Cat rescuer claims that there are more feral cats in West Yorkshire towns than normal

YORKSHIRE, UK: Debbie Newsome runs Henry's Haven Cat Rescue. They have a nice Facebook page with almost 10,000 followers. I have skimmed through the posts and I can see that it's a really tough job. They deal with a lot of quite sick cats and dying kittens and that sort of thing. It's a very tough world, the cat rescue world, and when you think that this organisation is run solely by volunteers and is not for profit, you have to conclude that they are fantastic people. They put themselves through distressing situations for the sake of cat welfare. They deserve all the credit they can get.

Conjunctivitis in one of the kittens rescued by Henry's Haven
Conjunctivitis in one of the kittens rescued by Henry's Haven. Photo: Henry's Haven.

Newsome has been talking to Jasmine Norden of Yorkshire Live online and she says that they are dealing with an increasing number of cat colonies where parents and kittens are often seriously ill. The message that she is almost begging people to understand is that they must sterilise their cats because if you don't you get more misery in these colonies. 

The cats constantly breed and the kittens often have short miserable lives. They contract these classic stray and feral cat diseases such as the flu (e.g. herpes virus), which invariably ends up with a secondary bacterial infection causing conjunctivitis which damages the eyes and it sometimes leaves them blind which it is horrible. That said when TNR is allowed to happen some feral cats lead decent lives thanks to the volunteers.

Debbie Newsome spends her time trapping and neutering these cats to try and stop this cycle of breeding and dying after relatively short lives. But what is disturbing is that she says that there is definitely an increase in cat colonies. The article does not explain why so I'm going to guess and blame Covid. Covid has distorted the human-cat relationship.

Because of social distancing and lockdowns, the usual volunteers have been unable to do their job in TNR programs. This has left the feral cats to breed and suffer more because nobody is feeding them. TNR programs include feeding. Covid might also result in more people abandoning their cats because of financial constraints.

SOME PAGES ON SPAYING AND NEUTERING

Henry's Haven works throughout West Yorkshire. In the interview you can feel the concern in Newsome's voice. She said that people have got to stop the cats breeding and producing "unwell kittens". She said that: "It's all down to not neutering. If they were neutered, situations like this wouldn't happen."

Her cat rescue is currently working with a colony in Castleford and at first they thought they were dealing with four cats but have since trapped and neutered 7 adult cats and 5 kittens. She thinks there may be up to 20 cats in the colony in total. Some of the kittens in this colony had really bad cat flu as had the adults and there were "quite a lot of dead kittens".

The problem is that these cats are exposed to all the diseases around them because they have never been vaccinated or had any veterinary treatment. When one cat becomes infected, they pass it onto their siblings, while mothers pass the diseases onto their kittens.

Newsome said that she came across kittens in a hut. One of them was dead and the others had "green gunk" coming out of their eyes. And she said that, "It's awful because we're often dealing with picking up dead animals, it's horrible."

Some kittens do recover because they provide great care and some are infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and are therefore difficult to rehome as these cats are susceptible to illness and have to be kept indoors. And in some situations they have to be put down because they are too ill.

Finally, Newsome makes the point that if people think that spaying and neutering alters a cat's personality then they are wrong. Their lives are improved by the operation. Personally, I don't like the operation especially on male cats but it has to be done as it affects their appearance. There is no argument about sterilising, however. It has to happen. And people shouldn't delay because if you delay spaying a female cat and you let that cat go outside it is quite likely they will have kittens. You will have more unwanted cats to treat, to care for and to rehome.

She says that people are shocked when they discover what is really going on behind the scenes with respect to these cats. She says that if one person changes their mind and sterilises their cats, she feels that she has succeeded.

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