Category Archives: Thoughts

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

As the new year is about to begin, I am pausing to reflect on the year gone by. It surely has been a year filled with mixed emotions. CCN has grown in strength as we now have more cat trapping volunteers and cover a wider area. This has resulted in an increasing number of cats being helped (see our stats). The support from our followers has also been truly amazing. They know what we do and support us accordingly. This is of course encouraging and keeps us motivated. However, the success of the organisation also has its drawbacks with an increasing number of calls coming in; no matter the time of the day or the day of the week, we are expected to be at the other end of the phone and to solve each and every problem immediately. Obviously, the fact that more people are looking for help for the cats is welcome, but the demands are often impossible to meet, which results in frustration on both parts.

Although CCN have achieved so much in the past six years, it remains a small organisation, run by a small number of very dedicated volunteers, human beings whose lives can at times be dictated by improving the welfare of cats. Yet, in the eye of the public, we are just an organisation, set up to resolve the problem of cat over-population. How we manage it is of very little concern to them. Since the inception of the organisation, we are aware of the dangers of compassion fatigue; however, we are drawn by a compulsion to help cats in need, we just cannot turn a blind eye. People who know us, be they friends or supporters, keep reminding us that we need to mind ourselves and they are right of course. Others involved in animal rescue know well what I am talking about as this is not something specific to CCN. When involved in animal welfare, you face a trojan task; it is all the more difficult that it can get emotional when witnessing on a daily basis the suffering of animals. Dealing with this and other personal problems can become dangerously challenging.

I recently met up with Maggie, co-founder of the organisation, and we were discussing those ambiguous feelings. We are truly amazed at what has been achieved, but we are also burnt out and wondering about how we can manage to cope. We decided to both take a hiatus for the rest of the year and encouraged other volunteers to also take some kind of a break, so that we could catch up with unfinished work, as well as mind ourselves and reflect about the future and how to better deal with it. I have decided to write this new year’s post in the first person because it expresses personal views, but also to remind the public that behind the name “Community Cats Network” are human beings who sometimes struggle to help animals in need and raise the funds to do so.

Behind the name “Community Cats Network” are a bunch of unpaid volunteers who will go above and beyond to help cats in need. However, for this to happen, we need to be treated with the respect that is due to any human being. What gives us the motivation is the ability to assist people who care for cats and to see the lives of these cats improved thanks to our efforts. Most who will read this post are supporters who are already aware of this, but I hope it also reaches out to others and make some understand that we can achieve a lot more by finding solutions together. We don’t see ourselves as heroes saving the lives of animals, rather we see ourselves as just regular people who are here to assist and guide communities in solving the very real problem of cat over-population, which more often than not also has its toll on the humans caring for the cats.

I don’t wish much for 2018, just that we can continue our mission peacefully and help many more cats and their people. Hopefully, we can make another little step forward to make this world a better place to live for cats.

I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate all the volunteers who keep CCN going: the cat trappers, the ones dealing with administration and fundraising and the ones who lend a helpful hand when they can and in the way they can; they all play a crucial role in helping cats in needs and it is thanks to this combination of forces that the organisation can achieve so much. The vets and vet nurses we work with also deserve a special mention for caring for the cats of course, but also as friendly ears and shoulders who help to keep our spirits uplifted. On behalf of all at CCN, I would like to thank the supporters, be they donors of funds or donors of kind words to keep us going, the organisation would not be without them. I wish you all and your furry friends a happy and healthy new year!

Em

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Hello? I’ve Rescued a Kitten…

“Hello? I’ve rescued a kitten…”

We usually dread these calls as they end by asking us to take in the kitten as they cannot keep it in for a reason or another (kids, work, dog, cats, and so on). Since we are not a rescue and that most rescues are full, there is usually very little we can do.
P1150874 webBut this time, we were wrong! We were talking to a real rescuer, someone willing to take responsibility and to do what was best for the kitten. All she wanted was some advice. Well, when people are willing to make an effort, we are even more eager to help them. We explained the importance of neutering before rehoming, of doing a homecheck, of asking for an adoption donation to make the adopter responsible and so on, and offered to help with these as best as we could and to provide some supplies too.

P1150871 webTwo days later, we were picking up the kitten to have him neutered and microchipped. To our surprise, the little kitten was in the living room, when the house dog had been confined to the yard! We brought back the kitten after recovery, with a few goodies that she could give to the adopter. He has since been adopted by a nice family, whom the rescuer is confident will look after him well.

If there were more people like this lady, Ireland would definitely be a better place for cats….

If you too have rescued a kitten, please visit our private rehoming page for tips and to advertise.

Our Offsprings are the Ferals of Tomorrow

"Our offsprings are the ferals of tomorrow"

“Our offsprings are the ferals of tomorrow”

Phone rings… “Hi, last winter, a stray cat came to my garden.  It was cold and I felt sorry for her, so I started feeding her.  You know, I would hate to see an animal suffer.  Then, in March, she had a litter of kittens, but it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them!  But, at the beginning of the summer, she had another litter of kittens.  7 of them! And now, I think she is pregnant again and I can’t find homes for the kittens.  I don’t mind feeding her as she keeps the mice away, but I can’t possibly keep all of them.  I don’t know what to do, can you please help?”

Sounds familiar?

This is a very common type of call received by animal welfare organisations and our answer is simply to have the cat and her kittens neutered straight away before the situation gets completely out of hand.  We discuss with the carer a way to finance the project and proceed to have the whole family neutered.  Then, maybe a couple of kittens may find a home, but at least they won’t be having kittens.  The problem is solved, but is it really?

Let’s rewind a little, back to spring time: “it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them!”  The alarm bell in my head is ringing!  Now, were those kittens neutered before going to the farm?  Did the farmer get them neutered?  The answer is more than likely no.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the following spring.  The farmer is happy, his little cats (3 females and a male) are doing a good job on the farm.  In April though, all three females give birth to a litter of kittens each.  It is their first litter and they only have two kittens each.  “Sure,” the farmer thinks, “a few more cats might come in handy; I have a big farm!  And maybe Jo will take a couple for his own farm.”  It’s still all fine, isn’t it?  Yes, except that during the summer, they give birth to more kittens, and again at the beginning of winter, except that those mostly die because of the severe weather.

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Two years later, the farmer is looking at all the cats on his farm.  There are so many of them that he cannot feed them properly anymore.  His three little female cats have become useless at killing the rats and mice as they are so exhausted from giving birth, as for the tom, he is constantly chasing the females and has been seen at all the neighbouring farms.  Their offsprings are no good either, they have also started giving birth constantly, and now the younger generations are all sickly because they are inbred.  The farmer is looking at all the cats (he can’t even count how many there are) and is scratching his head “what to do?”.  He must admit that he did try to drown the kittens like his father and his grand-father used to do, but the females are very good at hiding the kittens in the hay, and to be honest, he likes the cats and does not want to harm them.  Maybe he should bring them to the vet to have them euthanised?  But, he cannot even catch the cats; they have gone completely wild!  He’ll talk to the vet though and see what he thinks…

14 02 06 c webThe vet is not too keen on having animals euthanised like that and if the farmer can’t catch the cats, how could he?  He’s heard of organisations doing Trap-Neuter-Return though, maybe they could help?  So the farmer gets in touch with such an organisation.  At first, he has a fit when he hears what it will cost, but it has to stop, and he needs his cats to be healthy so that they can do their job on the farm.  All the cats and kittens get trapped, most of them are neutered, but a few have to be euthanised as they are too sick.  They come back to the farm and a few weeks later, they look a lot healthier and the farm is once more clear of rats.  The farmer is still giving out at the vet bill, but he is glad that things have now gone back to normal.  Next time, he’ll make sure that the cats are neutered beforehand.  “Now, if only Jo could do the same thing on his farm, because how many does he have now?  A good 30 for sure!”

Can you remember what the caller said initially?  “I would hate to see an animal suffer.”  Of course, she hadn’t realised what would happen as the farmer is a good guy and wouldn’t harm an animal, but by rehoming unneutered kittens, she has unknowingly been responsible for a great deal of suffering.  Or maybe she thought that it wasn’t her problem?  How about when the cats start to wander away from the farm because there isn’t any food and start to come to her garden where she is still feeding the little stray, the mother of them all?  Does it become her problem then?

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Websites are full of “Kittens Free to Good Home” ads, but what does it really mean?

I think that in the work we do, convincing people to have kittens neutered before rehoming is actually the biggest challenge.  Sometimes, it’s just because they don’t know that kittens can be neutered at such an early age (see info here), but most of the time, they don’t see the point since they are going to find “good homes” for the kittens.  Why should it be their responsibility?  Times and times again, we explain that if these are actually good homes, then the adopter will not mind giving a donation to cover for the cost of neutering.  In fact, they are quite happy to do so since it saves them the bother of having to bring the kittens.  In other cases, they think that it is not their problem since the cat isn’t actually theirs.  Maybe so, but we all need to start taking responsibility if we want to put a stop to the problem of cat over-population.  It is not one individual’s problem, it actually has become a society’s problem and we all need to start taking responsibility.

Disclaimer: the story above is fictional, although it is based on real experiences.  It wasn’t written with the intention of criticising anyone, but rather with the intention of educating.  Take responsibility too: educate those around you and spread the word about the importance of neutering!

Spay that Stray

The Four Phases of compassion fatigue.

Those of us who work on behalf of and who dedicate our lives to animals go through four phases in our career evolution.  As we are unique, so are our individual stories, but we all go through a similar process and, if we survive that process go on to understand that we have achieved what we wanted in the first place.
Phase One — Honeymoon

Red hot and raring to go, we are out to change the world.  We are high on life. We know we can make a difference; that our efforts on behalf of animals will ease their plight.  We work what seems like 25-hour days yet are energized.  Our enthusiasm overflows, our capacity for challenges is limitless.  We eat, sleep and live in the cause for animals.  Our friends don’t understand our obsession and turn away or just fade away, and we let them for we meet new ones.  Some of us though don’t make new friends; we’re too busy working for animals.  Some of us become loners with only our canine or feline companions to keep us from total isolation but we’re content because we have a cause.  In our zeal we tend to affix simple solutions to complex problems — every animal should be sterilized or no animal should be euthanized.  We’re often late because we try to rescue animals from highways and streets.  We think we understand the problem and we know we can fix it if only people would get out of our way.
Phase Two — Depression

Our phase one enthusiasm has turned sour; the bubble bursts and we crash.  We see the same people coming into the shelter with yet another litter — they haven’t heard our message.  We continue to euthanize, there seems no end to it.  Even our friends — those we still have left — don’t understand us.  We can’t seem to reach anyone.  Animals are still abused and neglected; their plight seems unchanged despite all our efforts.  We’ve lost the boundless energy that characterizes Phase One.  We no longer wish to talk about work, don’t even want to admit where we work.  We’re tired all the time.  We go home from work, lock the doors, turn out the lights, turn off the answering machine and close the window blinds.  We’re too exhausted to cook so we scarf fast food, pizza, potato chips or chocolate.  Some of us buy useless objects we can’t afford.  Some of us turn to alcohol for it takes away our feelings of hopelessness.  We ignore our families and even our pet companions get less attention than we know is right.  We seem powerless to affect any of the changes that drove us to such ecstasies of dedication in Phase One.  We have become horrified by the work we have to do.  Even our dreams are filled with the horror.  Every animal we take in, every animal we euthanize is yet another nail in our coffin of defeat.  Somehow we’re to blame for our failure and it’s destroying us; our wall of isolation gets thicker and thicker.  It blocks the pain and the sadness and makes our life somehow tolerable.  We continue on because every now and then we get a spark of Phase One energy.
Phase Three  — Anger

Our Phase Two depression has turned outward and we’re mad as hell.  Hopelessness turns to rage.  We begin to hate people, any people and all people unless, like our co-workers they dedicate their lives to animals the way we do.  We even hate our co-workers if they dare question us — especially about euthanasia.  It occurs to us, let’s euthanize the owners not the pets.  Let’s take everyone who abuses an animal, or even surrenders an animal and euthanize them instead.  Our rage expands to our out-of-work life.  That guy in front of us on the highway, the one who’s in our way, euthanize him too.  We rage at politicians, television, newspapers, our family.  Everyone is a target for our anger, scorn and derision.  We have lost our perspective and our effectiveness.  We’re unable to connect with life.  Even the animals we come in contact with seem somehow distant and unreal.  Anger is the only bridge to our humanness.  It’s the only thing that penetrates our shield.

Phase Four — Resilience

Gradually and over time the depression of Phase Two and the anger of Phase Three become replaced with a new determination and understanding of what our mission really is.  It is big picture time.  We realize that we have been effective — locally and in some cases regionally and even nationally.  So we haven’t solved the problem — who could — but we have made a difference with dozens, even hundreds and sometimes thousands of animals.  We have changed the way others around us view animals.  We begin to see our proper place in our own community and we begin to see that we are most effective when we balance our work and out-of-work lives.  We realize that work is not our whole world and that if we pay attention to our personal lives we can be more effective at work.  We understand that some days we work 14-hours and some days we knock it off after only 8.  We take vacations and we enjoy our weekends.  We come back refreshed and ready to take on daily challenges.  We see that all people are not all bad.  We understand that ignorance is natural and in most cases curable.  Yes there are truly awful people who abuse and neglect animals but they are a minority.  We don’t hate them.  When we find them we do all we can to stop them from hurting animals.  We recognize that the solutions are just as complex as the problems and bring a multitude of tools to the problem at hand and use them any way we can and we begin to see results — one small step at a time.  We reconnect with the animals.  Our shields come down.  We understand that sadness and pain are a part of our job.  We stop stuffing our feelings with drugs, food or isolation.  We begin to understand that our feelings of anger, depression and sadness are best dealt with if we recognize them and allow them to wash over and past us.  We recognize our incredible potential to help animals.  We are, little by little, changing the world.

The author of this article is Doug Fakkema.

Brief Biography

  • January 1971:  Graduated from San Jose State University in California with a B.A. in radio-TV-film.   
  • September 1971:  I walked into the Lane Humane Society (Eugene, Oregon).  Worked in animal shelters 19 years, mostly as executive director.  
  • July 1990:  Began full-time teaching and consulting around the world, 1.8 million air miles.
  • January 2014: Retired from full time traveling and teaching, but continue to teach Compassion Fatigue classes on a limited schedule.

For more information visit http://www.dougfakkema.com

Rescuing Feral Cats

Feral cat keeping her distance from humans

Feral cat keeping her distance from humans

Very often we receive enquiries from the public asking us help to “rescue some feral cats”.  This is also a phrase quite often used by animal welfare organisations.  What do they mean by “rescuing feral cats”?  Most of the time, what prompts their demand is the fact that the cats do not live according to their standards.  They are concerned because the cats do not have the same comfortable lives as their own pet cats.  However, we are talking here about feral cats, not domestic cats.  Feral cats do not need rescuing, they need their lives to be improved and this can be done by having them neutered and offering them care (a better diet, suitable shelter and medical treatment when needed).

Feral cats are different from domestic cats.  The majority of them are born outside and may be the descendants of many generations of feral cats who have learnt to survive in their environment.  Cats are clever and know where they can be safe, find food and shelter.  They have learnt to avoid the daily dangers their environment throws at them.  For instance, urban feral cats will tend to hide during the day or find safe gardens where they feel protected; rarely will they run in the middle of the traffic.  Farm cats will find a safe place to hide their kittens from the fox or the resident dog.  In fact feral cats have more chances of survival in their own environment than elsewhere.  Their lives can be greatly improved by having them neutered and by making small changes in their environment, for instance by placing warm shelters in a safe location.

Mother and surrogate mother protecting the kittens while they are eating.

Mother and surrogate mother protecting the kittens while they are eating.

However, rescuing feral cats may be more detrimental to the cats than beneficial.  What happens once the cat has been “rescued”.  More than likely, it will be placed in foster care in a cage or room with the aim of socialising them.  A cat who has lived free in an outdoor environment will obviously be extremely distressed by such a situation.  To increase their stress, they will be forced to interact with a human they have never seen before, so that they can become tame.  Feral cats have learnt to be wary of humans in order to protect themselves.  Although they may trust their carer, as this is the person giving them food, other humans will be seen as potential danger.  Attempting to tame a feral cat is therefore seen by the cat as a form of aggression.  You will often hear from “rescuer” that the cat is doing fine but that s/he is nervous, in fact the cat is probably terrified by the interaction forced upon them.  I am not claiming that a feral cat can never become tame, or at least friendlier, what I am saying is that this is not usually achieved by removing them from their environment and forcing them to become socialised.  Many people involved in animal welfare would be opposed to keeping wild animals behind bars in zoo, so why do the same to feral cats?  What may happened then is that the cat starts to lose its spirit.  It is as if they have lost their will to live.  Some may interpret the fact that a feral cat stops hissing as a sign of becoming tame.  In fact, hissing is a healthy reaction in a feral cat as it shows that the cat is protecting himself.

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Feral cat crouched down after a few days in confinement.

What happens when people try to rescue feral cats is that they are trying to fulfil their aptitude at taming them, but often ignore the welfare of the cat in the equation.  Of course, their intentions are good, but this is not necessarily the best route to take.  With kitten season being in full swing, appeals for foster homes for pregnant feral mothers or mothers and their kittens are not a rare occurrence.  These appeals come out of a genuine desire to raise the kittens in a safer place; a desire which is in itself quite understandable.  However, the mother is often forgotten about.  The kittens may be socialised, but what about the stress the mother has to endure during this long period of time?  First of all, she may reject her kittens because of the stress of confinement.  Then, what happens to her once her kittens have been rehomed?  It is impossible to return her to her colony after this length of time as she will not belong to it anymore.  Her nervousness will make her unrehomable as who would want to adopt a nervous cat when there are already so many friendly cats not able to find homes.  Instead of trying to rescue this feral mother, would it not be better to spay her or try to improve the conditions in which she has had her kittens by assisting and educating the carer?

We all have our own experiences when it comes to cats and each of them is different because each cat is different.  However, it is not because feral cats can occasionally be socialised that the lives of so many feral cats should be jeopardised in the expectancy that another socialisation might be successful.  More successes would be achieved if people adopted a more rational approach to dealing with feral cats and took into consideration the actual welfare of the cat instead of their emotional instinct of saving cats according to their own standards rather than those of the cats.

Colony of feral cats living happily.  The cat at the front was only 3 months old when she was neutered.

Colony of feral cats living happily. The cat at the front was only 3 months old when she was neutered.