend a few days on the island and bring a vet on site. Sinead Falvey at the Cloyne Veterinary Clinic kindly accepted to donate some of her time and to come on board with two of her vet nurses, Hazel and Lorna, and another vet, Charlotte Whitty. Other people offered to give us a hand: Muriel Lumb from Animal Advocacy, Jenni from RAWR (Rural Animal Welfare Resources) and Karen. The wonderful Kiana also helped us by partially sponsoring this project.
That was a good start, but there were still so many technicalities to organise and the distance did not help. Thus, we decided to go there for an assessment and see for ourselves what we were facing.
Arriving on Baltimore harbour, we realised that bringing our equipment on site would be the first difficulty. We thought it would be possible to use the barge, but it was more complicated that it seemed. We approached a few people to enquire how often was the barge going and it did not sound promising. Once on the island, however, we met Duncan and discovered he owned a trailer that he could lend us, as well as a car. Our first problem was sorted: the trailer would be brought on the mainland the day before we would be due and we would pack our equipment on it.
We then headed to meet Mary Francis and her cats. There were many of them and we tried to get an accurate list of them. According to the list, we would have to trap and hold 23 cats and kittens. Some of the cats looked well, but others were a bit thin and had dermatitis; a problem that we hoped would be solved by neutering.
Our next issue was to find a suitable area for surgery. When walking to Mary Francis’s, we had notice that small house just next door and enquired if it were in use. The place was owned by her neighbour and we received authorisation to go and have a look. It was perfect for our purposes. There was electricity and water, the kitchen could serve as a surgery, the small room off it as a holding area for the females and kittens, and the barn downstairs was suitable for holding the males. It would require a fair amount of cleaning, but nothing insurmountable.
Next, we needed to find an affordable place to stay as there would be about eight of us going there and staying for a few nights. We thus stopped to Ciaran Danny Mike’s where we met Marianne. Marianne told us she would talked to the owner and see what could be done. She also told us that she was feeding 18 cats and that she didn’t know what to do about it as every year she would see more kittens being sick and dying. We told Marianne that we might not be able to help this time, but would get in touch with her. Mary, owner of Cape Clear Holiday Cottages got back to us and accepted to let us use one of the cottages at a very friendly price.
On our way back to the harbour, we made a small detour to meet Ed, who promised to help us to organise a talk and music session in order to raise some funds for the project.
Satisfied with our day, we went back on the main land and started to organise the logistics. We needed to plan the equipment we would need, organise the volunteers and so on. Other veterinary practices also decided to help out by donating medicines and we would like to thank Glasslyn vets and Riverview Veterinary Group for their support.
Finally, the big day arrived and we were a bit nervous on our way to Baltimore as a little mistake and the whole project could go wrong. We all arrived on time and found the trailer waiting for us. We started loading and, to our relief, all our equipment did fit on it. The trailer was safely transported onto the island at no cost to us by Cape Clear Ferry.
After picking up the keys to the cottage, we did not waste time and headed to our destination. The four of us undertook the big task of cleaning, disinfecting and setting up all the cages, thus transforming the loft and downstairs area into a temporary cat hospital. The females and their kittens were to be kept upstairs in a warmer area, while the males were set up in the barn downstairs. All cages were labelled and equipped with feeding bowls and litter trays for maximum comfort during the cats’ stay.
After a quick lunch in the company of the cats, the trapping could begin….
We picked up all the friendly cats and transferred them into their cages. The traps needed to be set up for the other cats, who were mor feral. We had come well equipped with 2 multi-cat drop traps, which were set at the feeding spot, and a few automatic traps, which were set around the garden for the shyest cats. Maggie broke her record and trapped 8 cats in one go with her drop trap and we rapidly trapped more cats with the other traps. It happened so fast that we could barely keep count. 20… 21… 22! That was most of the colony trapped as only one cat remained to be caught.
Muriel sat in the garden all afternoon watching the traps, while the rest of us were setting all the cats in their cages for the night. All the cats were recorded and given food and water, as well as a litter tray.
It was beginning to get dark and we agreed to come back in the morning to get the last cat. We left the traps unset so that he could get used to their presence. The car that had been lent to us had a little specificity: you needed to turn the key three times in the engine in order to start it. As Maggie was doing so, Em spotted a shadow ahead of them. Maggie swiftly ran out and went to reset the drop trap while the rest of us remained quiet in the car. Not long after, the sound of the trap being dropped could be heard. The Monster, as he was named by his carer, had been caught! We had trapped the whole colony in a matter of hours!
The following morning, the vet team arrived. No time wasted; they wanted to get to work straight away. They set up the surgery and we started bringing the cats to them. They fastly worked their way through neutering all the cats and had us running! In the lapse of three hours, 19 cats were sedated, neutered, ear-tipped and treated for fleas and worms. Unfortunately, one cat had a damaged leg, which could not be operated on, and had to be euthanised. The three youngest kittens were still too small to be neutered and it was decided that since they were only semi-feral, our team would come back at a later date to pick them up and bring them back on the main land for neutering.
The vets went back to the cottage for a well-deserved relaxing time, while we stayed with student vet nurse, Lorna Cashman, to ensure that all the cats were fine after their operation. Once we were satisfied that all were ok, we fed them and let them rest for the night.
Our job for the day was not over. We had organised a fundraising night in order to help covering for the costs involved. After socialising and selling tickets for our fun cat raffle at Ciaran Danny Mike’s, we headed to Club Cleire where a session was on. There, we also gave a talk on TNR and on how we had organised this particular project. Everyone was really supportive and bought raffle tickets to help us to finance the project. We returned to Ciaran Danny Mike’s where our draw took place. Ironically, Mary Francis won the first prize: a cat that is a lot easier to look after and won’t have kittens!
Although the most difficult part of our work was over now, we still had a busy day on the Sunday with the release of the males, followed by cleaning up and beginning packing. The females were left to recover for an extra night.
Two of us remained on the island to oversee the release of the females and kittens. With all cats safely returned and all the equipment packed, it was time to leave and say goodbye to Cape Clear until our next visit.
We would like to thank all those who have supported this project, the vets, volunteers, businesses and the people of Cape Clear. We are also very thankful to all the members of the public who have contributed to this project so far and have helped us to make it possible. The project is not over yet and your support is still needed in order for us to continue neutering the cats of Cape Clear.
If you would like to support the Cape Clear TNR Project, please donate here. Thanks for your support and generosity!