In September 2006, I visited Cambrils in Tarragona, Spain for the third time in a year. This time I was armed with trapping equipment kindly donated by Animal Aid & Advice and SNIP International.
I was also carrying a donation from A.A.A towards vet bills for neutering the local stray cats that I had been so worried about on my previous visits.
My former partner Victor is originally from that area and the first time we stayed in his apartment I noticed the stray cats nearby who were being fed by a kind shopkeeper, Luigi. There was a pregnant calico tortoiseshell who particularly caught my attention as she waddled along as big as a house! There were several other cats around including a few young females and some kittens.
We got talking to Luigi who, just to make it more complicated, was Italian but spoke some Spanish. We mentioned neutering and he was very interested but said he could not possibly afford it. As is often the case, he was keen to spay the females but not the males! We spent the rest of the week trying to find help for the cats to no avail and I left feeling very sad.
I spent the next few months trying to find assistance to neuter these cats but could not find any group working in that area so I decided I would probably have to do something myself. I flew back in March, without my partner who usually interprets for me and with my rudimentary Spanish managed to persuade a local vet to give me a discount.
It’s surprising how far “operacion castrar” accompanied by a scissor movement with the fingers can get you! It is much more expensive to neuter cats in Spain than here in the U.K. Now, I somehow needed to find the crucial funds and the trapping equipment.
Mama Cat, as I had now called her, gave birth yet again on my last day but there was something amiss – she was soaking wet and exhausted and although very timid wouldn’t leave my side. She even let me wash her down and clean her. I crawled through bushes and all around looking for her kittens but they never were found – I hate to think what had happened. Once more, I left Spain with a heavy heart.
Again, once back home, I trawled the internet and still couldn’t find anything in that area -there are U.K based charities working in Spain but mainly in the South and other faraway areas. I had mentioned to Doreen Rolph that I was having difficulty in finding help and I was absolutely thrilled when after hearing of my plight, Animal Aid &Advice decided to give me a donation towards starting a neutering programme.
Victor called Luigi to tell him our good news only to receive bad news in return. One of the mother cats had disappeared, feared dead, leaving her kittens behind and from the description in the mixture of Spanish, Catalan and Italian, it seemed it was Mama Cat. We were devastated but knew it was even more important to continue with our plans.
We drove to Spain with the car full of equipment – a crush basket and hospitalisation pen from A.A.A, an automatic trap and another basket from Snip International and plenty of tins of pilchards – we were ready for action! On arrival, we dashed straight round to see Luigi and the cats and when we rounded the corner, there she was, Mama Cat!
The language barrier is confusing but we ascertained that it had been another little cat, Negrita, who had vanished. The poor thing had already been brought to Luigi as the sole survivor from a litter of kittens who had been poisoned elsewhere. Another young mother cat, Speedy had also disappeared. It was heartbreaking.
On a more positive note, I was determined that Mama Cat should be the first to be trapped and spayed and she was! I had to keep her in the apartment overnight and spent most of the time stroking her although Luigi still refuses to believe that she didn’t have my hand off!
Meanwhile, we had visited the Town Hall to tell them our plans only to find that since my last visit they had actually set up a neutering programme! This was fantastic news. However while they would cover the vets fees, they would not be responsible for catching the cats. They were pleased, and I think a little amused, that I had a trap and duly issued me with a certificate that authorised me to take any cat to the vet for sterilisation.
We were then somewhat hampered by the worst storms and torrential rain they’d had in September for fifty years or something like that – typical! This went on for a few days but in between downpours we managed to trap and neuter six females including two kittens who had been born on a roof and had never been on solid ground (that’s another story!)
We also rescued a tiny scrap of a kitten who was screeching his heart out under a car bonnet. He had clambered up to escape the water that was rushing through the streets. I took a risk with his feral claws when I fished him out but he was so relieved to be rescued he just snuggled down into my arms! Luckily, the vets found a home for him immediately as a Dutch animal-loving couple who took in lots of strays had heard about him.
We only had six days there but in that time Luigi had changed into an advocate for neutering including male cats and it would make me smile to hear him telling any passer-by why we were trapping and that it was important to castrate the males too!
On that basis we left the trap with Luigi and his lovely wife RosaMari who were now fired up and ready to catch the rest of the Bodega cats. We are in contact frequently and they have neutered all the cats in the immediate vicinity, which is just great.
I will be returning soon to trap more cats and to try to persuade the next resort to adopt the same policy but I am pessimistic. There are many strays without anyone like Luigi to care for them and I think the donation from A.A.A will be used there very quickly indeed.
I was so happy when I released Mama Cat after her op – she seemed to know that she didn’t have to struggle with an eternal cycle of pregnancy and kittens anymore. I am hoping that I can do the same for many more “mama cats!”
Mama Cat Trust
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