Cat Crisis
4 Aug, 2021

This story is about one of the worst situations we have encountered in our years of rescue and rehoming work. What follows is the side of our work that many do not see, and which is often a reality for our incredible staff and volunteers. It is a look at the huge challenges that are being faced by so many people in these very difficult times, and how anyone’s situation can sadly deteriorate without appropriate care and intervention.

Late on a Friday night, 2 cats were brought to our door. We were informed that the owners had moved out and left their cats behind, and there might be more cats still in the house. Both cats were absolutely covered in fleas and flea eggs. Our vet Svenia, tested the male cat’s blood and there were barely any red blood cells left. His blood was basically red coloured water. We rushed to buy some instant acting flea treatment to give him a chance to make some new red blood cells. Unfortunately, the little female died that night and the male followed on the Sunday morning.

The following Tuesday the woman who had brought the cats in returned with 2 kittens. Our staff removed as many fleas as they could. We didn’t have any hand-feeding fosterers available, as it has been a busy year for having young orphaned kittens. Jo at Jasper’s Cats took them on, but they too sadly died.

We knew then that we were in the middle of a very difficult situation, which was only going to get worse as it unfolded.

Wednesday we contacted the RSPCA to ask for their assistance, as we knew there would at least be a mother cat and possibly more adults and kittens. Fortuitously, we were then called by a woman who turned out to be the sister of the owner. It appeared that her sister had been unable to go back to the flat because of some legal issues, but she had been going back anyway to make sure that the cats were fed. She was very upset to hear that the cats had died, and informed us that there were probably at least 8 more cats there, all in need of urgent veterinary attention. We told her that if we got permission we could go and get the other cats. Judging by the state of the others, we knew that every minute would count to try and save them.

By the end of that day, the RSPCA had still not intervened, despite our follow up calls. The sister rang us and said that we would be able to get permission to go in to the flat. We needed a key to enable us to go in that night. By 5.30pm, we got everything together, and Ryan and Keeley set out to go to the house.

When we met up with the woman who originally dropped them off she was very apologetic about giving a false name and explained about how she was worried about her legal issues regarding going back to the flat. She just wanted the cats to get some help.

When Keeley and Ryan got in to the flat it was not in a good state. There  was faeces everywhere as the cats had been left on their own and the living room floor in particular was a moving black sea of fleas. They could have gone back and got protective equipment but their first thoughts were to find the cats as soon as possible. They had to scour the whole flat to make sure they didn’t leave any behind. This meant getting on to hands and knees amongst the poo and the fleas to move furniture and to check inside any holes in the rooms or chairs. The fleas were constantly on them leaving them with literally hundreds of bites. After about 90 minutes they had captured 12 cats and found one dead adult and one dead kitten. They had only brought 10 carriers so we had to reopen some and get the remaining cats to share.

Ryan and Keeley brought the cats back to Freshfields and Keeley set up one of our admissions rooms, which was fortunately almost empty. They got to work immediately, weighing, taking details and settling the cats in. Ryan gave them the flea treatment whilst Keeley set up the bedding and food for them. This was Keeley’s first experience of catching cats, and it was a real opener for her; she did extremely well.

Ryan was at the emergency vets until 11.30pm. One of the cats was in a really bad way and was put to sleep immediately. We had to put another one to sleep on site the next day, as it was sadly too late for that little one.

Over the following days, we got a fuller picture of the story and worked out that there were at least 17 adult cats in the flat as well as 3 kittens. Only 10 adults survived.

If we hadn’t have acted when we did all 20 cats and kittens would have been dead. We have saved at least half of them.

We have since spoken to the family of the woman and have found out that she is getting the help she needs from social services and from health professionals, and she will hopefully get the care that will enable her to recover and get her life back on track. The family were very grateful for the compassion that Keeley and Ryan showed to her cats, herself and the family.

Ryan has worked at Freshfields for over 11 years and said that it was the most severe flea infestation he has ever seen.

The last year has been cruel for many people already struggling to cope, mentally, physically and financially. Lockdown has been hard on everyone. This woman had fallen on hard times because of it and wasn’t able to have her family near to help her out. She reached out to us for help, and was worried that she would be judged, so gave a false name and address. What she did do though was seek help, which was the best thing she could have done, for her cats and for herself. She didn’t just dump them outside in a box to die. Once she realised we wouldn’t judge her or lecture her on her situation, she was able to be honest with us, which enabled us to help her and all of her cats.

Because of that we were able to save the lives of ten cats, and we have helped to point this woman in dire need of support towards the care she needed.

In the aftermath, we have asked ourselves: what can we take from this? We want to say that, whilst it might not be the first thought for many people who own cats, that neutering your cats is the best way to prevent this situation from deteriorating as it did.

We want people to know that there are schemes to get cats neutered for a small cost and that flea treatment is needed before it gets out of hand. We might not always have the space to be able to help out, but we are here to help the cats and can offer advice, guidance, information and signposting to services if needed. Rescue centres are not here to pass judgement; we are here to help animals that need us.

We want to say that we know that nobody sets out to find themselves in these heart-breaking circumstances. Just because they do doesn’t mean they don’t care about their animals – so much can happen when the pressure is too great.

The cats are doing well, despite everything they have been through. Most of them need extensive dental work. Two have already had some extractions; one has had 7 teeth out and the other has had 11 teeth out.

We will need everyone who believes in the animals, and keeps us going, to help us to give these cats new life and new hope. We will do everything we can to help them to survive and thrive, and become beloved pets in a happy family home.

Please donate whatever you can to help us to pay for the extensive veterinary costs and care for these brave, beautiful cats.

Together, we can get through anything, and rise to any challenge before us. Thank you for being there for the animals. We could not do this without you.

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