Volunteering for Swansea Cats Protection…what we do in the shadows!

With Lyn Gardner Swansea Cats Protection
 

As Swansea Cats Protection volunteers, our days usually start with a huge ‘to do’ list as we’re always full of good intentions! Top of the list is ‘fit everything I need to do around work, family life, eating and sleeping’…

Unfortunately, sometimes these things get squeezed to the margins. Second on the list is ‘expect the un-expected’ because whilst we care-fully plan much of our work, we never know what will come through on our helpline. Our help-line (please see end of article for number) is answered by a messaging service which passes the information on to the volunteers via email. Years ago, the volunteers would answer all calls and enquiries themselves, which proved to be incredibly demanding, challenging and time consuming, as you may imagine.

    So today has started briskly – vet appointments are already booked for the cats and kittens in our care, traps cleaned, oiled and ready to set, home visits for prospective adopters all scheduled…we’re good to go! Our little group of volunteers will set off to collect cats who need to see the vet today. First on my list is a young feral cat to be spayed who we’ve called Cathy. She’s a bit miffed at missing her breakfast prior to anaesthetic and is instead sitting in a huge cat trap. She was trapped much earlier using tasty tuna to lure her in, so she can be taken to the vet for neutering, flea and worming and ear-tipping. We follow the  internationally recognised procedure of ear-tipping a feral cat to show that the cat has been neutered, which prevents them being trapped again unnecessarily. This simple procedure is carried out by a vet whilst the cat is under anaesthetic. Cathy is one of around 6 cats  who live in an idyllic rural location, who are fed and cared for by the wonderful staff in a business on Gower. Some of the cats have been there for several years and Swansea Cats Protection volunteers had trapped, neutered and returned (TNR) them previously so they could live safe, healthy lives in their colony. However, more recently other cats had joined the colony, probably migrating in from local farms, and were unneutered, so we had to act fast to ensure kittens weren’t produced and the males didn’t fight and get injured. Cathy is the 3rd of 4 cats we’ve needed to TNR before mating season begins in earnest. On our way to the vet I tell Cathy what I always say to all the cats and kittens: ‘it won’t be the best day of your life being neutered, but the first step towards a better one’. And that’s true. Cathy will enjoy a healthier life being neutered. The main benefits for neutering a cat beyond the obvious of avoiding pregnancy, are that it can be good for their overall health. For example:

For female cats, the chance of getting some infectious diseases will be reduced and the likelihood of developing tumours, womb infections and other illnesses is also reduced.

Neutered male cats are less likely to end up injured from fighting or stray from home.

Male cats that are not neutered often appear frustrated if they don’t find a female mate and can spray smelly urine as a way of scent-marking – an appeal to potential female mates.

 On my way to the vet I collect Pumpkin, another young female cat in our care who hasn’t had her breakfast either…she’s also to be neutered, and because she’ll eventually be found a new loving home, she’ll be microchipped and vaccinated too. With both Cathy and Pumpkin safely dropped off at the vet I quickly scan messages from my fellow volunteers and check what’s come in on our Helpline from the general public. There are 2 requests from owners to relinquish their cats into our care already, and it’s barely 9.15am – that’s not a great start to the day. And with sadness I read a message from a tireless Branch volunteer/fosterer who tells us that a little one in her care is now very unwell and despite extensive vet care and treatment, may be at the end of her road. It’s not easy to face and the exhausted volunteer has been up nursing the kitten throughout the night. The demands of volunteering are many and take their toll. As I leave the vet car park for home, this volunteer drives towards it with a heavy heart.

By mid-morning the helpline is busy taking calls – a lost cat, found cats, people requesting help getting their cats neutered using our wonderful £5 scheme (please see our website for further details), adopt-ion requests (but never, ever enough to offer a home for older cats or our more difficult to home cats…but we keep hoping). More calls from people who want to give up their cats, calls from people worried about stray cats, poorly cats, hungry cats and unwanted cats. These are the ones that make our hearts sink. A cat is in need of our help today, now, immediately, or worse – that they needed our help way before today. They’re unwell, in unsafe situations, pregnant or with kittens, hungry, injured, at risk. How does this happen? Why does it keep happening? Why do people abandon cats, ignore injured or unwell cats? Why don’t people get their cats neutered?

OK, so who is free to help? Our volunteers have lives, have jobs, have other commitments, and we could be anywhere doing anything when the request for help goes out. Frequently members of the public ask if they can come to our office or call a volunteer in our office…but we have no office, we’re volunteers! We take calls in our cars (not whilst driving of course!), our homes, and even at work if urgent, but obviously only during our lunch breaks. But despite this we try really hard (and generally succeed) to maintain a professional stance and offer a first-class animal welfare service. Sometimes this is tested though…recently whilst on the phone at home to a member of the public and dealing with an import-ant issue, my naughty young cat Arlo whizzed in through the cat flap and deposited a live mouse in the hall-way. Trying to stay calm and focus-ed on the phone call I gestured to my husband that the mouse had scurried under the sideboard. My husband popped a flowerpot over the mouse, tail nicely tucked in, but unfortunately banged his head whilst getting up (the husband not the mouse!). No shouts or profanities were uttered and mousey was carefully released into the bushes outside and the phone call completed. Now that’s dedication to the cause isn’t it? Ha ha!

I digress…back to today and I’m off home from the vet. I quickly update my senior volunteer colleagues about my morning and check the helpline again. I see one of our wonderful volunteers has written up the details of Home Visits she carried out yester-day, with more planned today – some lovely homes being offered to our cats. And best of all, a successful Home Visit with a wonderful couple who would like to adopt Lily, one of our longest staying cats. That has made our day, our week, our month and put a spring in our step. Lily had come to us last summer as a stray with her kittens and was fostered till they were all homed. She loved it with her fosterer and was settled and relaxed. She was transferred to our cattery pens to allow her fosterer to take in yet another poor, abandoned female and her kittens. But Lily didn’t take to life in a cattery and despite love, care and lots of roast chicken she became very fed up and introverted. Finally, she has the chance of a proper home with love, understanding and patience…let’s see how it goes. Giving a home to a cat like Lily is not an easy undertaking and we at Swansea Cats Protection understand that, but the wonderful people who do are often rewarded ten-fold, twenty-fold…good luck sweetheart Lily. Adopters of so-called ‘hard to home’ cats are all too rare unfortun-ately but when they do get in touch are supported as much as possible. We have a number of cats who may not initially catch your eye on our website (see page 102) and we hope you stop and look again. See if you can offer a home to gorgeous Angora pair Jules and Jimbob, to marvellous Marge, to dainty dynamo Jessie (can’t believe she’s an old girl!), to beautiful, beguiling Dusk or sweetheart Suzie. Please don’t overlook them.

I’ve digressed again but actually think it effectively illustrates the range, variety and demands of the volunteer role. So back to today… another volunteer has taken a poor frail old unneutered tom cat called Otto to the vet as he isn’t perking up as well as we’d expected. Let’s hope the news is more positive. And all through the day volunteers have completed paperwork, phoned people to arrange to take unwanted cats into our care, persuaded owners not to sell their tiny kittens to the highest bidder, worked hard in our two charity shops and amid all of this, tried to attend to all the other commitments, demands and pleasures in their lives.

It’s 4 o’clock now and dear little Pumpkin has had her spay operation and I’ll take her back to her cattery pen where she’ll be snuggled up warm with a special heat pad and given her supper. Cathy has a different destin-ation and I drive her back to her colony on Gower. To my delight Cathy’s mum tiptoes out of the bushes to greet her daughter and sits patient-ly while I release her from the trap. Like a bullet out of gun Cathy dashes from the trap and bounces off into the fields leaving me and her mum standing there! Later I hear back from the kind people who feed the colony of cats that Cathy had returned, met up with some of the other cats and has tucked into a big bowl of food.

All is well, a good day’s work.

So, what will tomorrow bring for we volunteers? Another long ‘to do list’ that’s for certain!

If you’re interested in adopting or fostering one of our rescue cats or kittens please get in touch. IMPORTANT: we are keen to match the right cat to the right home, based on our knowledge of the cat and the information you provide. However, due to the high number of applications we’re sorry to be unable to respond to unsuccessful applicants. Please remember we are ALL UNPAID VOLUNTEERS trying to do our best for the rescue cats and kittens of Swansea.

We can be contacted via our Helpline 0345 2602 101 or email us at swanseacats@hotmail.co.uk. Please note our helpline is answered by a messaging service and we will respond as soon as we can.

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