For the past year, I have been volunteering regularly at my local RSPCA Cattery in Ashford. Having had very limited experience handling and working with cats previously, I was keen to get involved. The RSPCA is a fantastic charity and the work they do invaluable. From the very first day I volunteered – 20th August 2013 – I have been amazed at the overwhelming number of cats cared for and rehomed through the cattery. There have been court cases and strays, as well as dearly loved pets who cannot be looked after any longer because of changing circumstances or owners’ ill health. They really need and appreciate their volunteers and as a result, we all love what we do for them.
Every morning at the cattery, volunteers come in at 8.30 to clean all the pens. This involves scooping out litter trays, brushing hair out of blankets and wiping down surfaces before sweeping then mopping the floor of each pen. With a small team of volunteers working alongside the staff, all the pens are clean by 10.30, ready for the cattery to open to the public at 11.00. During the day, other volunteers come in to help in the garden or socialise the cats. Socialising is great fun and involves letting the cats out to play with each other and get used to human company, ready for when they are rehomed. However, in everything we do, we have to be very careful. Every cat must be regarded as an individual. Some cats are not allowed to interact with other cats because of suspected illness so it is important that we do act as carriers of potential disease. Therefore, we always have to wash our hands regularly. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to respond to the cats’ behaviour. If they hiss or refuse to move, it would be wrong to try and force them to come out and socialise, for it could result in scratches or bites.
On a Wednesday, the cattery is shut to the public and the vet comes in to check up on the cats. I have been around to observe this several times. Very often the problem is fleas, in which case the cat(s) are put in quarantine to prevent the fleas invading the entire cattery. However, I have also seen several cases of feline herpes virus. One in particular was very interesting because to test for the virus, the vet used fluorescein in its eye. This highlighted an amazing ulcer which looked like a river with tributaries spreading out from it. Luckily, herpes is not a huge problem for the cattery because although it affects the individual cat, all the other cats are routinely vaccinated against it.
During the past year, I have been regularly going to the cattery for 1 1/2 hours every other Wednesday afternoon. My main job is to rinse all the scoops and brushes which have been left to soak for their weekly disinfect. I then put all the scoops and brushes back into the pens, giving me the chance to see and interact with the cats. Very often there are kittens which I play with, observing how they develop hunting techniques through this playing. Recently, I spent a lot of time with several very shy cats. They had been confiscated from their owners by the RSPCA due to neglect, leading to a court case. Their ears were very tatty and initially I thought it was because they had been in fights resulting in the rips and tears – one of the cat’s barely had any outer ear remaining. However, after asking one of the staff, I was told that this damage was all due to ear mites. Therefore, each one of the six cats in the household had suffered with it. This made it clear why the RSPCA had taken action.
In total I have now spent about 40 hours at the garden cattery, which consists of cleaning, socialising cats and generally helping out, it even includes an early morning clean on Boxing Day when they were short of volunteers. Over the coming year, I am going to be spending several hours cleaning every other Wednesday morning. Despite having a few scratches, I love working at the cattery and have learnt so much about cats and the people who choose to abuse them or love them.