The ups and downs of stray cat rescue...

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF STRAY CAT RESCUE...Two little kittens appeared in one of our neighbour’s gardens on our regular evening dog walk. No mother to be seen.

One black and very feral, the other ginger and white and slightly friendlier. Every night they waited in the same place for us to turn up and leave their food. Weeks, and then months passed, and one day three tiny kittens came trotting along behind their ginger and white mum. There hadn’t been any sign that she was pregnant and I felt so sorry for her, having gone through her pregnancy on our one meal a day, plus whatever she could catch, then giving birth in the wild and raising and protecting these little scraps.

So now we had 5 to feed, and 3 kittens to catch and re-home. One problem was that she tended to stay in the garden, behind a chain link fence, so we couldn’t reach them. There was one pretty calico, the smallest, a cute ginger and white, like his mum, and the largest  and feistiest was a pure ginger. They didn’t appear every day, and when we didn’t see them we worried about them, had something happened to them? A dog? A car? An illness? Then the next night their little heads would pop up and we would heave a sigh of relief.

About a week after we had first seen them, the smallest, calico kitten managed to wriggle through the fence, desperate to get to the food that her two siblings were devouring, she had decided to come direct to the source as the bigger kittens tried to elbow her out of the way. She briefly turned her back on me as she reached our side of the fence, and I managed to grab her and before she knew it she was safe inside a cat box that we had brought with us, just in case!

Cilla We hurried home with a petrified kitten, only around 4 weeks old, and named her Cilla, as she was a surprise. Although she was terrified, she wasn’t at all aggressive, and with a bit of love and attention, within 48 hours she was eating from my hand and allowing me to pick her up. I put the word out on social media, hoping to find a good home for her as she was fast becoming a little sweetheart.

I was soon contacted by someone I knew from various other animal rescue organisations and situations, and was more than happy for her to make her new home with them and the rest of their cat family.

Meanwhile, we continued feeding the two adults (Ella and Cilla) and tried to catch the remaining two kittens. Having seen their sister disappear into a box,never to be seen again, they were more cautious and stayed well out of our reach. They were also getting bigger so it was more difficult for them to squeeze through the fence, and they stayed uncaptured, behind the wire mesh. Over the next few days, we concentrated on gaining their trust, bringing them tempting  titbits of roast chicken or tuna, letting them see we were providers of the good stuff and worth getting to know.

One part of the fence was a little loose, so we started leaving the food near this small gap, and one evening the ginger and white kitten poked his head and shoulders through, finding the aroma of sardines just too irresistible. I had to make a snap decision, if you try to catch a cat or kitten and fail, then it’s game over and you might as well call it a day and go home. You only get one chance and if you blow it they won’t come near you again until at least thenext day. I held my nerve, stood completely still and barely took a breath as he was distracted by the food, and happily munched away. I closed my hand around his tiny, warm body and popped him straight into the cat box. Kitten 2, named Mango by my young cousin, was safely caught and transferred to a cage in our hospital/nursery wing.

Again he proved to be very friendly after a short period of adjustment, but he was obviously lonely, having been used to spending all his time with his mum, brother and sister, and would cry for me to pick him up, purring loudly while enjoying cuddles. This made me all the more determined to get the last kitten. We also wanted to catch the adults so we could have them spayed or neutered and stop them having any more litters of unwanted kittens. It’s a huge problem here in the Algarve, kittens can become pregnant at 5 or 6 months, and produce two litters per year. If only 6 kittens survive each year, and none are neutered, within 4 years that one female can have more than 2000 descendants, so it can quickly get out of control.

So we went back every night, armed with our trusty cat box, but he had always been the biggest and most feral of the kittens, and he was now on the cusp of being uncatchable. Once they get to 8 weeks plus, it becomes more and more difficult to just pick them up without risking severe injury, and possibly even the use of oven gloves for protection. We had a few near misses, but then he disappeared for a few days and we really thought we had lost any chance of catching him. However, 3 or 4 days later he re-appeared, obviously very hungry, maybe he had managed to get shut in somewhere, but he was desperate for food, so he came to us and we got him into the box without too much fuss. I couldn’t believe we had managed to get all 3 of them to safety. 

We kept the boys in separate cages for the first 24 hours, just in case they didn’t recognise each other, but it soon became clear that not only did they know they were brothers but they wanted to be reunited, so we put them in together and they proved inseparable. They played, cuddled, slept together, it was so lovely to see them, they were definitely a bonded pair. Mango was still very happy to be picked up for a cuddle, but Lenny stayed towards the back of the cage and was pretty reluctant to get too close to us. If he was in the mood, or we had some tasty titbits he would allow us to stroke him, but we didn’t attempt to pick him up. Again I advertised them on social media with cute photos, but sadly there were no serious responses.

Mango and LennyI emailed photos to our local vet, who put up a poster in the clinic reception area, and we were resigning ourselves to keeping them until they were big enough to be neutered, then setting them free, a process referred to as TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) normally used for adults who can’t be tamed, when an email pinged into my inbox, the clinic had someone interested…… in Mango. My heart sank, Mango was the cutest and friendliest, and I didn’t want to deny him the chance of a lovely home, but he was so close to Lenny, I couldn’t decide what to do for the best. I decided to be a bit cheeky and ask if the potential new owner would take them both.

It is always a good idea to get two kittens rather than one, as they can be very playful and get bored easily on their own, and it saves your hands being cut to ribbons by their little sharp teeth and claws if they have another kitten to play fight with. They quickly agreed, it was the best possible solution, it was only then that I found out that the person who wanted to take them was an employee at the clinic that I knew well, and who had a small-holding outin the country - it would be a perfect home for the boys so I happily handed them over, knowing I had done the best for them. Now we were left with the two original kittens, now grown adults to try to TNR.

Lulu had become very friendly, and would let me stroke her and pull bits of grass and seeds out of her long coat as she ate, although she still wouldn’t let me pick her up. Every evening she would wait for us in the same place, and start calling out to us as we approached, but Ella was a different story. She gladly ate our food, but glared at us and hissed if we came too close, hiding behind a thick hedge and only eating once we had retreated to a safe distance. We were going to have to bring in the big guns to have any chance of catching her. Fortunately a friend offered to loan us his cat trap, but we couldn’t leave it unattended as a) it wasn’t ours, b) we’d have to try to trap her in a public place and c) we couldn’t leave a cat in a trap for several hours in the height of the summer, and in 30+ degrees. Nevertheless, we took the trap down one evening, and helped by a neighbour, manoeuvred it into a suitable place, baited it with some tasty food and waited, and waited. Both cats appeared immediately, smelt the food, and circled the trap, clearly suspicious of this new contraption and wondering why their dinner was behind bars.

Again we stood stock still, not even a whisper passed between us, as we tried to watch proceedings, but also stay out of sight of the cats. We waited a bit longer, willing one of them to take the bait. There were a few false starts when they put one foot in the trap, but didn’t go far enough to trigger the door to snap shut. It was starting to get dark, and we hadn’t eaten yet ourselves so we decided to call it a day, but just as we were going to remove the trap, Ella took one step, then another, unable to resist the lure of the food any longer, as she approached the dish she stepped on the pressure pad which released the door and suddenly the trap sprang shut.

Ella went berserk, throwing herself against the sides of the trap. We knew this was likely to happen so had brought a large blanket to throw over the cage to help her calm down, and also to save our hands from her fury, as we now had to pick it up with an extremely irate cat inside. As the trap is made of a sturdy metal mash there was plenty of opportunity for her todraw blood. 

EllaBack home we transferred her to the cage recently vacated by Mango and Lenny, She was still furious, and sat glaring at us through the bars. We added a litter tray, more food and some water while she retreated to one corner, scowling, not taking her eyes off us. We had to keep her for a few days until the vet could operate, so we risked bodily harm every time  we opened the cage to change her litter tray or replace her food. When the day came to take her up to the clinic, we had to decide how to transport her. The cage she was in was too big to move, so we had left the trap inside, and had to persuade her to get back into it. No easy feat. First of all we had to prime and bait it from outside the
large cage, with limited access and a large, angry cat watching our every move. This time she was wiser and showed zero interest in the sardines we placed inside. We’d tried the easy way, so we had to put a bit more effort in. Using the plastic rods from a fishing rod-type cat toy, we took up positions at either end of the cage and ‘persuaded’ her down to the entrance of the trap, not suspecting that her jumping clean over the trap would trigger it, and that an hour of effort would result in us trapping a dish of sardines. We started again, thistime blocking her escape routes as we went until finally she had no choice but to step into the trap. A slight nudge and her rear paws were inside, and we triggered the trap manually. Success! We were able to transport her to the clinic and the following day she was spayed, thankfully, we had saved innumerable numbers of unwanted kittens from being born. 

After 24 hours under observation we brought her home as she had to stay inside for 10 days for her stitches to heal, and for a course of antibiotics, and so our battle of wits continued.Her absence hadn’t made her heart any fonder, and,  unsurprisingly, we were still very much the enemy, even though we put the aircon on for her, and gave her a fleecy blanket to cuddle into. We all survived the next 10 days, just about, and finally she was allowed her freedom. 
We had to coax her back into the trap, but we had learnt from the last time, and it went much more smoothly, we got her into the car and drove down to the end of the cul-de-sac wherewe had caught her, a whole two weeks earlier. We  stopped the car, opened the trap, and with the tiniest hesitation, she leapt out and ran off down the road. There was no way we would ever have managed to tame her, this was where she was happiest, so we had to respect that, and of course we would still come and feed her every evening.

Now for Lulu….

Lulu was always much friendlier than Ella and would allow me to stroke her head, back, tummy, and she would purr and push her head into my hand as cats do, but she still wouldn’t let me pick her up. One night I tried to gently lift her front paws up and she sank her teeth into my hand, and then applied a little more pressure, just to make sure I’d got the message. She ran off with her tail high, swishing from side to side and I walked home with blood
running down my arms.

Most of the villas around us are rentals, and they were now filling up with holidaymakers, many of them had driven from Spain and Northern Portugal and brought their dogs withthem. This unnerved Lulu, and we didn’t see her every  night, so we left her food in the usual place and hoped she’d come for it. I was so glad we had caught the kittens to save them being chased, or worse. We gave up trying to catch her under these circumstances, until 
September came, and the schools re-opened, and our road started to quieten down again.

Nick left on a week-long work trip, and for some unknown reason I decided to try to catch Lulu on my own. I have major mobility problems due to spinal surgery, and am unable to lift,bend, or twist, so I don’t know what I was thinking.  However one evening I loaded the car with a small metal cage, food and blankets and drove the short distance to Lulu’s hangout. She was waiting in what had become her normal place, on a wall about waist height. I
placed the cage on the wall, but unfortunately the cage was wider than the wall so I had to lean against it to keep it in place. Lulu approached, and although she smelt the food, she waited and watched for several minutes. I stroked her,  and talked to her, trying to edge her close to the cage, but every time she got nearer, she pulled away, two steps forward andthree back. 

I dropped some tuna at the entrance to the cage. That got her attention. She took a step forward just as a car drove past and she retreated once again. I’m not the most patient of people and my back and hips were aching from leaning  against the cage for so long. I tooksome more of the tuna and smeared it on her face and mouth, she licked some of the oily mush and decided she’d like a bit more. She took a step, stretched her neck out and grabbed the piece I’d dropped at the entrance. I quickly dropped another piece further in, again she took a step and snatched at it, her front two paws were now inside. I hardly dared  breathe, as she took another step towards the dish of food, this was crucial, if anything went wrong now I’d have wasted the whole evening, and there would be no chance of catching her tonight. 

She hesitated for the longest time. Sniffing the air, desperate for the tuna but looking round and weighing up her options. Suddenly the temptation was too much and with another step she had 3 feet inside the cage. I had to take this chance, and quickly. I tapped her rear end, to urge her forward, and reached for the door, closing it quickly but gently, and locking it securely behind her. She looked round in mild surprise, but didn’t thrash around as Ella had, but calmly  carried on eating. I couldn’t believe it. I had managed it on my own. I was elated.

Then the reality hit, it was getting dark and I had to move a heavy cage and adult cat into the car. It was only a few feet away but my disability meant that I couldn’t manhandle it easily.Thankfully I had thought to put my keys in my pocket, and pressed the remote to unlock the doors, then balancing the cage on one leg I slid the door open and nudged the cage onto the back seat. 

A short drive home and I had the opposite problem, how to get the cage and Lulu into our hospital wing. Although not far, I had to pass through two gates, and up a couple of steps. I hadn’t actually thought of the practicalities in my rush to catch her. A sudden flash of inspiration, I had a tartan shopping trolley which I used to store the recycling before taking it to the respective bins, so I brought it out and managed to balance the cage on top. It wasn’t particularly steady, as the trolley was smaller than the cage, and it had a soft fabric top so I had to keep one hand on it while opening and closing the gates, and then struggled to lift it up the steps but finally it was on the table, safe and secure.

The large cage was still there, waiting for her, and it was easy to transfer her into it, she settled in fine, such a difference from Ella. She was so used to me that she positively enjoyed the extra cuddles now she was with me 24/7. I made an appointment for her to be spayed, but it would be a few days before they could fit her in, that was fine as she was so easy to look after. I popped in every few hours to keep an eye on her. 

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon I made one such visit, just to clean her litter tray and check her water and biscuits, but as I opened the door she looked to be in pain. Her whole body was rigid, and she was making a strange mewling sound. As I watched, she relaxed, and then tensed again, a wave passing down her back, it looked as though she were having contractions. She shifted slightly and to my amazement, there was a small blob lying beside her, she gave it a sniff but it was obvious to both of us that although she had given birth, it wasn’t a viable kitten. I had to reach in and remove it. Once again there had been no indication that she had been pregnant - and so soon after her previous litter. She was calmer now and I was just about to leave when she started to tense up again, and another little blob appeared. I waited a little longer, I had no idea how many times it was going tohappen. Ten minutes later a third blob appeared and Lulu seemed to know immediately that it was all over and started to clean herself up. I changed all her bedding and cleaned the cage, by the time I had disposed of everything and went back into see her, she was back to
normal. Clean and calm and you’d never have known what had just happened. Animals are amazing creatures.

Lulu, nowA few days later and she was spayed, the vet could tell she had been carrying 3 embryos but luckily there was no infection and her operation and recovery was otherwise uneventful. As with Ella we had to keep her for 10 days recovery time, but unlike Ella she was becoming more and more tame and I was beginning to dread having to let her go. The problem was that we already had 14 cats and 2 dogs, and we had never introduced an adult cat into our furry family, only very young kittens. Some were still quite feral and I really wasn’t sure that it would work. As the time to release her got closer, we decided to take a chance on moving her cage into the house, just to see what the reaction would be.

A few of the cats approached the cage and gave her a suspicious sniff, Lulu just sat there, there was no hissing or spitting, it was all strangely calm. One in particular, Doris, who I had bottle fed since she was one day old, was very  nterested and spent most of her time lying next to, or even on top of the cage. I wasn’t sure if she was being friendly or whether she was acting as a jailor or guard!

After a few days we opened the cage door and waited to see if they would all remain as calm. Doris was there as usual and immediately stepped inside the cage, inspecting the litter tray, and then the food bowl to see if Lulu had  something better. Once again, Lulu didn’t react, she just sat and watched, not at all territorial. As Doris left, Lulu followed and started to investigate the living room, there were still no reactions, no growling or fights. I was completely astounded.

Every day Lulu became a bit braver and explored further, but we put her back in the cage each night, just in case anything kicked off while we were asleep. After a week or so we were confident that she had been accepted as one of the tribe, so removed the cage, and she found her own little space to sleep. She also had access to our ‘catio’ a large aviary-like cage on the side of the house, so the cats can lie in the sun and get fresh air, but are safe from the busy road nearby, and the birds in the hedges are safe from them. And that’s where she spends her days now, showing no sign of trying to escape. She has never tried to slip out of the door when we come in and out, and there has never been any problems between her and the other cats. In the evenings she comes in and drapes herself over me getting as close to me as she possibly can, my little shadow. She’s one amazing cat.


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