For the Love of Cats - One Woman's Journey to Becoming a Hero for Cats
I grew up with cats as family pets and many family members had cats too and to me they were always beautiful animals. I just always felt a bond with cats and no matter where I went a cat would always find me for a fuss and for as long as I can remember I have loved cats. One of best friends was a vet nurse and during our teenage years we would go out and she would often be on call and sometimes had to dart off because there had been an emergency. When we next saw each other she would fill me in with what had happened and I would hear about some pretty horrific injuries and fatalities – many of which were cats that had been injured on our roads. Sometimes I would go to the practice with her especially if she was just having to go to let someone in or help with on call stuff and often I would see devastated owners. In fact one of her cats was knocked over and sustained a really bad leg injury. Major surgery and pinning of his leg was needed and thankfully the operation was a success. Again, it was another thing just highlighting how dangerous our roads are to cats even quiet cul-de-sacs.
When my husband and I got married in 1996 we couldn’t wait to own our own cats and in the first few months of our married life we adopted 2 cats from a rescue and then 6 months later another 2 found their way into our hearts and home from my friend’s vet practice. All kittens who grew up to be wonderful cats. Where we lived was quiet, away from main roads, a small quiet cul-de-sac and we were happy to let our cats out to have fun and enjoy all the cat things that cats love to do. In all fairness though, they were only ever out when we were at home but they loved being around us and never ventured too far. To us we grew up with cats that went outside so we had no reason not to let ours out especially as we knew we lived somewhere quiet. Little did I know that as the years went by our opinion on this would change.
In 2001, after a career change and moving into the finance industry, I found myself heading to work one morning and started to get caught up in the morning rush hour and was on a road that people were renowned for speeding on. The traffic was very slow and then moving out onto the opposite side and there was a lot of cars tooting and it all seemed a bit odd. What happened next was a moment that changed my life forever and changed my opinions on outdoor cats and the idiots on our roads today. The reason the traffic was going so slowly was because the horrible person ahead in the big 4x4 had hit a cat, drove round it and sped off leaving it in the road. Other car users were just driving around it to avoid it and as my car became the next one to face it I froze. I had never seen anything like it. People, us humans – supposed animal lovers, just staring at this cat as it tried to drag itself across the road whilst they tried to drive around blocking the road. I remember feeling sick and even through my windscreen I could see the blood. I don’t know what happened but I just stopped my car and positioned it so that no one could overtake me or hurt me as I got out. I remember the tooting of horns and people with windows down shouting at me and I just burst into tears. I was shaking and felt sick and all I knew was that what was happening was so wrong. The realisation a driver had hit a cat, knew they had hit it and drove off and not one person stopped to help but me. Was I in the wrong? Is this not what you are supposed to do? All these angry people around me shouting and swearing and then out of nowhere I just screamed, “Oh my God this is someone’s pet! How the hell can you all just ignore it?”
I had nothing on me, nothing. I wasn’t prepared for this but I knew our vets were just round the corner. I also checked the time and knew I would be late for work but I didn’t care because this cat was my priority – something happened that morning and nothing else mattered but that cat. I tried to remember all the things my vet friend had mentioned to me over the years so knew that I had to move this cat, a boy – I sensed it was a boy, just move him to safety because I need to be careful I don’t injure him more. He tried lashing out at me and did catch me but I knew it was because he was in pain and was scared. I could hardly see through the tears as I lifted him up trying to support him the best I could. Thankfully there was a huge grass verge and a dip that I knew I could place him in for safety as all I could think was to get help from our vets but back then not many people had mobile phones. I had to make the decision to leave him and race to our vets and get them to come and help him. I was scared of getting hurt and injured by him further plus if he started to throw himself about in my car whilst I was driving that could be dangerous too. I remember thinking at that moment why I didn’t carry things in my car that could have helped him as all I had was my spare tyre, coat and handbag!!!!! I knew he was safe where I had left him and my friend had always said if I can’t help then go and get help so that was what I did. The vet nurses at our practice raced out to go and get him. The reception staff ensured I was ok and got me a drink and cleaned up the deep scratches I had and ensured I was ok to carry on driving to work. This beautiful boy had a collar on, his name was Aramis and he was known to our vets as had tragically been knocked over in more or less the same place a couple of years earlier. As I headed out the door to carry on to work they were desperately trying to reach his owner. I arrived at work and was told off for being so late and when I explained why I was late I was expecting some sympathy like “oh no, how awful, is the cat ok?” but no nothing just a, “Well, please don’t do it again. It’s just a cat!”
I spent all day thinking about Aramis and ringing the vets for updates to see if they had got hold of his owners but nothing so all they could do was keep him comfortable and assess him because they needed owners consent to proceed further. It was like a movie playing in my head of how cold and callous the person was that hit him and drove off knowing what they had done and the unfeeling drivers too busy rushing to work and trying to navigate around his body so they could carry on their journey just ogling out their windows at him. Also the abuse I took as I went to help him. This was someone’s furry family member, this could have been one of our cats and would no one have stopped to help??? It literally knocked me sick to the point I had to excuse myself and go and have a moment. I went out at lunch time and nought a card for the owners to leave at the vets as I wanted to tell them what had happened and that I stopped because I cared when all those other people didn’t and that I hoped and prayed he would be ok. I stopped at the vets on the way home to see how he was and leave the card and they told me his owners were on their way and that they had given consent to do what was needed to help him. As I was leaving a woman was rushing across the car park and she saw me crying and I held the surgery door open for her and we just looked at each other and she said “did you save my boy? Did you bring him in this morning?” – Somehow we knew it was each other and she grabbed me and hugged me, thanked me so much and then raced in. I felt happy she knew I had cared and that her boy was important to me and I wasn’t going to drive past. A few weeks later I called into our vets and a card and some chocolates had been left for me off Aramis to say thank you which made me giggle but also I felt relieved I had stopped to help and that it did matter to his family but at the same time it frightened and hurt me that so many other people could have just stopped and did what I did but they didn’t. Aramis survived and recovered from his nasty head injury. He was a very lucky boy. Not long after that experience we were about to move house and where we were moving to was a bit more built up with some busier roads not too far from where we were going to be and we took the decision that because the house was big enough we would have a cat room for our cats and would keep them indoors as I was afraid of them going missing after the move or if they got hit venturing towards the roads. What I witnessed that day all those years ago with Aramis and the feelings I experienced as reality hit me of the cold acts of heartless humans just driving by staring at him have never completely left me and are probably now one of the reasons why I do what I do for cats in our community. Digging deep to write this piece for CatsMatter and having to go back to this was hard and did make me cry as I started to let it out and actually write it down. Aramis was just the beginning; little did I know what lay ahead.
As the years went by we added more cats to our feline family and sadly had to let some pass over to Rainbow Bridge when they were elderly and poorly. Perhaps not having children has meant all the maternal instincts and the love I have inside me was just automatically given to my cats I don’t know. We never said never to having kids, but we just prefer cats!!!!! Our cats are family and I was starting to discover that many other owners felt this way too. We got to meet people over the years that became good friends and they too had cats and they had also chosen the indoor lifestyle for them too for similar reasons we did with ours. I became known as the “crazy cat lady” in work as some people did find it odd when we had 6 cats!
Whenever we went away on holiday, my Dad would visit ours and look after our cats and Mum would come and help and make a brew and play with our cats too. Sadly in November 2009 my world was ripped apart as my Dad took ill and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was given a matter of weeks to live. To cut a very long story short, my Dad became my priority and with the help of our local hospice, great Drs and our love and strength he made 5 of the 6 rounds of chemo and fought it for 11 months. My Dad got his angel wings in October 2010 and on the last day we were all together as a family his cats never left his side and sweet Molly stayed at his side when he died. Our cats are precious, they know and sense things and the relationships people have with them is very special indeed. During the last year Dad was here he taught me a lot about what is important in life and we, as a family, appreciated all the little things people would do for Dad and for us at a very difficult time. When someone gives you their time and helps you it truly is priceless and means so much and when you are about to lose someone like a parent, to such a horrible disease, it does make you stop and focus on what is important.
I will freely admit when Dad died I struggled, but had to be strong for Mum. I couldn’t cope with work. Hitting sales targets in a bank were truly no longer a priority. It all seemed quite pointless to be honest as consumers were getting savvy anyway and not trusting banks any more, and rightly so. I didn’t feel that what I did was a good service to people any more. Those days were long gone and it was all about hitting targets so I left work to be with and to help Mum. Although the scariest thing to do, it actually was the best thing.
A good amount of time passed and I was feeling bored and felt ready to go back to work. I had already decided I didn’t want to go back into the finance world. I thought about going back to Beauty Therapy which was my first career for 9 years but the boat had long sailed on that………. It was time for me to do something I am passionate about …and my passion is CATS! When we went away it was now my Mum who would look after our cats and that got me thinking as to what other people do because not everyone has family or friends to ask so I started to do some research into pet sitting and I went and spoke to our vets and they said that if anyone could do it, it is me and that if I set it up properly they would support me. Being a pet sitter that would specialise in cats means I would be doing something for people that they do genuinely need and as cats get stressed being away from home or some simply can’t go into catteries this is an ideal solution. So with my brain buzzing I went to bed one night and woke up with all these ideas early the next morning and “Chapelford Petsitting Services” was born. Living and working in our local area is fabulous but the area is huge. A new development built on what was the old Burtonwood Airbase many years ago. When we moved into the area in 2003 there wasn’t much here and over the years it grew and got busier and I was being kept busy with lunchtime dog walks and cat visits throughout the day.
The direction has definitely leaned more towards cats and therefore allowed me to indulge in my passion and learn more about them for my job. I was reading a lot more about them. I became qualified in emergency pet first aid after doing a course run by a college which trains vet nurses and for my job my car has everything needed for an emergency in the boot. As our community grew so did the number of missing cats and this was upsetting and as social media was becoming a huge platform to help with these issues I set up a local community cat group on Facebook and it was a place where people could post if their cats went missing. Many of my clients joined and the word started to spread. I would give hints and tips on what to do if a cat was missing to support the owner the best I could. We organised search parties to help look for cats and were really successful in reuniting missing cats and their owners. We became a social group meeting for drinks at the local pub and for a couple of years did fundraising for a local charity by producing the “Chapelford Cat Calendar” – a calendar full of local cats and the best pictures voted for by group members for the calendar. We also raised money to look after the stray cat at our local pub and provided him with an outdoor shelter, food, anti-flea and anti-worming treatments and he was cared for by the pub cleaner who joined the cat group and also within the last year she found him a forever home with a lovely elderly couple so he can see out his retirement in comfort. I truly enjoy running our local cat group and giving time to help people because your time is precious and when you give it, it really does mean a lot to people as I had learned from what we went through with Dad. Sadly not long after losing Dad I lost my best friend in a fur coat, Jefferson. My hand reared boy who had been at my side since we adopted him in 1997 threw a blood clot on me after being poorly and he was put to sleep in my arms at home. This really did set me back and stirred up a lot of emotions and I struggled. Thank goodness for a friend recommending the blue cross bereavement society services to me. I rung them one night feeling really low, missing Jefferson and not understanding why I felt as bad as I did because people kept telling me he was just a cat but the pain of his loss was as real and as painful as when I lost my Dad – surely this isn’t right??? What is wrong with me?” After an hour on the phone talking to the most wonderful counsellor I understood that my pain for losing Jefferson was allowed and was normal. I had learned a lot that night about me and how I felt about cats. I have done other courses to help with my pet sitting but felt I needed to learn more about pet bereavement so did some studying on it with the blue cross and it has proved so helpful in supporting my clients, our cat group members and other cat owners in our community. If anything cat related appeared on our local community Facebook group I would always get tagged for advice and help and soon got the nickname “the crazy cat lady of Chapelford!!!” – It does make me giggle.
Then it happened, a few years ago a post appeared asking for help. A cat had been hit and killed on our local road. Someone had stopped and moved the body to the side of the road after the driver of the car drove off and then not knowing what to do they posted for help. It was approaching early morning rush hour and I was heading out on visits so quickly responded to get full location details and assured them I was on my way to help. I drove round, parked up safely and took a towel out of my car, put on my disposable gloves and as I walked over I could see the extent of the injuries. I filled up and started to cry and struggled to see what I was doing. This was awful and that funny moment you get before you faint happened. I had to somehow pull myself together to do this. I found myself instinctively talking to the cat and telling it that all would be ok now and said that “I am taking you to the vets for safe keeping so we can find your family.” There is always a chance the cat isn’t microchipped so in those moments when I approach I have to make a mental note of exact colouring, any distinct markings, fur and coat type and try and assess age if I can see the teeth because if the cat isn’t microchipped I know I could write something for our cat group members to share and for the members of other local community groups to share too. My plan was to take this cat to our lovely vets who I knew would help and thankfully this cat had a microchip and owners were notified. Our vets always gave my details to the owners because owners have questions and naturally some want to speak to anyone who had any involvement in this heart-breaking situation and the usual response is “we never knew they wandered that far” when they learn of the location where the cat was found. These owners did exactly that, we spoke for ages on the phone and they were devastated. Owners always thank me but then come the tears and the reality of what has happened and it isn’t easy when you are talking to a distressed owner who hasn’t had the chance to say goodbye and give their cat a snuggle and a fuss. They feel guilty because they don’t recall the cat being around before they left for work as they were busy and running late etc. etc. – all the usual things of everyday life and then it is halted with the news of the death of their beloved cat and the guilt sinks in. They worry about how they will tell their children, they then ask about what they should do with the body – cremation or burial and ask me if they should go and see the cat. Fighting back the tears I kind of go onto an auto pilot mode and remain calm and just listen. I answer questions the best I can and because of the training I have done I reassure them that they are allowed to feel sad and to acknowledge what has happened. In most cases it is such a shock and as humans our bodies and brains need time to adjust to that shock. It is a death, it is a bereavement and it is a massive loss. The reality is also that someone killed their cat and drove off. Could their cat have been saved if the driver had stopped? Why didn’t they stop? All these are common questions and sadly ones I can’t answer but going to back to my first experience of Aramis being hit all those years ago I can see that not a lot has changed because people still hit cats and drive off and other motorists don’t always stop to help.
I posted about what had happened on our cat group and got lovely support off people but then some people posted about their experience when their cat was killed and how grateful they were to me for going out to this cat and collecting the body because our local council were still collecting cats bodies and not checking them for chips. I was furious; I did know that this had been a problem over the years as my friends Mum had a terrible experience with the council after one of her cats went missing. The RSPCA and the CPL advised them to check the council but my friend said there is no need as her Mum’s cat is chipped so they would get a call but they were told this doesn’t happen. My friend knew her Mum’s cat would be there so went into work and took the chip scanner from the vets practice and went to find her Mum’s cat at the council storage facility and she was there along with so many other cats and over 50% of them were chipped and owners hadn’t been notified. We sent letters and bombarded the council with calls and the excuse was a financial one as they couldn’t justify buying a scanner and the costs of the manpower to do this let alone the manpower to deal with bereaved owners that want to come and get their cat. I was disgusted and continued to send letters to push for change but nothing. So once I was tagged in the first post about a cat killed on our local road this was another reason why I raced out to go and get it – our council don’t check for chips!!!
As the housing developments grew around us and the roads got busier and busier sadly more and more posts appeared about dead cats on the road. I tried to get to every one I could no matter what time of the day or night, sometimes throwing a big winter coat over my pyjamas and my husband driving me to help find the body. As the months went on there were also other people in our community from other local charities and if they saw a post they too would go out and collect the body and take it for safety at the vets. Between March and September of 2015 I collected over 30 bodies off our local roads, that is a lot of deaths and really saddens me and highlights how bad the problem is.
My passion for cats continued and I studied with International Cat Care and got a qualification in Cat Health and Welfare, one of the best things I have done as learning more and more about cats makes me truly happy and enables me to help owners and grow great relationships. It gave me knowledge in many areas and also covered accidents and traumas as well as our relationships with cats. I have a great relationship with our vets and I know they will always help me and at times there were weeks when I felt like they were my second home because of the amount of bodies I was taking in to them. The majority of the cats are microchipped but for those that aren’t chipped I have all the details and then post about it everywhere I can, get our cat group members to share and I am proud to say we eventually find the owners in most cases. When I speak to an owner I will always talk about their cat, find out the name and a bit about the character because it is the only way sometimes that I can erase the image from my mind of their beloved cat lying there with horrific injuries. This sounds awful and was one of the hardest things I have ever done but my husband and I went out one night with a spade as it was the only thing we had to literally scrape a body up off the road!!!! This poor cat had been hit and killed and then left for other vehicles to drive over. That was the worst one ever and was also one where the owner really wanted to go and see her and say goodbye but I had to be firm and advise against it. These drivers that hit our cats have no idea of the distress and upset caused not only to the owner and the entire family but to everyone involved from people who find the body, go to rescue the body and the vets themselves. If I stopped and processed it all at the time I don’t think I could deal with it but because I distract myself and talk to the cat, stroke it and reassure it that it will be safe I can get through and then once at the vets or back home I go to pieces. I have learned how to deal with this but every one is different. Ones that happen late at night or over weekends I always take to our emergency out of hours vets too. I have now truly lost count of the number I have collected and the heart-breaking thing is that the first cat, all those years ago, precious boy Aramis, he is the only one that survived and lived a good life afterwards because I responded at the time and got him the vet help he needed. I know of one other cat hit not too far from us and children on their way to high school witnessed it and got the cat to our local vets round the corner but sadly despite fighting to survive, a couple of days later he deteriorated and his owners had to have him put to sleep. They were clients of mine, members of our cat group and had become lovely friends too – they went through hell. Family and friends often ask why I do it and to be honest it is just something that is inside me to do it. If I know a cat is lay out there all alone I have to go and retrieve it. That cat is someone’s furry family member and will be missed. It is the only thing I can do to help someone and to ensure they have closure and giving my time to do this is just important to me. It’s like the little things people did for us and for Dad when Dad was ill remember that meant so much to us and it is nice I can give something back to this world to help others and help get them through a heart-breaking time because I simply care and love cats. Cats matter to me, every one out there. I love cats, it really is that simple. Every time I get home from dealing with a death on our roads I hug all our kitties a little bit harder and for longer and say “this is why you are all house kitties.”
The one issue that never went away and was a huge reason why I race out was because of our council not checking for chips and last year my lovely vet friend, the same one who had been lied to by the council all those years ago over her Mum’s cat, sadly found herself a victim of their lies again but this time with her own cat. Kiwi had gone missing and sadly someone found him and he was with the council. I told her to ring and check but she presumed they were doing it correctly and if the council had him she would get a call. I sadly had to tell her that things hadn’t changed despite what they were saying and she must ring. They had a cat of his description but it wasn’t chipped so can’t be him. It was too coincidental and she knew this was her boy. They were rude and insisted it had been checked but she wanted them to check again and it was only when she threatened to go down and do it herself they agreed to do it the next morning and sure enough a chip was found and it was Kiwi.
It was like a red rag to a bull for me. I was livid with the council and was devastated my friend had been lied to again. Enough was enough. So I totally threw myself into it and rung the council spoke to everyone I could reach, logged lots of complaints and I then rung the local paper and I also contacted our local councillor who just happened to be a lovely cat owning lady herself who was disgusted that this happens and she would step in to help me. Within 48 hours I received a call from the head of that part of the council and she too, an animal lover, was horrified to learn that the procedures in place clearly aren’t being followed. I stressed I had been fighting this for a very long time and it always came down to money. I told her this issue won’t be going away because telling lies to owners is not acceptable and I am in a position now to use the methods of social media and various contacts I have made over the years and use them to the best of my ability to highlight their failings if they don’t do something about it. I was assured a full investigation into their processes would be done. I even had solutions on hand if they needed help from people giving their time to check bodies and my friend was also willing to go down and train all the staff on how to check for a chip properly. I wanted to ensure that if on first check no chip is found I want a second check done and everything must be recorded. I waited a few weeks and received updates from this manager to confirm that investigations were taking place and then a few weeks afterwards in November of last year I got the email to confirm where the failings were and what they will do now moving forward to ensure every body found is checked for a chip. I was so relieved and happy, shed a few tears and then rung the local paper to update them and they ran a story about the good news too. I posted on all the local pet pages to get the word out that our council now check for chips and this gives owners confidence now in a system that should have been working all along but sadly wasn’t. I now actually don’t feel so bad if I can’t get to every one killed on our road because I have the reassurance the council will do their job properly but I still go to as many as I can if I can because I want to, it is just something I want to do to help the cat and their family. Somebody asked me if I get anything out of it – the real answer is no not really but I just feel better knowing I have given a family closure and have taken that body for safe keeping and told it I would. It is not pleasurable seeing the injuries I have over the years but I have learned and trained myself to look past them. It is not easy being the one to make the call to the owner if there is a phone number on a collar or to take a call from an owner to tell them the bad news or discuss what happened and hearing how heartbroken they are but I do it because I care and I want to help and just always know how I would feel if our cats were outdoor cats and this happened to one of them. I am grateful that in the community where I live there are other people too that care and will go out and retrieve bodies from other areas further afield and also go to local ones if I can’t go. It is simply about caring, giving some of my time to help others and because I love cats and because cats matter!