Our aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of a colony of feral cats in a village in the North of Spain, and in the process, to promote the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return to other communities.
About the project
Why the Butterfly Cat? Well, one of those cats we looked after a few years ago was what is known as a “gata mariposa” (butterfly cat) or a calico cat. We called her Kittykat and you can see her below with her mother, Ginger Mum.
A butterfly cat's colouring is the result of an unusual genetic sequence which produces black and ginger markings on a white ‘background’. Such cats are thought to bring luck in some cultures. Around 2999 in 3000 cats with these markings are female, and we think that’s pretty suitable for this project. We’re hoping Kittykat can bring us luck in our project in her village.
Further reading on these cats is here http://www.catfactsforkids.com/calico-cat/ and here http://cats.lovetoknow.com/Calico_Cats and here in Spanish http://www.batanga.com/curiosidades/5354/los-gatos-de-tres-colores-son-siempre-hembras
Ginger females - like Ginger Mum - are pretty special as well by the way (only around 2% of ginger cats are female).
We started coming to this beautiful area (the Ribeira Sacra, in the province of Lugo) around 8 years ago, from our base in London. Our house is in a small traditional farming village. It is an area that is slowly depopulating – in terms of human beings anyway!
The Ribeira Sacra, in Lugo
What’s life like for a feral cat there?
The feral cat population is, as it is anywhere where there is no systematic programme to manage populations, always growing. These guys have a pretty hard life. Feral cats are thought to live for an average of around 3 years and apparently about half of the kittens die. In this particular colony, the unneutered females seem perpetually pregnant and hungry. Occasionally they have nasty injuries from foxes or from unknown causes (the tail-less cat in a photo below is a case in point), The males might have a slightly easier time of it but seem to be loners by and large, going walkabout a lot, fighting with each other, and sometimes getting injured or killed.
Despite the challenges, the females and younger cats and the males when they are around, are well-natured, affectionate and playful with each other. The mums appear to look after each other’s kittens and they behave much like a group of connected families.
Off exploring! Kitten around 5 weeks old (July 2015)
They are generally very frightened of humans and give us a wide berth, of at least a few metres. Some have become bolder over time as they have realised we are not going to hurt them and in fact, we are a reliable if inconsistent source of canned food!
Tortipizza, below, will come within around a metre of us but she is unusual as she’s known us for a few years since she was neutered. We think she must be about 6 years old, which is quite an achievement. In September 2015, we plan to take Tortipizza to the vet to be checked as she has been having trouble eating. She may have a thorn inside her mouth or perhaps some bad teeth. We’re hoping some simple surgery will sort out the problem.
Our neighbours are very kind to the cats and cook macaroni with meat sauce for them. This is what keeps them going and is probably why they generally appear quite healthy. But there’s only so much to go around and some inevitably miss out.
Tortipizza – the great grandmother of them all. Note her slightly flattened left ear, which was ‘tipped’ to show she is neutered (Photo: July 2015).
How we try to help them
We love animals and we want to promote the concept and practice of what is called trap-neuter-return (TNR). For more about TNR, about feral cats and other questions you might have, please see our FAQs below, but basically TNR is the accepted method worldwide to humanely support feral cats to live the healthiest lives possible, without the constant burden of hungry and sick kittens. Cats are not hurt in this process. They are trapped in a humane trap, kept overnight somewhere quiet and warm, anaesthetised and operated on by the vet, and then kept for a few more hours (usually overnight) to recover. Then they are released where they were caught and go back to their normal lives but without being able to produce kittens.
We have been doing TNR out of our own resources – and with the kind help of an Australian vet friend from London - for a few years now but it is becoming overwhelming, and we realise that if we are really going to make a lasting difference, as well as influence some other communities, we need to get serious, stop trying to do it all on our own, and try to find some support.
Over the years we have;
- Brought a vet here to trap-neuter-return feral cats
- Trapped and taken another 5 females to a local vet for neutering
- Trapped and taken Kittykat, Black & Whitey and Silver Shadow to the local vet for emergency treatment due to severe injury or illness
- Provided ‘hospital-at-home’ to help these three injured and sick cats recover
- Bought and served a lot of cat food!
By the way, the Australian vet friend who helped us had volunteered to do the same work with the Greek Cat Welfare Society http://www.greekcatwelfare.moonfruit.com/#/neutering/4542617770 and learned all about TNR from them.
This is Jessica, neutered in July 2015
In mid-July 2015, there were around 10 adults (8 of them female) and around 15 kittens ranging in age from 6 weeks to around 3 months visiting our house for food. By Autumn, we fear there will be a population explosion. You can see how this will happen from the graphic below by PETA http://www.peta.org/issues/companion-animal-issues/overpopulation/
Cat overpopulation - courtesy of PETA
Our aims in detail
We want to do the following with the money we raise from this campaign:
- TNR as many cats as we can during Autumn 2015*
- Whilst they are under anaesthetic treat the cats for fleas and any ailments
- Design and build cat shelters that keep them warm over winter and protected from predators (there's an example below)
- Set up a website so that we can continue to fund and promote our work
- Take steps to set up a charity so that we can sustain our work (we are not sure if this has to be in Spain or whether this could be in the UK)
*we will either bring a vet and vet nurse to the village or we will use a local vet and take the cats to them, as we have been doing for a few years.
This is a feral cat shelter we spotted in Ourense nearby.
Why are we crowdfunding?
A friend suggested this to us recently, as she could hear how stressed out we were getting trying to manage the colony during a visit. Her comment was that what we were doing was great, but it was not sustainable.
We really hope that with the financial help we are seeking we can make a big difference to the lives of the current cats, and prevent as many future births as possible, In that way, there will be a stable colony of healthy adult cats, and as the inevitable unneutered female wanders into the village, we can act quickly to get her neutered. At the moment we are just not able to keep on top of it and some cats are living unhappy and stressful short lives.
Whilst trap-neuter-return is accepted in many countries, especially the UK, Canada and the US, Mediterranean countries such as Spain have not yet adopted it widely. There are many reasons for this, not least that there has been little money for social and community projects of any kind over recent years. This is why one of our aims is to promote this practice in other Spanish communities.
Supporters so far
- Ellie Richardson, a vet who works in South London, who introduced us to TNR way back in 2010
- Patrick and Karen, who also helped in 2010
- Jane and Trevor, who helped out with Jessica in July 2015
- Our neighbours who work so hard to keep the cats fed and watered all year round.
Three-month old kittens (how many pairs of ears?), July 2015
Where will your money go?
We will use the money you pledge only for this project and so you know where it went, we'll keep all our spending on a spreadsheet and report to patrons every 3 months.
Name that Cat
One of the rewards available is to come up with a name in Name That Cat. Cats to be named are the three in the photos below:
This is the ‘new’ butterfly cat – probably around 3 months old in July 2015. Sorry about the poor photo.
The elusive star of the video.
This is the tail-less cat and mother to the new Butterfly Cat. She’s very sweet natured and we have no idea how she lost her tail.
We took her to the vet in August and she is now neutered.
This is a very healthy and large young male, with cute raggedy ears
Janey and Adam live and work in England. They spend their holidays in Spain.
See the associated website: http://www.butterflycat.org/
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is Trap-Neuter-Return?
Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats. Now in practice for decades in the US and Canada, after being proven in Europe, scientific studies show that TNR improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time. It encapsulates the notion of prevention being better than cure.
For scientific studies about TNR see http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=668
Here’s a great brochure that even shows the kind of humane traps we use http://www.vet.utk.edu/cait/pdf/brochures/Feral%20Cat%20Brochure.pdf
Why are there feral cats in the village?
There have been domestic cats in Europe for at least 2000 years. Their arrival went hand in hand with the development of agriculture, as stored grain attracts rodents, cats eat rodents and so a symbiosis emerged in which humans liked having cats around, and cats were able to survive by being in these settlements with some additional protection from predators.
There are probably feral cats in many villages right across Europe, and it may be that the ancestors of the cats we see today in the village were here in Roman times.
A full dining room one evening!
Aren’t there more important issues in the world?
There are lots of big issues in the world, but this project is about 'thinking global, and acting local'. It is not just about these particular cats. If other villages can take this humane approach, there will be more stable and healthier populations of feral cats, and frankly, less stress and suffering for these animals.
Feral cats destroy wildlife, so shouldn’t they be eradicated?
This one is for our Australian friends in particular. Feral cats are a big problem for the ecology of Australia. They have proliferated in the bush and kill small mammals, birds and reptiles. The important difference is that they were introduced when Europeans arrived a couple of hundred years ago. Cats have been in Europe for much longer and are not such a problem for the ecology. In fact, we haven't seen the cats in the village catch birds. They do hunt rodents and of course this is why farming people like having them around.
Black & Whitey, and Ginger Mum, summer 2012
I’m a dog person – can I help?
Yes, absolutely - you may even discover that you quite like being both!
The ‘new’ butterfly cat and her brother, July 2015
Thank you for reading, and we hope you will consider making a pledge. We know that if you do make a pledge, you'll be doing so because you want to help these cats. We've also rustled up some rewards to express our thanks.
Thanks from all of us!
Adam & Janey
Blossom and 'horreo' (or granary)