Save Gibraltar street cats

in Features

Six years on from the founding of Save Gibraltar Street Cats (SGSC), the charity has made a huge difference to the lives of the street cats on the Rock.

Susan Wink Sampere and Julie Watson have worked tirelessly to manage the care of the cats through the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method. With the back-up of a committee, Susan deals with all the trapping and the colonies and Julie handles the adoptions and fosters.  

They explain that trapping and neutering the cats was the principal aim of the charity when they started and that they have dealt with about 850 cats over the years. However, trapping the cats can be a never ending story as there are locations such as the port where they come in on the ships from other places.

“I would say 95% of the whole cat population in Gibraltar is now neutered, which is brilliant,” Julie says. “Last year we didn’t have any new born kittens, whereas in the years before we were having litter after litter, so it is working, but it has taken this long to see the fruits of our labours.”

“What we are finding recently is all the old cats that we trap because they are becoming ill are the ones we need to find funds for.” Over a couple of weeks in February they managed to trap six or seven elderly cats which were taken to the Cat Welfare Sanctuary. “They are just too poorly to go back to the streets and obviously we don’t have a place ourselves, so we liaise with the sanctuary and fortunately they are more than happy to help.” Many of the cats need blood tests and special food or they could have kidney problems. “They are at a stage where they are not ill enough that they would need to be put to sleep, so it is just getting them off the streets and giving them a bit of TLC in their last remaining months.”

Although the number of colonies are decreasing with only a few remaining, Susan says that some members of the public want them to stop the TNR programme because they fear that the population of cats in Gibraltar will die out. “There will always be stray cats in Gibraltar because people will always abandon cats,” Julie remarks. 

The most important people in the lives of stray cats are their feeders and Susan says that they are already waiting for her when she does her nightly feeds. “They recognise my truck, but it’s funny how when I am going to trap a new one in a colony, everybody leaves except the one that is unneutered because it doesn’t know what is coming!”

Julie explains that due to the coronavirus pandemic they weren’t able to hold their Flag Day last year, and the same will apply to this year’s Flag Day. “There was an initial panic of wondering how we were going to have enough food to feed the cats, but we put out an appeal and the public were amazingly generous.”

Susan comments that the public engage with the stories about the cats that they post on Facebook. “It gives them a look into what the life of a cat is really about,” she states, “and it has opened their eyes to the situation of the street cats in Gibraltar.”

SGSC is working with the government to set up feeding stations, but Julie says that it is a work in progress. “It is difficult because we put them somewhere and then they are moved by other entities – people that are not aware what is going on – so it is a slow process but eventually we will get there and we will keep persisting.”

Julie and Susan explain that the cats frequently get the blame for making a mess in the streets, but it is not really their fault. “It could be that a certain feeder isn’t clearing up or keeping things tidy which is why we specifically want the feeding stations, and we want to stress that if people still want to continue to put food outside the feeding stations, they should be fined for creating a mess that attracts the seagulls, rats and flies.”  SGSC recommend that if you want to feed the strays, don’t put food on the floor but on a paper plate or some other receptacle, stay with the cats while they are eating and then remove the plate. “It’s all about education and we are starting to put signs up to tell people not to feed on the floor,” Susan states.  

The ultimate goal is for every colony to have their own feeding station. During the first lockdown Susan and Julie had a meeting with Minister Cortes regarding a feeding station that had been removed from Casemates. “We really appreciated that the Minister took time out to sit down with us and solve the problem,” Julie says. “He welcomes the idea of the feeding stations and he is working with us on this.”

Something else that SGSC would like addressed is compulsory microchipping of cats. “We have talked to Minister Cortes about this and he agreed to look into it to see if legislation surrounding this issue can be changed.” Julie says that if you don’t want to neuter your cat then don’t let it go out, but if people abandon their cats it then falls on the charity to care for them. “These cats aren’t street wise, they get attacked by the colonies so they end up injured, and people need to be held accountable for this – there is a failing there.”  

Funding is always an issue and it is rare that the monthly vet bills for SGSC are under £1,000. “The elderly cats are costing us a few hundred pounds for each cat, so money has to keep coming in and it is a worry not knowing if we will have enough to pay the bills.” 

If you would like to support SGSC, a regular standing order or direct debit would give the charity the peace of mind to know that they can continue to look after Gibraltar’s stray cats. If you feel that you can help make a difference, please get in touch with SGSC via their Facebook page @savegibcats or via their website.

Cody and his older siblings were trapped at the port. “When he came in to foster we took him to the vets and he was found to have a dent in his sternum,” Susan says. Cody had a congenital defect called pectus excavatum which meant that his sternum was sticking inwards, squashing his heart and lungs, resulting in laboured breathing.  “The problem was that as he gets bigger and his organs grow there would be less room for his lungs to work and he would end up having a heart attack and dying,” Susan explains. The wonderful vets at the Gib Vet Clinic performed surgery which they had never done before where they created a mesh round his torso and threaded the sternum, pulling it out and attaching it to the mesh. Susan nursed him at home for a few weeks in the hope that the sternum would stay in place and thankfully the surgery proved to be a great success. “We did an appeal for funds and everybody donated for Cody and eventually after five months he was adopted and is healthy – so he was a big success story.”
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