Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Opinion

The loneliness of the long-distance cat catcher

By Gavin Jones

During our working lives many of us have experienced a rich variety of occupations from week-end newspaper rounds to being the head of a multinational company and with varying degrees of success. My own experiences have been no different: working in the washhouse of the family laundry business, assistant concrete tester for Taylor Woodrow on the M6 motorway, travel agent, business machine salesman, founder of several commercial enterprises. My latest foray into the world of work has entailed an occupation which is unpaid but no less rewarding for that and at times extremely intense. But more of that later.

Like many who live in Cyprus, my wife and I have adopted an ever increasing ‘family’ of cats. I say ‘adopted’ as the reality is that they are the ones who choose us and we humans are mere bystanders as to whether or not our ‘hotels’ are given the seal of approval.

I’m under no illusion that they actually like us per se and that in all probability it’s simply a question of the quality and quantity of food that we provide which decides whether or not they stick around. However, once bonds are established it soon becomes clear that like humans, each and every one has a distinct character. Some remain feral and display a suspicious tendency while others become home birds who hate being put outside.

Little by little one learns the basic elements of cat husbandry such as the season when ticks and fleas are most prevalent and how to counter them, the removing of cereal ears that get caught in eyes and the importance of regular worming.

This conveniently leads me onto the emotive topic of the relationship that exists here not only between humans and cats but also dogs and animals in general. Hardly a week goes by but walkers out on a stroll come across dogs tied up with no water under the blazing sun or else living in kennels in conditions of indescribable filth and squalor, often as not emaciated for lack of food. There have even been reported cases of animal carcasses being left in kennels.

Understandable howls of anger are levelled not only at the perpetrators of such insufferable behaviour but also equal outrage is launched at the state’s veterinary authorities, whose reaction is rightly or wrongly perceived to be lacklustre at best if not downright non-existent. All too often this goes hand in hand with police inaction as they seem to view animal ‘mismanagement’, or should I say cruelty, as way down their list of priorities.

Despite shocking, graphic images being posted on social media which are circulated worldwide, very little concerted action appears to be taken with the same indifference being shown to the trapping of migratory birds. Although this latter ‘pastime’ is illegal, all concerned turn a blind eye, especially politicians who perceive that popularity ratings among their electorate would be affected if they publicly came out to condemn the practice. Yet another example of a law being on the statute book merely for cosmetic purposes with nobody willing to actually enforce it.

The cat catcher in the headline happens to be me although the reality is that I’m more of a gopher as my involvement has been very much on an ad hoc basis. The real professional and lead ‘catcher’ who works alone happens to be an American lady called Luanne who, like me, lives in the Paphos district. She prepares her day’s work along the lines of a military operation, loading her estate car with different sizes of cages which have sensitive foot plates which activate the gate at the entrance and ensure the cats can’t escape. In addition, there are cat bowls, tins of food to entice the cats into the cages and additional homemade traps which are meticulously laid and sprung by pulling on a long piece of string once a cat is inside.

Touring Paphos and surrounding villages, Luanne makes notes where concentrations of cats, often centred on rubbish skips, are located and prioritises which ones should be attended to along the lines of a hospital triage system. In addition, she receives phone calls from the public with urgent pleas for her services as neighbourhoods are all too often overrun. Once a full complement has been caught, they’re taken to the Paphiakos clinic and shelter where they’re neutered and spayed, given time to recover and Luanne then returns to pick them up and releases them back to their original habitat. For the record, Paphiakos has been offering this service for free since 1992 and relies exclusively on donations to maintain this vital work.

The reader may well ask why someone like Luanne does what she does. Quite simply, it’s out of love and respect. Would that more people were responsible and took the time and trouble to have their animals neutered and spayed.

On a practical level, the objective is to keep colonies small so that they don’t attract as much attention and are therefore less likely to be poisoned. This is an archaic and brutal method of population control, especially as a humane alternative is available. Cats that have been surgically altered continue to hunt and keep down the snake and general vermin population. Moreover, both males and females live healthier and longer lives. Many question why males require neutering. The fact is that males fight for mating rights and claw and bite and thus spread disease such as the feline version of Aids. Hence surgery saves lives by limiting aggressive contact and helps to ensure that we have a better night’s sleep!

Far too many on the island refuse to deal with their own cats let alone strays because they have the misguided notion that by doing so nature is being tampered with. Perhaps it’s more basic and that people simply can’t be bothered. That’s all very well but as a result the island is overrun with hundreds of thousands of emaciated and often injured cats whose very existence depends on scavenging around rubbish bins and restaurants or else relying on people’s goodwill to feed them.

Many justify this laissez-faire attitude by professing that as animals don’t have souls, their existence has no value and it therefore follows they should be left to their own devices. It’s also conveniently sidestepped that a cat can produce litter after litter, sometimes with four kittens each time, and in due course they produce in turn.

It’s all about education and one can only hope that a sea change in attitudes will ultimately take root, something that remains to be seen.

What I’ve encountered from the public on my travels with Luanne is a mixture of appreciation but also on occasion abuse. Many questioned what we were doing, we were confronted with suspicion and foul language and even threatened with the police. And let’s not forget that like Paphiakos, Luanne is doing this for free in her own time as well as paying for cat food and petrol.

With over a thousand cats caught by her, spayed and returned to their own environment, hopefully Luanne’s reward will be in heaven if not in this world.

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