Becoming Involved In Cat Welfare

Most neighbourhoods have their own "cat lady", known for their willingness to help with any cat problems, from taking in dumped kittens to caring for the cat orphaned by the death of its owner. Many of those people continue with their kind work, unsung and often ridiculed, but getting great joy from knowing they are making a contribution to helping the suffering of the underprivileged cat population. However, with the growth of high-rise accommodation, unsuitable for pets, the development of municipally owned property which is subject to restrictions on keeping pets, has made the task of the would be rescuer ever more difficult, and, as with many other forms of services, the tendency in cat welfare work is towards what might be described as a group practice.

There are advantaged in like-minded people getting together, mainly because working along can be difficult, but also because it allows member of the group to contribute their skills and to follow their own particular bent. There is another advantage, in that the group practice tends to stop what is known as a 'collector'. There people cannot say 'No' when asked to help, but rarely say 'Yes' when the opportunity arises to home a cat and as a result, their cat family outgrows the room available, which can cause problems for the neighbours, the local authority and the cats themselves.

There are some disadvantages with a group acting together, but these are avoidable with some common sense. The group's finances must be dealt with by someone responsible who will not just collect the money, issue receipts, check bills and attend to their payment! but will make sure the groups expenditure dies not exceed its income. If a group member does not wish to do this, it's often possible to find a spouse or friend who has no wish to be involved with cats, but is willing to do some administrative work.

The other problem is the incompatibility of the members, and this can be dealt with by ensuring all decisions are taken in open discussion and that all concerned contribute to the welfare of as many cats as the groups resources in money, time and people permit.

The setting up of a rescue group will require a spark of initiative from someone, who will take on the role of co-ordinator, organiser and chairman. He or she will need to be able to motivate people, work with people in and outside of the group, and be able to say 'No'. Apart from a treasurer, it will be necessary to appoint a secretary, who will attend to correspondence and keep notes of meetings; a welfare/homing officer, who will be responsible for taking cats into care and finding new homes for cats; a fund raiser, whose duties are obvious; and a public relations officer, who will seek publicity, to raise money, and to assist with homing. In addition there is fostering cats, providing transport for cats to and from the veterinary surgery or to a new home, and for food and other items to foster homes. There are also other areas of activity that can be developed, such as maintaining a lost and found register, taking care of cats where the owner is involved in an accident or other emergency, feeding feral cats on site and much more. If this seems daunting, it must be remembered that this is perfection, and to start with each helper will play several roles until the group is bigger.

The first requirement is to house the cats whilst homes are being found. Many groups work on the basis of parking them in a members house, but this should be a last resort, because of the spread of infection, security and the upset to the cat. Purpose built pens in the gardens of members provide ideal facilities, or it might be possible to make arrangements to provide temporary accommodation with a boarding cattery at a reduced rate.

Records should be kept of each cat helped, as a safeguard should there be any problems over ownership or identification. A photograph is ideal for this, sometimes a stray cat turns out to have a home and there is annoyance, that the cat has been rescued, but adequate records should enable this rare occurrence to be sorted out.

Homing is satisfying but demanding work. There is no substitute for the time consuming home visit, and resentment at it might be a warning sign. There are not endless homes waiting for a cat and it's a personal decision whether something less than ideal is OK for the cat. Thought will be given as to the suitability of the cat to the surroundings and visa versa; a nervous or death cat will not do well living on a main road, and a boisterous kitten is not ideal for the elderly, and so on. Cats that are homed must be in good heath - nobody benefits from passing on a sick cat. The group should also neuter all cats before placing them in new homes.

Be aware there are still people interested in using cats for money or research, and care must be taken not to accidentally give a cat to a supplier to the fur trade or laboratories.

It will help the group to establish a good relationship with a local veterinary practice, and other animal welfare organisations. Don't expect veterinary surgeons to provide their services for free or even at reduced rates. They are professionals and must be expected to charge accordingly. The local RSPCA are willing to help and have a fund of knowledge. It's also worth becoming known by the local police who have the occasional cat problem.

As an alternative to working individually or as a group, you could consider becoming the local branch of one of the national cat charities. However, this depends on many things, including location of other branches and the charities practices and policies. For example, The Cats Protection League has over 150 groups and branches in the UK, from the Shetlands to Cornwall, and beyond to the Channel Islands and Dublin. The League's policy is to provide initial funding, equipment and advice, although the group is expected to be self financing. Whether as individuals, independent groups or as part of an organisation, all contribute to this very rewarding work.



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