I heard a rumour on the cat grapevine about some 8 week old clouded leopard cubs going on display to the public for the first time in an animal park that has a proven track record in conservation. And by conservation I mean active involvement in ensuring that wild animals live free in healthy habitats and stay protected from all forms of hunting and poaching. I was particularly excited about these cubs because the clouded leopard with its rapidly declining numbers is shrouded in mystery. Native to the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia and into China, this charismatic spotted cat is among the most secretive and least understood cat species in the world. So I was curious to meet them and hoping to get a few tips on ideal napping locations and effective food acquisition techniques. So John and I took a trip to visit these clouded leopard cubs and their mum far from home in her wooded enclosure.
I surveyed her compound searching high and low for this elusive creature and wondered whether she would be happy to see a kindred spirit, albeit a smaller domesticated one. But her reputation for blending into the background was spot-on and in her natural environment the cloud-like smudges on her coat provide the ultimate camouflage in the dappled light of the forest. I remembered that she is arboreal meaning that she is adapted to living in the trees so I scanned the boughs of the foliage in her pen and there I saw a pair of eyes watching me inquisitively through a gap in the twigs. They belonged to a plump joyful clouded-leopard cub that climbed upside down along the branch it was on and descended head first like a squirrel to the ground. Another precious bundle of fluff came creeping along behind, a little more shy I thought, closely followed by the broad paws of mum looking out for her offspring. It was charming to watch the two youngsters wrestling with each other, leaping clumsily over each other and practising their vocalisations which sounded like squeaky growls and snorts. It reminded me of the innocence of my childhood before I was wise to the ways of the world and I hoped that these two would grow up strong and happy and able to contribute to the survival of this extraordinary species.
The health of clouded leopards in captivity has historically been poor due to inadequate housing, exposure to zoo visitors and proximity to resident large predators. But clouded leopard research and conservation projects have led to a better understanding of their needs and decent zoos now provide more spacious enclosures with multiple nest boxes at a variety of heights to reduce stress. While the clouded leopard cubs cavorted around, their mum showed me how she sleeps on thick branches on her belly with her paws dangling over the sides in what she calls the ‘downward dog’ position. The trick is to keep your body straight which allows for balance and ensures you don’t fall off. She also recommended food based enrichment activities which she said were fun and helped her young develop their hunting skills. So I vowed to be more cooperative next time John got my biscuit ball out or put some of my dinner on the puzzle feeder. It was soon time to depart and the zoo was keen to limit the amount of time these guys spend around humans so I wished her all the luck in the world. Perhaps these little fledglings will one day form part of a reintroduction into the wild where they can live without threat from wildlife traffickers and the exotic animal trade.
It is with a heavy heart that I share some sad news about the loss of a dear friend. A few days ago John informed me that my great buddy Tiffin was hit by a car just a few doors from where she lived and she died instantly. Her sister Muffin and our other friends Basil, Ginger and Zoukia are all in shock over this unhappy event. Tiffin was a unique combination of courage and vulnerability, beauty and strength, dignity and silliness. She spent half her time wide-eyed and scatty, the other half stealthy and agile. She slept for England and loved her food. I remember whenever I visited her house for dinner she would go around licking all the bowls clean afterwards. When her owner scattered biscuits on the patio at lunchtime she would always be the last to leave, sniffing out every single morsel.
Luckily she was found only minutes after the accident and at least we know what happened to her and had the chance to say goodbye. But it is disappointing that the person who hit her did not stop to check if she was alive and did not even move her out of the road. I understand that accidents happen and unfortunately cats don’t realise the danger that cars represent, but there is no excuse for leaving a cat lying in the middle of the road. I know my readers are compassionate people who would never hit an animal and leave it behind without blinking an eye, but not everyone is like that. Stop and check the animal people! If it’s wild call the RSPCA or take the pet to the vet for life-saving treatment and to be scanned for a microchip in the hope that the owners can be notified. Today we mourn the loss of a lovely girl whose life was cut short and to help us work through our grief, her ashes will be returned in the next few days and she will be laid to rest in her garden, the place where she was most happy.
Spring-watch, Harry Potter, Wonders of the Universe and Planet Earth are some of my favourite shows to watch on television. So when John called me in from the kitchen last Sunday night as Planet Earth II was about to start, my little paws hurried across the lounge and I hopped on to my favourite end of the sofa, sniffing it furiously before turning around 3 times and adopting my front facing semi-alert crouch down posture. John said it was snow leopard night and I was looking forward to watching these magical and highly elusive creatures in their natural environments. Patterned with little black rosettes, the fur on their gorgeous smoky-grey coats is up to 5 inches thick, especially on their tails which they use to help them balance on the narrow ledges and rocky outcrops where they live. They also place their long lush tails across their mouth and nose like a muffler to shield them from the harsh winds and snow of the Himalayas. I’m not jealous!
I am always astounded at how animals manage to survive in the wild and snow leopards are no exception. The cameras followed a female and her 2 year old daughter as they used every ounce of their stealth and stamina to find shelter against the harsh climate, avoid danger and hunt for food. They feed on a variety of herbivores in their mountain range habitats and one goat can keep them going for 2 to 3 weeks. Like many wild animals, they are on the brink of extinction with an estimated 6000 left roaming their territories thanks largely to human persecution, prey loss and habitat destruction. Anyway this brave female had a fur-raising encounter with a larger male that involved a lot of growling and snarling and swiping of paws, the male making his intentions clear and the female putting him in his place while keeping her daughter safe from harm. I was on the edge of my seat during this aggressive meeting and quite frankly relieved when they all walked away unharmed. It was the total opposite to the adorable mating ritual of the Wilsons bird who desperately wanted to impress a female he spotted looking down at him from a branch. This little black bird of paradise suddenly flashed a bright green disc of feathers at the female in a courtship display that tickled my senses. I wiggled my rear-end in excitement as the bird skipped and danced in front of his girl, flaunting his emerald cape and putting his heart and soul into his performance. In case you’re wondering, he won the heart of his fair lady and did his duty to propagate the species. Ah the wonders of the universe.
My friend Tiffin is a charming 7 year old lady with smooth black fur and a few white flecks on her chest. She lives with her sister Muffin at the house with the cat pen in the garden, the one where the waifs and strays live until they find their forever homes. Tiffin is as scatty as they come, staring wide-eyed in the direction of any noise and running away from humans and animals she doesn’t know. But this kind hearted soul is a good buddy of mine and we often meet up to philosophise about the meaning of life and put the world to rights. I call it Tiffin time and it is usually accompanied by a few flakes of tuna which John always brings as a special treat for the cats in the foster pen.
As Tiffin and I sat on the low wall in the garden watching the rescue cats stretch out in the warmth of the evening sun, we washed our faces meticulously while the conversation moved on to a couple of kittens that had recently been brought into care called Smokey and Pickles. These two little bundles of fun were given up by their owner 24 hours after she bought them because they had diarrhoea and had managed to infest her home with fleas. The kittens had been bought from a woman selling them on the internet and like many kittens sold this way, they were sick with fleas and worms, malnourished and lacking in social skills. Many people selling cats in shops, newspapers and online call themselves breeders but actually they are simply allowing their cats to get pregnant over and over, neglecting the needs of the mother cat and selling the kittens in an unacceptable condition to unsuspecting members of the public for a profit.
Tiffin and I are both rescue cats but we were lucky enough to have a better start in life than Smokey and Pickles. It’s a shame the owner didn’t want to keep the kittens and take them to the vet for treatment but I guess some humans aren’t dedicated enough to support us cats through the good times and the bad. You’ll be pleased to hear that the kittens have received lots of tender loving care and are now happy and healthy and living in a loving home. Tiffin and I contemplated the fate of all the rescue cats sitting in foster homes and shelters right now across the UK waiting to find new homes and all health-checked, vaccinated, microchipped and neutered. There are cute ones, scruffy ones, cheeky ones and bold ones, shy ones like Tiffin and grumpy ones like me!
There is no creature as curious as a cat. And I have always been curious about what lies beyond the adoption pens at the National Cat Centre in Chelwood Gate. The NCC is headquarters for Cats Protection and boasts the largest cat rehoming centre in the UK looking after anything up to 200 cats and kittens at any one time and rehoming over 1000 little cherubs every year. John and I walked into the reception area excited to meet Danielle the Centre Manger for our exclusive behind the scenes tour. John had brushed my coat before we left so I looked extra silky and I puffed out my chest fur as we were greeted by a smiling Danielle who started by introducing us to Poppy. Poppy is a friendly black and white that has been in care for many months and now spends her days helping reception staff answer the phones and checking the corners for mice in the hopes of getting noticed by prospective owners as they wander through. Just off reception is a meeting room specially designated for potential owners to sit and spend time with the cat they like before deciding if things could work between them. It’s full of comfy chairs, ping pong balls and a window that lets you watch the birds land on the swaying branches of the trees outside. Danielle told us about a cat called Marmite who lived at the Centre for a long time because he had FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and I smiled to myself as I imagined him in the meeting room greeting the lady that would later adopt him.
As we moved through the double-doors into the adoption pen wing, Danielle showed us the Enrichment Room which we could not enter as 6 year old Tabitha was in there undertaking a desensitisation programme. This involves carefully exposing the cat to various situations in a controlled manner such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, meeting a stranger or hearing a doorbell to determine which triggers cause the cat to have behavioural issues. Tabitha has been rehomed and returned 3 times because she becomes aggressive so the desensitisation programme will help her become accustomed to normal household noises in the hope that she will soon find her forever home. I had a quick word with her through the door while the humans were talking and she said she gets angry when she is rehomed because she doesn’t know anyone there and it makes her feel scared.
We strolled through the pen wing admiring the cats along the way until we reached another double-door and Danielle asked us to dip our feet in a tub of wet sponge. I was mortified, as a cat who is fastidious about keeping his paws clean, soft and dry, but it was necessary as part of the infection control procedures. So I dutifully placed each of my paws in the disinfectant goo and looked up at John who knew exactly what I wanted and fetched a paper towel to dab my tootsies dry. The next section contained the Admissions Wing where cats first arrive and the Cat Care room where newcomers get their vet checks, vaccinations and flea treatments. I shuddered at the thought and we moved on to the Isolation Wing for cats who have unfortunately been diagnosed with infectious diseases such as flu, FIV and ringworm. We were not allowed into the isolation wing for obvious reasons not least of all that we would have had to dress up in multiple layers of unattractive plastic aprons and pull-up boots which you can see being modelled by Boris. My heart went out to the cats in isolation who often spend weeks receiving veterinary treatment and wearing the cone of shame before their symptoms improve and they are well enough to be put up for adoption. We didn’t go into the maternity wing either out of respect for the feeding mums and mums-to-be who need peace and quiet while they care for their babies. We did take a look at the operating theatres and were impressed with the great facilities, especially when Danielle said that Tuesdays to Thursdays the onsite vet team perform 6 to 8 surgical procedures a day.
No trip to the NCC would be complete without talking to one of the many dedicated volunteers who give up their time to support the Centre and have essential roles to play including collecting cats, cleaning pens, making enrichment objects and raising funds. I got talking to a nice young lady who had just been sitting quietly with a nervous cat called Anya. Anya had been found in a bin and needed a dedicated volunteer to spend time with, bonding and slowly building her confidence, learning to trust humans again. I am so full of respect for this wonderful work that I gave the volunteer an extra firm head butt behind her knee and she rubbed my back in return. Marvellous!
360 View – Of the homing corridor
We came to the end of our tour and Danielle walked us back out to reception as we discussed some of the key welfare issues facing cats today. The importance of early neutering is fundamental to controlling unwanted cat populations and Danielle said that Cats Protection vaccinate kittens against disease at 8 weeks and neuter at 9 weeks to ensure healthy moggies all round. The other big concern is the lack of microchipping in cats and Danielle looked sad as she told us about the many cats who become separated from their owners and brought in to care but end up being rehomed because their owners cannot be traced. I told Danielle how worried I am about the cats and kittens that are sold cheaply or given away through online auction and sales websites. Sadly many of these animals are destined for terrible fates. But I was encouraged to hear that the Cats Protection advocacy team are working with some of the main online marketing sites to raise awareness of the plight of these animals so that improvements can be made. I saw Tabitha on my way out and told her to be brave when she goes to her next home because there are some very nice humans out there who love animals and will understand her needs if she just gave them a chance.
As I walked in, Jenny cocked her head curiously before continuing across the floor to a small set of steps. She climbed the steps and a glimpse of a smile came my way before she hopped on to a large round bed placed neatly in front of the window. I watched her turn round 3 times before sinking into the soft fibre of the brown stripy cushion and curling up for her mid-morning nap. I was intrigued to find out more about this modest moggy so I trotted merrily up to the reception desk at the National Cat Centre with John to ask a few questions and was greeted by a lovely lady with dangly earrings. I managed to contain my urge to swing at the shiny swaying objects hanging from her ears and found out that Jenny was a 14 year old tabby and white cat currently residing at the National Cat Centre in Chelwood Gate while she waits for a new forever home.
I looked around for another peek at gentle Jenny snoozing in the corner when another shiny object caught my eye. Mesmerised, I wandered involuntarily towards the brightly decorated Christmas tree intent on claiming the string of glistening baubles as mine. Thankfully John recognised the hypnotic look on my face and scooped me up before any tinsel-related incidents could occur. As we ambled through the Centre I met many other cats waiting to be re-homed, like Duke a young ginger boy who pranced in front of the viewing window and gleefully played with the toy snake suspended in his pen. It got me thinking about the life of a foster cat and I decided to find out more about their experiences.
To my delight, one cat inhabiting the pen was a fantastic fellow by the name of Marshall. As you can see his long fluffy black and white fur and handsome set of whiskers are a joy to behold. But this was not always the case. When he arrived in the pen he was covered in fleas and his previous owner had sadly done nothing to help him with his flea allergy which left him itchy from nose to paw and covered in scabs and sore bits. Now that he was safe and warm in the pen, the fosterer’s first job was to provide good food and fresh water and a dollop of flea treatment to get rid of those pesky biters. The next morning there were dead fleas all over the shelves and the bedding and even floating in the water bowl so the fosterer got the mop out again and gave everything a freshen up. Over the next couple of weeks Marshall got to meet the vet a few times and following a course of steroids and antibiotics, his dull patchy fur transformed into soft touchable goodness. He had become more outgoing and friendly since the scratching had stopped and he was so grateful about feeling better that he had started hopping on to his fosterer’s lap to say thank you.
The charity pay for any veterinary treatment required as well as the cost of food, housing, heating, medication, blankets, bowls, baskets and toys. Fosterers and other volunteers dedicate their time interacting with the cats, talking, stroking and playing as well as arranging appointments, providing transport, fund-raising, cleaning, arranging adoptions and seeking expert advice where necessary. It’s easy to care for a cat like Marshall who is relaxed and confident but it’s more challenging with a cat like Mia the tabby and white who was previously teased by children leaving her unpredictable and defensive. It takes an enormous amount of patience and understanding to care for a cat that hisses and scratches you. But every good fosterer knows that each cat is the product of what the world has made it and even the nervous or angry ones given time and space can learn to trust and show affection, even if it is in their own funny way. I show my affection to John every day with a rub and a purr and the occasional whack on the leg as he walks by. He thinks it’s annoying but I see it as quirky! Cat Protection never give up on any of the cats in their care and firmly believe that there is a home for each and every one. By the way, Mia is settling well in her pen and has calmed down considerably now that she knows no one will bother her and Marshall has found a new owner who adores him and will no doubt cater for his every need. Well done Marsh!
When John came to pick me up from my holiday he gave me a big bear hug (mmm!) and told me how pleased he was to see me (aww!). I had gone to spend a couple of weeks with a cat cousin of mine by the name of Holly because she lives in a fabulous country pen and needed a pal to help her through her troubles. As John drove me home, he told me all about his antics while I was gone, like the boat regatta he attended in Fareham (without me!) and the trip to the seafront with one of his daughters at midnight to take pictures of the ‘blue’ moon. Then he got this sheepish look on his face and admitted that he had written something for the blog (can you believe!). Yes folks, ‘the boss’ wrote something in MY blog! Just kidding! It wasn’t bad at all John, so thanks for looking after things while I was gone.
I met Holly a couple of months ago when she came into foster care having been rescued from a violent home situation. As you can see from the pictures, she was in a pickle for sure. Her tail was fractured, her jaw was damaged and she had a few teeth missing. As I walked towards this bony creature the first time we met, my delicate nostrils picked up the most unpleasant whiff that gradually became a stench and I could see her fur was filthy, like she’d been dipped in dirty bath. John told me it smelled like stale tobacco from living in a house full of heavy smokers and she had been kept as an indoor cat. The objectionable smell however was not the most noteworthy part of our first meeting. Rather it was her extraordinary personality that struck me. She dipped her head and came slowly towards me until we touched noses and her tail went straight up in the air, no heckles and no hissing. Despite the smell, we were soon rubbing each other’s cheeks and sitting next to each other comfortably watching the world go by.
So when John suggested that I spend my holidays with her, I was only too pleased to go visit. Image how thrilled I was to find her odour free and looking fab, with her white fur transformed from a yellowy-brown to a bright snow. We immediately connected, chasing each other around playfully while John unpacked my suitcase in the pen next door. After he left, Holly’s fosterer came to see us with a bowl of treats and hid them all around the pen for us to find. This was a big step forward for Holly because following her injuries she had previously been unable to close her jaw, resulting in her tongue hanging out all the time and a rather undignified dribbling problem. Her fosterer used to mash up her food which she then scooped up with her paw, yet here she was outrunning me to the biscuits and chewing like a proper cat. This explained her new found curves, dry chin and fluffy coat which she took pride in grooming every hour.
The lodgings we stayed in were full-board with everything included (meals, drinks, sleeping quarters and entertainment) and the rural surroundings were delightful. I spent many a happy moment watching the pigeons pecking berries out of the trees, the fish swimming lazily under the net in the lily-leafed pond and the resident cats strolling importantly past. I had a lovely holiday with my good friend Holly and it was a privilege to watch her become the wonderful trusting cat she always wanted to be. She truly is one of the strongest kids I’ve ever met and her high-spirited character was the magic that drew the attention of a kind-hearted family looking for a cat to adopt. When they came to visit, it was clearly a match made in heaven, with Holly smooching around the legs of all 3 humans, jumping on their laps and meowing demurely while they cooed all over her. Her kinked tail and goofy smile will always be a reminder of her past life but now she has an exciting future to look forward to. Congratulations Holly on finding a loving forever home where you will always be cherished.