Shad’s big adventure (part 2)

My feline friends were shocked when I told them that I wanted to visit Wildlife SOS because it’s in India, a long way from home and a surprising turn of events for a cat who enjoys his home comforts and prefers not to overexert himself unduly.  But the allure of the rescued pachyderms was proving hard to resist and I was curious about their natures and the lives they now lead.  John took the most convincing as he was obviously worried (although at the time I didn’t understand why) but he eventually agreed and was delighted that I was about to embark on my first big adventure.  The preparations were a gargantuan task – insurance, visa, tickets, travel arrangements, safety issues, health implications, access to food and water, car drivers, vaccinations, communication with home, etc.  But after months of planning, I set off with my backpack ready to experience everything that my quest had to offer.

I asked a few people to take some snaps of me on the way and you can see me snoozing with my blanket on the plane and chatting with the air stewardesses in these photographs.   My driver met me at the airport and as I started the 4 hour ride to my first stop, I understood John’s concerns.  The roads were chaotic with cars driving in every direction, missing each other by a whisker and honking their horns incessantly while cows and stray dogs wove their dangerous way through the traffic and motorbikes zoomed past carrying 3 or 4 people at a time with no helmets and babies in tow.  Piles of rubble and litter lined the streets while swarms of people went about their daily business in the stifling heat.

My first night in India was spent at a hotel in Rajasthan so that I could visit Ranthambore National Park the next day, an area designated as a protected habitat for a range of the country’s indigenous wildlife from palm squirrels to porcupines, pythons to hyenas.  The jeep arrived the next morning for the tour and I hopped on to the front seat as the rear row was occupied.  To my horror the seat belt didn’t work and I was not prepared to risk life and limb so a gentleman in the back agreed to swap places with me.  This turned out to be a wise move as the jeep drove like the clappers all the way to the entrance of the park.   At this point the jeep slowed down just enough for me to take in the bleak terrain, an eerie mix of barren sandy earth speckled with bunches of dry yellow grass and dead-looking saplings.  Here and there, a water hole was hidden in the desolate landscape and even a lake shimmered quietly surrounded by lush green trees which were lucky enough to find a means of quenching their thirst.  Animals gathered at the ponds including spotted dear, blue bull antelope, peacocks, monitor lizards and a myriad of smaller birds like bright green parakeets, little black and white wagtails, crows, sparrows and finches.

The highlight of the tour was the fantastic sighting of a beautiful tigress wandering through the dry grasslands marking her territory by spraying on nearby vegetation.  Unfortunately the sighting caused a frenzy of activity when the jeeps in the area all converged towards this amazing animal but thankfully she took it in her stride, looking over her shoulder from time to time without showing any signs of obvious stress.  I gazed in awe at this magnificent member of my species and the jeeps followed her at a reasonable distance until she sauntered off into the forest.  She was truly stunning, lean, untamed and radiant, and I wished there were more of them but sadly they are dramatically decreasing in numbers thanks largely to poaching to meet the demands of humans who believe in the medieval principles that form the basis of Chinese medicine.  So there I was, lost in the wonder of the moment, contemplating the splendour and complexity of the world’s ecosystem, when the jeeps suddenly  revved up their engines and began hurtling away at breakneck speed.  Bumping and skidding across the rubble on the paths, my bottom left the seat on several occasions and I gripped on to the side bar as though my life depended on it.  Dust flew up from the tyres and the jeeps one behind another like a giant snake tore towards the exit.  Apparently they were in a hurry because they were late and had to be out of the park by 7pm so that the tigers could enjoy some peace and quiet, the drivers are heavily fined if they fail to leave on time.  It was a fur-raising ride but we made it to the borders of the park with seconds to spare and I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw how much dirt was on my coat and realised I’d have to spend the next 2 hours licking it all off.

Unfortunately Video very jumpy difficult to it still in these jeeps

Shad goes behind the scenes at the National Cat Centre

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.



NCC Reception – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

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.

Cats Protection’s Manifesto for Cats