Progress Report

OCTOBER 2016

As Catsnip marks its fourteenth birthday, I have some encouraging news. During my recent trip to Sicily I met up with Valeria, tireless worker with the Sicilian shelter L’Arca where numerous cats and dogs pass through its welcoming gates. Regular readers of my bulletins will remember that Valeria hosted my team when Guy Liebenberg and helpers carried out an intensive week of neutering in the town of Mascali. Our work galvanised the local State vets into action; they are now regularly neutering feral animals, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than ours. L’Arca has also moved into much nicer premises but the struggle to pay all the bills continues. I was able to make a donation towards this wonderful work. During my trip, I was also happy to see far more local people feeding the cats. On the other hand, I had a heated conversation with the owner of one feline: asking politely whether Lorenzo was neutered, he flew into a rage and said it was ‘against nature’.

Over the years, with the support of dedicated vets, cat ladies, not to mention Animals Voice readers, it seems I have been able to make some improvement to the plight of the island’s feline population. Cats have been neutered and treated, I have been able to support cat ladies and ‘my’ vet, Oscar La Manna with both money and equipment. But the battle never ends.

Throughout this summer, there has been the anticipated flood of emails from tourists seeking help and advice about a cat or kitten they have found in distress. I am always ready to provide any assistance I can. An example was the tiny kitten, which stole a couple’s hearts. I put them in touch with lovely cat lady, Eleanor, who eventually found it a loving home. Time is never on my side; usually I have only days or even hours to find a solution before the tourist goes home. Often, they only contact me when departure time looms. Then I have to drop everything and make use of all my contacts. Oscar sympathised with me and told the tale of a feline ‘boarded’ with him while the owner went on holiday and never returned to pick up the cat. Typical of him, he has since nursed and continues to feed it so my donation came in useful there.

I met up with Eleanor who single-handed, cares for 20 cats, some of them sick and all needing the on-going flea/tick/worming treatments. She feels isolated in a town where many people consider her ‘mad.’ But will never desert them. If anyone would like to sponsor one of these lovely creatures with a small monthly donation, details are on my website or contact me at jcpulling@sky.com.

My book The Great Sicilian Cat Rescue has raised awareness of the situation and I receive many letters from readers, some of them wanting to help. It is also proving a resource for many.

WINTER 2015

Big event of this year was the publication of my book The Great Sicilian Cat Rescue, which came out in June. It seems it is already achieving my aims in writing this book: many people have contacted me to say how much they are enjoying reading it and that it has raised their awareness of all the work still to be done to help these feral animals. I have also received some donations, which have all gone towards the winter programme of feeding and neutering. There was a great review of the book in the Daily Mail and articles have appeared in magazines including Closer.

As usual, I have received numerous messages from tourists on holiday in Sicily who have found a stray cat or kitten and want to help it. Some of these have been found homes on the island or at least helped with treatment. Jon contacted me about a small white cat, which had followed him home to his holiday apartment. He fell in love with the feline and contacted me asking for advice to bring it back to England. There followed a lengthy process involving my lovely vet Oscar La Manna who is a true friend of ferals. Little Meena stayed at his surgery for the necessary time while Jon, in Brighton, worked out ways of bringing her back. Having discarded flying he decided to fetch her by train and car. Three was a very long wait while Sicilian bureaucracy churned into action and finally Oscar managed to obtain the Pet Passport. Then Jon flew to Catania, picked up Meena and travelled with her to Turin in northern Italy. Here his father met him and they drove the rest of the way home. Meena is now a very happy little cat.
I continue to support Elke with her huge colony of cats. This year she took on another five kittens when the owner died and these will be neutered as soon as they are old enough.

A cat lover with a big heart contacted me a few weeks ago, while in Sicily. She is just the person I. needed to meet as she has a whole lot of new ideas for fund raising and we are now working together to launch a campaign. It has always been hard fighting on alone and I am very grateful to have Alexandra’s help.

SPRING 2015

Last winter, I had an SOS message from Elke. (the German lady who lives in Sicily and cares for over 100 cats) She had just heard that a cst loving lady had died, leaving behind a dog and 30 cats. She wrote to me:

‘I put dry-food and wet-food in my car, went there and rang the bell, in spite of people telling me not to go, because they think that the son is strange. He came out and I talked nicely to him for an hour. He is very shy, but was extremely happy that I came and brought the cat food. He has no job, but had just enough food for that weekend. But it is a super-sad situation. There are 8 females to be neutered and the animals need food for the winter. I am sorry to ask you if somebody can offer some money for this case, otherwise all these beautiful cats and the dog are risking to die over the winter.’

Fortunately, I had enough funds in my Catsnip account to be able to help with the food and to have the females neutered. They have now been moved to Elke’s property to swell the numbes of her other 40 resident cats.

Until this spring, I hsve been working hard on my book The Great Sicilian Cat Rescue which tells the story of the years I have spent on my project Cstsnip trying to alleviate the huge problem in Sicily. There are lots of stories of the cats we have helped.This will be published by John Blake, in June. I am hopeful it may raise awareness of these felines need and encourage more people to see them as sentient beings.

The number of tourists who contacted me, last summer, underlined a common problem. They might have found a cat in distress and wanted to help it, but they didn’t have the means of catching it in order to take it to ‘my’ vet Doctor Oscar La Manna. This week, I contacted my supplier of humane cat traps, Metalcote ,and spoke to the lovely Catherine. I am sending a trap to Sicily for Oscar to have in his surgery and which tourists will be able to borrow. I thoroughly recommend the Metalcote products. They are UK manufactured and very strong and durable, essential if you are interested in helping these felines. They make excellent cat carriers too.

www.metalcote.co.uk

SUMMER 2014

As I often say: ‘If only I could win the lottery,’ then I would have the funds to answer all the calls for help I receive. But thanks to several generous donations I have been able to do a great deal to help the plight of these feral cats.

Earlier this year, Paolina, the lady who is building an animal refuge was enabled to install a water supply and construct enclosures to house the dogs and cats she rescues. I was also happy to contribute to Elke’s store of cat food to see the numerous colonies she feeds through the winter.

As the summer season approached, I began to dread the flood of emails I would receive from tourists in Sicily, anxious and distressed by the plight of cats and kittens. Catsnip, they told me, was the only resource they could find on the Internet. There was Helen whose honeymoon was disrupted by the sightings of a tiny, lost kitten. She carried it back to the apartment where she was staying and secretly fed it there. What would she do when she had to leave? I contacted Raimonda, the lovely volunteer of a local animal welfare group of volunteers. On her advice, Helen presented herself and the tiny kitten at the local police station. When the policemen seemed disinclined to help, she used the ancient female ploy of tears, which succeeded in melting their hearts. Little Gavroche has now been adopted by another local volunteer and living the life of Riley.

A cat suffering from the awful eye disease that is rife in Sicily arrived in Sadie’s apartment. The disease had progressed and it was obvious the cat was blind. Another holiday interrupted by a feral feline! Sadie was in despair. ‘I’ve fallen in love with her and I want to bring her back to England to live with us.’ I gave her the telephone number of a wonderful vet who has a special affection for these feral animals. Trovatella (which means little waif) had an operation, was neutered and is now awaiting Sadie’s return to pick her up. This is a joyous ending to what could have been a tragedy. Blind cats cannot survive on the streets and are prey to predators. This small creature will be cared for for the rest of her life.

Dawn another devoted cat lover had to abandon her quest to help Lionel, a ginger and white cat she passed every day during her holiday. ‘He looked such a poor little creature it broke our r hearts and partly spoilt our holiday.’ Because of language problems she was not sure if the cat had an owner and felt that she couldn’t whisk it away without advising them. However, I was able to contact a local English woman who lives in Taormina and she is dealing with the problem. Let’s hope there is another happy outcome.

These are just three of the many I deal with and which will feature in my book about my experiences with cats in Sicily, due to be published next year.
As I write I am planning my next trip to Sicily. I’ll be interviewing people for the book and setting up my next neutering trip for early next Spring. These trips are expensive and, of course, any donations would be very welcome.

DECEMBER 2013:

Autumn has been busy time for Catsnip. At the beginning of October I returned to Sicily and visited the various cat colonies that I support. Laura reported good health among ‘her’ cats and, indeed, they all seemed to be thriving. Elke was in the midst of preparing the Big Winter Feed. Not only has she a colony of forty cats nearly all of which have now been neutered but also she oversees the care of many colonies throughout the beach area of Taormina. This involves stock piling an enormous number of tins and packets in her storeroom and, this year, cost her 30,000-euro. From December to March all cats are fed twice a day. Cat shelters are checked to make sure they are in place and so, hundreds of cats are seen through the winter. I was able to give her a donation towards her costs.

Ginger was looking decidedly better. In the summer she had suffered from ringworm, which has been successfully treated. During my stay she was neutered so now she will live a less troublesome life. Several local people are feeding her.

On my return to the UK I found messages from tourists asking for help. One involved a dog in Trapani on the west side of the island. Christine, visiting the town for the day, was concerned about her badly overgrown claws and thought she might be ill. Not long after Susie and Esther two devoted animal lovers visited Sicily and made a 400 kilometre round journey to find her. Now a local group of animal lovers is taking her to the vet for treatment. Susie and Esther also saved a little kitten that was living inside a car engine at Palermo airport and found her a home in a cat colony. I also met Carmelo a wonderful man who spends all his money on feeding and having treated his colony of 35 cats. Again, it was good to be able to give him a donation.

As well as continuing with plans for a neutering trip next year I am supporting Paolina, a wonderful woman in Puglia, Italy, who is building a refuge for the suffering street dogs. She has sacrificed her life and belongings to helping them, appalled by their suffering. She deserves to succeed.

THE CONTINUING TALE OF GINGER: I’ve written about Terry and Natalya the ardent cat lovers who appear to spend a good part of their holiday feeding and watching over cats. In 2012 when the couple visited Taormina again, they brought back photographs to show me that Ginger appeared to be thriving. However, this year they called me, very concerned. Ginger was very poorly and her body was covered in what looked like scabs, which she was constantly scratching. We consulted on the phone and agreed that Terry should arrange for a vet to visit Ginger. He pronounced her pregnant but, due to her history of delivering dead kittens, he suggested they should be aborted in order to start treatment on the scabs, which turned out to be ringworm. But, Ginger pipped them at the post by delivering the kittens overnight. Reluctantly Terry and Natalya had to return home. I was able to follow her progress by talking to Laura who cares for colonies of cats. Sadly, Ginger’s kittens died but it meant the treatment could ne started. Laura reports that the little cat is slowly recovering and putting on weight. We don’t want Ginger to go through this experience again so, as soon as she is well enough, she is to be neutered. Catsnip is here to advise and help any tourist who contacts me.

For photographs of Ginger please see our Gallery page

JULY 2013: Although cats have always been the species closest to my heart, I love and care about all animals. While I continue to support Elke and Laura with their colonies of cats, I have, in recent months helped some poor ill treated dogs, as well. I am also looking into the plight of two parrots brought to my notice by several tourists who couldnít get their condition out of their minds. The current economical climate in Sicily and, indeed, Italy has had its impact on animal welfare. I was alerted to this when I first found Sandra Fede on Facebook and her little organization voceanimale or animalís voice. Sandra is a young woman student who together with a very small group of other volunteers work to help the plight of dogs in the area around Catania. Some of these dogs are feral others have just been thrown onto the streets either as adults or puppies. The cruelty has to be seen to be believed with some dogs thrown in the dustbin like discarded toys. With the little money they have at their disposal, the group rescues these dogs feeds them, treats them medically where necessary and gives them all the medication and inoculations in preparation for adoption. These dogs are adopted throughout Italy when of course they have to be transported to their new homes.

I have been able to send Sandra some sums of money and also put her in touch with the Worldwide Veterinary Services who sent out a quantity of flea and tick treatments. It is wonderful that these dogs are being given a second chance in life. But the numbers augment daily.

The parrots in question are kept in a cage in are a smirch on the beauty of the Public Gardens in Taormina. As tourists have informed me and I have seen for myself these are very unhappy birds with none of the attention they deserve. Now and again children tease them. Appalling. I have cont acted the Anglo-Italian Society for the Protection of Animals who local agents. They are currently looking into the situation. I have also been thinking of getting up a petition to send to the town hall there. I abhor birds being kept in cages. Back to the cats: Iíve been able to send money both to Elke and Laura, which has helped towards neutering and other medical treatment. Just to give some idea of costs: Laura spends about 60 euro every week on cat food to feed these colonies. Elke spends a great deal more as she has many colonies to feed.

I am writing a book about Sicily and my experiences with cats and the women who care for them. In October I hope to spend a few weeks there researching and also looking into the general situation again and where I can help.

JANUARY 2013: As we move into yet another year, the tenth since Catsnip began its work with feral cats in Sicily, I can report that I am still going strong. Since last October I have received more donations from the lovely people in the UK who support Catsnip. This has enabled me to help both Elke and Laura with their respective colonies. Both report that they continue to neuter and treat the cats.  For example, a beautiful white ct in Laura’s colony was found to have a tumour in her ear. This has now been operated on and removed. The last time I spoke to Laura, she was doing very well.  It makes me sad to report that among some local people, animals and in particular cats are still regarded as vermin. Some weeks ago, Elke reported that sixteen of one of her colonies of csts had been found dead by poisoning. On a happier note, Terry and Natalya’s favourite cat Ginger is thriving and is on the list to be neutered before they return to Taormina in the summer to ‘catch watch’.

Although Catsnip, as the name implies, was set up to help feral cat in Sicily, I am obviously concerned with the welfare of all animals. This month, I have been in correspondence with Sandra Fede who, with a tiny group of others, feeds, treats and neuters numerous feral dogs in the province of Catania. It is wonderful to hear that, at least among the younger generation, the  love and care  of animals is so strong. I am hopeful there will be some way in which she can be offered practical help with her gigantic task.

OCTOBER 2012: Many tourists to Sicily finding a feral cat which gives them concern, have traced me via this website. As I am not always Ďon the spotí I have tried to help them with advice. Such a couple were Natalya and Terry who first called me last year. They were concerned about a small cat they called Ginger. Ginger was then not more than a kitten and the couple who went daily to feed the colony were concerned about her eyes. This is a kind of conjunctivitis and is common among the Sicilian feral cats. I advised them to use a product called Pensulvit.

When I returned to Sicily, last October, I searched for the colony and believed I had found it but there appeared no sign of Ginger. I was overjoyed, as were they, when on their second visit they found Ginger alive and well. We met in Shoreham by Sea and agreed that on my next visit she would be neutered. During this time, Laura has been caring for and feeding another colony of cats and I have been delighted to be able to send her money to help with her work. Elke continues her sterling work with feral cats. I was able to give her enough money, last autumn, to feed several colonies of cats over the winter. Recently, she contacted me when a friend had been taken ill and was in hospital. She had left behind ten unneutered feral cats and Elke was anxious to have them neutered in order that she could find them homes. During a recent telephone conversation with Laua, she reorted that the colonies she cares for are all alive and thriving. Thanks to donations from kind people in the UK, I was able to send them some money. Catsnip is so grateful to women like Elke and Laura who continue to work for these unfortunate felines My next visit is planned for this autumn when weíll be carrying out more treatment and neutering of the cats. Please contact me if you are in Sicily and have concerns.

OCTOBER 2011: Nine years ago, a small cat called Lizzie altered my destiny. Incensed by the cruel mentality that could poison not only her but all her colony I decided to act. Thus Catsnip came about, my project to help and treat the feral cats in Sicily. Funded by the donations of generous individuals and charities, I launched onto a series of catch/neuter/return trips to Sicily. Vets from Europe and the UK gave their time and expertise to work in improvised ‘surgeries’ such as a summerhouse or a garage. At one point we were offered the use of a local veterinary practice but this facility only lasted two years before it was withdrawn. It was hard but rewarding work peppered with humour and also a profound sadness of the suffering inflicted on animals by an uncaring culture. I never like to generalise and, of course, there were others with a love and concern for our four footed friends. I remain in contact with them to this day.

However, by 2009 it became clear there was no easy way forward. In spite of my repeated attempts to establish a place where we could operate in the town of Taormina local authorities remained unhelpful. The book I had written and published designed to encourage young people to respect animals while well received at the time seemed to have yielded little in lasting results. I felt defeated, what had been the point? All right, so we had neutered hundreds of cats and offered them a far better chance of survival but was all this effort to have been in vain? I had really reached the point of considering giving up.

Then as 2010 dawned I had a series of telephone conversations with a German friend who lives in Sicily. Elke and I reviewed the work we had done over those past years work, work she had continued to do if over a longer time span. Gradually, she and her friend Grazia had managed to catch and have neutered a number of cats over a wide area of the town of Taormina. These were cats from colonies in streets and areas near the beach as well as those from her own colony of nearly forty cats. I was encouraged and offered to collaborate with her working at a slower but I believed more productive pace, over the year rather than just a week or two. As the traps and cages I had used over the past few years were now needed at an animal refuge at Giarre near Catania, I decided to supply Elke with a few more. These have been put to very good use and the situation in those areas has vastly improved.

At the beginning of October 2011 I returned to Sicily to assess the general situation and to see where I could help. I visited the Public Gardens in Taormina where, three years ago, we had caught and neutered a number of cats. I was pleased to see that these now appeared to be much better cared for and fed. I was concerned about another colony of cats which previously had been fed by an elderly lady but who, I learned, had died. It was a relief to learn that a young woman had now taken over the job and was also trying to have them neutered as and when she could afford it. Laura diligently keeps a list of donations made to her with notes on how the money is used. I added my name to the list. All ‘her’ cats have names and one of them has learned to slip into her father’s shop in the mornings for a nap.

An English couple had emailed me during the summer with their concerns about yet another small colony. These they had fed while on holiday but on their return home they were anxious as to how they would fare. I managed to track them down and to pass on the news that it appeared the majority had survived and were being fed. Such events as these were, for me, small lights at the end of a long dark tunnel for there remains so much to be done. Other areas remain problematic, cats that are sick and malnourished in locations where the local people continue to view them as vermin.

Recently I received an email from yet another tourist voicing her concerns. There are still cats thrown on a waste heap or into the sea because they are pregnant. Happily some of these have ended up on Elke’s piece of land and given the love and attention they deserve. But the battle is on going, the cats still need help and I have returned from this latest visit resolved to continue. November will see another session of neutering and treatment of these felines, which Elke is organising with my help. We have earmarked several areas where we know cats need attention, and those who tend them a helping hand. I also hope to follow my plan of arranging an educational visit by a British vet to show local vets the modern methods of neutering. After all, Catsnip ends its ninth year on a positive note.

JANUARY 2011: The longer-term programme goes into action. An educational visit is being planned.

JUNE 2010: Jennifer decides the best way forward is a longer-term programme. She collaborates with local cat lovers Elke and Grazia on devising a catch/neuter/return programme over months rather than weeks.

JANUARY 2009: There is no further possibility to use this veterinary practice. Jennifer tries to find a surgery facility in Taormina but local authorities are unhelpful.

JUNE 2008: Jennifer works with a team from Worldwide Veterinary Service. They return to the same veterinary practice to carry out the fifth catch/neuter/return programme.

APRIL 2007: Fourth trip working out of Davide Trifiletti's veterinary practice. Jennifer flies out with British vet Guy Liebenberg. Valerie Cundari and colleagues from the Giarre animal refuge collaborate in the catch/neuter/return programme.

OCTOBER 2006: Trip planned with the co-operation of Sicilian vet Davide Trifiletti. This is huge breakthrough and carves the way for regular visits to a set location.

JULY 2006: Jennifer is appointed press officer of Animals Worldwide and launch at the House of Commons. 

DECEMBER 2005: Jennifer attends first meeting of ANIMALS WORLDWIDE set up to help people like herself.

OCTOBER 2005: Third trip again working from mobile unit. Jennifer tours Sicilian schools with her own educational material and talks to young people about respect for animals. 

MAY 2004: second catch/neuter/return trip. German and Italian vets work with Jennifer’s team from mobile unit. 

JUNE/JULY 2003: First CATSNIP catch/neuter/return trip to Sicily. Two American vets and Jennifer’s team work in improvised surgery in a summerhouse. 

SEPTEMBER 2002: Colony of cats poisoned. The Sicilians’ mistaken idea of controlling feral cat populations.