Years ago, well, about nine years ago, a friend of mine came to visit us in Vigo. Among other things, we strolled through the old quarter, a rather run-down old quarter, in need of renovation, a prime site for gentrification if someone had the money to invest. Since then renovation work has taken place but it still has a long way to go.
However, renovation of the old quarter is not what I had in mind today. During our stroll, my friend took some appealing photos of cats sitting on the top of bits of tumbling-down buildings. Looking very cute, of course, but these were feral cats.
There were lots of them!
On another occasion, at around the same time, a Spanish friend of mine told me, with wry amusement, about the day she helped an elderly lady pull her shopping trolley up a slope on the edge of the town centre. She thought, quite understandably, the old lady was heading for home and my friend was doing her good deed for the day. Towards the top of the slope the old lady asked her to stop. They were outside a derelict site, probably another bit if the old quarter. Surely the old lady did not live there! Of course not! The old lady opened her shopping bags, took our bowls and tins of cat food and proceeded to dish it out for the stray/feral cats which came running. My friend, less than impressed, invented an excuse and left her to it.
I was reminded of this when I came across this article in today’s Observer magazine, all about a couple who run a cat sanctuary on the Greek island of Syros. They advertised on social media for someone to help run the place: housing provided, a car, a salary of £450 a month and a view of the Aegean. For that they wanted some skills: cat-whispering, feline psychology and some veterinary experience.
The name of the place says it all: “God’s Little People Cat Rescue”.
You can probably guess that I would not have applied, not in a month of Sundays, not even for a free house in Greece. 35,000 people disagree with me. The couple have had to employ assistants to go through the applications.
Now, almost everywhere I have travelled in Spain and Italy I have come across colonies of feral cats. Certainly in Spain if people have pet cats they seem to be indoor animals. None of the roaming round that British pet cats get up to and then go home for dinner. Once long ago, my Spanish niece, then about six years old, saw a cat approaching along a wall near my parent’s home in Southport. My children would have gone to stroke it. Her reaction was to back off, declaring, “Es un gato salvaje!” - “It’s a wild cat!”
But I have never come across such colonies of feral cats in the UK. Do they not exist? I have I simply not been to the parts of cities where the wild cats hang out?
So I googled it.
And I found this from 2012:
“Increasing numbers of pet owners are being forced to abandon their animals because they can no longer afford to keep them in the economic crisis.
Startling new figures show that the UK is being overrun by an unprecedented number of stray cats as owners can't afford to neuter their animals or care for their litters.
Meanwhile, many owners have become amateur breeders to supplement their income which has caused an explosion in the cat population.”
A more recent appeal asked us to “Support the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of cats across England and Wales by sponsoring our cat pods. Put £6.50 a month towards our work with cats and receive regular updates on how you're helping.
With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats - more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined - they need our support more than ever.”
And from this year, I think, I found this:
“Colonies of wild cats, totalling about 200 across six main sites, have been springing up around the Wycombe district since summer.
There have been as many as 30 animals in each location.
Despite a plea going nationwide after a Bucks Free Press article in August was picked up by BBC television and radio and various national newspapers South Bucks RSPCA is still in dire need of volunteers to help its operation.
Spokesman Pat Edgar said: "Despite all this fantastic publicity only around half-a-dozen local volunteers came forward and the charity is still desperately seeking more help.
"A neutering programme is currently being undertaken with the aim of controlling and reducing the feral cat population.
"Volunteers are needed to work as part of the team humanely trapping the cats, taking them to a local vet for a health check and neutering, and later returning them to the site or onward for homing on farms.
"If a kitten can be trapped and brought into the charity’s care before its six weeks old, there is a good chance of being able to socialise the animal and re-homing it into a loving household as a domestic pet.
"Left longer, it will probably remain feral for life."”
So, there it is: a feline problem of which I was blissfully unaware!