The Challenge of Cape Clear

Cape Clear, an island difficult to access

Cape Clear, an island difficult to access

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?

The vet team: Charlotte Whitty, Sinead Falvey, Hazel Kirby and Lorna Cashman

The vet team: Charlotte Whitty, Sinead Falvey, Hazel Kirby and Lorna Cashman

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.

The ferry that was to bring our equipment on the island

The ferry that was to bring our equipment on the island

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.

So many tabbies and blacks...

So many tabbies and blacks…

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.

The surgery

The surgery

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.

Ciaran Danny Mike's, who have supported us from the start

Ciaran Danny Mike’s, who have supported us from the start

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.

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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.

The trailer carrying our equipment being lifted onto the ferry.

The trailer carrying our equipment being lifted onto the ferry.

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.

Sorting out and labelling the cages

Sorting out and labelling the cages

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….

Sharing is caring...

Sharing is caring…

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. 

8 cats were trapped with the drop trap!

8 cats were trapped with the drop trap!

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.

All cats, even The Monster, were trapped on the 1st day...

All cats, even The Monster, were trapped on the 1st day…

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!

Vets at work

Vets at work

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.

All cats were closely monitored after surgery, especially the kittens, who needed to be kept really warm.

All cats were closely monitored after surgery, especially the kittens, who needed to be kept really warm.

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!

Session at Club Cleire

Session at Club Cleire

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.

The males have been released and are enjoying a good meal!

The males have been released and are enjoying a good meal!

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!

To view the full photo album, click here.

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