Occasionally people make jokes that I must get bored to tears in New Zealand with its lack of wolves and monkeys and such. We do have amazing, unique wildlife here though, and when I was going through university I did think about joining our Department of Conservation but ended up deciding it wasn’t quite for me for the most part. While I was doing my degree I began working at a zoo up in Auckland, and was there for six years or so. That gave me some invaluable experience working with exotic species, and while I loved the animals I did slowly find that more and more I craved to work in a setting where animals were there because they needed to be; i.e. because they had been rescued, and/or were going to be rehabilitated back into the wild. There are some incredible zoos, though, and I believe the better ones do raise some very important awareness about the plight of species all over the globe. New Zealand zoos focus heavily on raising funds for conservation efforts and even send their employees across the world to do work on different projects, which I think is fantastic. They care greatly about the welfare of their animals, and do what they can to construct species-appropriate habitats, encourage natural behaviours and promote intellect use (so having an animal that sits around all day in its cage depressed would be deemed as unacceptable). There are so many terrible zoos and captive institutes around the world, though, and I would like to see those stopped.
People are forever asking me, “Why do you care so much? They’re just animals.” Let me explain my side a little bit. I see it like this: all living things have nervous systems that help us detect certain stimuli; heat, light, movement, etc. The complexity of these nervous systems vary between species, but most animals have some kind of pain-receptors that, as you can probably guess, help them detect pain. Thus, most animals are capable of feeling pain and physical distress. They can suffer. Some can even experience emotional suffering. Non-human animals cannot speak, but many have the same intelligence levels as a human baby. Some even have the intelligence levels of a human toddler. So this is part of the reason why I care: if an animal is hurt, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering. When I see an animal ridden with disease, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering and that it is not living with the quality of life it could have. When I see a great ape stuck in a roadside cage for the amusement of tourists, I recognise that this animal is suffering, its mental health is not being encouraged, and it is not living with the quality of life that it could have. No animal would choose to be in pain, distress or a life of mental suffering. So despite understanding that non-human animals may not be as high up on the intelligence ranking as our own species, that is why I care. And in my opinion the world would be better if everyone had more compassion.
New Zealand has the fairly noteworthy problem of a high population of stray and feral cats. These guys spread disease and prey on local wildlife, and of course do not distinguish between native or introduced species when they kill. For the kitties themselves, they are often riddled with disease, full of parasites, and tend to live in heightened anxiety and distress. Stray and feral cats are a problem for our wildlife and environments, and the individual animals themselves are most likely suffering – when it doesn’t need to be this way. A lot of these cats are out there because 1) people have let their own pets breed without control, and 2) pet owners have abandoned or ‘dumped’ their house cats. Unclaimed or unwanted litters of kittens go on to continue the breeding cycle, and this ensures the number of stray colony cats stays strong.
As I’ve talked about before, I do some foster work for an Auckland charity, Lonely Miaow. Lonely Miaow takes stray or feral cats and kittens, places them in foster care, gets them appropriately vet checked and then rehomes them once they are desexed, microchipped and fully vaccinated. I have rehomed a few litters with Lonely Miaow now, and it is always a rewarding experience. I can’t afford pets of my own plus I am often off on some excursion or another, so fostering is the perfect way to combine my love of ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ plus my desire for some kind of fluffy companionship at home.
The last bunch I picked up (only a day or two after I flew home from America, no less) was a litter of four plus their mum, Grace. I have always fostered kittens or cats on their own, never with their cat mum in tow, so this has been a different experience for me. Even the most feral of feral kitties I have socialised to some point of genuine affection towards humans, but it has been relatively slow progress with this lot. They rely on their mother as their primary source of affection and hardly need a thing from me, so it has been harder for me to teach them that interaction with humans can be a positive experience. Grace, however, recently got to the point where she was sick of the kittens constantly tumbling all over her, and has started giving them a smack with one paw if they got too close too often. This is a good sign that they ought to be off on their own, learning life lessons more independently as adolescent kittens should.
Despite them being less affectionate towards me at the beginning, each kitten has found a home and I am just left with Grace at this point. She’s a gem and has done really well raising her babies. I look at them – and think of the hundreds of other cats and kittens Lonely Miaow rehomes – and know that they have been saved from a life on the streets, so to speak, where they would probably have lived diseased and hungry. Reducing the number of stray animals is important work, and I encourage anyone who has considered fostering to give it a go – it’s a really rewarding way to help out. It’s also only temporary, so you can try it once and there’s no obligation if it doesn’t work out for you.
Here are some snaps of the most recent bunch. I expect Grace will be with me for a while (the demand for adult cats is far lower than that for kittens as you can probably imagine), so you might hear snippets about her here and there later on.
Bohemia – a typical tortoiseshell; feisty but a real smooch.
CP – so, incredibly shy. He was adopted by one family, who returned him 36 hours later because he was too timid for them. He has only just gone to another lovely home – and they adore him! I think this will be the family for him :)
Grace and the babies.
Murri – a truly affectionate lad, he warmed up to me the quickest – and consequently found a home the quickest. He and his sister Bohemia were adopted together, which is neat.
Zephyr – he still has remnants of his “cat flu” here (that slightly gunky eye), but now he’s a healthy little mischievous terror (in the best possible way). He has turned out to be incredibly affectionate, which is great for his new owners.