• Rae Gellel

Meet the Rescuers: An Interview with Anim-Mates' Primary Cat-Trapper, Bobbie

Bobbie is a testament to the impact that a single, dedicated volunteer can have on the lives of animals.

As a voluntary cat-trapper for Kent-based, no-kill animal charity Anim-Mates, she has been responsible for the trapping of countless stray and abandoned cats over the years - and by extension their rehabilitation and eventual adoption into loving homes. With a soft spot for battle-scarred toms, she also fosters some of her trap-ees from her own home, particularly those with complex health needs. We caught up with her this week.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you got into animal rescue?

I’ve always loved animals, in particular cats. When we moved from London to Kent I had more free time as I had to give up my job due to health problems. I had been thinking about volunteering for a rescue for a while, and looked up the nearest one to drop off a few items to donate. This was in March 2012 and it was Anim-Mates. I instantly fell in love with the place and the lady who ran it from her home. Initially I offered my help as a photographer as I felt the website would benefit from better photos, so for a year I was just photographing cats and the other animals at the sanctuary.

The next step was an accident. I borrowed a trap for a very aggressive neighbourhood cat; I trapped him within 10 minutes but the little Houdini managed to outsmart me, open the trap and escape! However, from that point onwards I was Anim-Mates’ main cat trapper and started TNR (trap, neuter & return) work, mostly feral colonies and feral mums with kittens. These days I no longer have the time to take photos.

What does an average day look like for you?

I feed and medicate my four cats, and however many foster cats I have at the time. Then I attend traps to see if any cats have been caught, some that may have been set in people’s gardens. Very often I’ll have a vet trip or two. As soon as I get a chance, I check emails and Facebook to reply to any messages I’ve received about cats in need. I either help directly if I can, or at least give advice and provide other contacts. On two days a week I do Yoga and Pilates, without which my body (and my mind) would struggle. Wednesdays, I’m at our sanctuary all day. Some days I literally don’t have any rest – vet trips, microchip checks, home checks and countless phone calls. Sometimes I’m still out in the middle of the night trapping.

Is there one (or more than one!) case/rescue that sticks out in your mind as particularly memorable?

Monty, the first bruiser I trapped. He was filthy, matted and limping. He had FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), fractures, flu and countless things wrong with him. It took me quite a while to trap him. That was in May 2015. I found him a wonderful, loving home and he lived happily for another 26 months until he deteriorated very suddenly within one day. Meeting Monty changed me, since then I always gave priority to cats like him. Before that I had been exclusively trapping, taming and fostering feral kittens.

(From right to left: Monty on the day he was trapped, an X-ray showing his fractures and finally - adopted into a loving new home.)

Another case is Reuben, who was taken in good faith to an emergency vet by a member of the public. He had a leg injury but eluded capture for weeks, until he was so weakened that he just gave up. Sadly the vet, and every other organisation that they contacted, were unwilling to spend any money on him. Why? He was older, black, unneutered, had shattered teeth, potentially FIV and a serious leg wound.

The vet confirmed that he would “survive, but it would cost thousands”, so it was decided to put him to sleep – the cheapest option. I called them daily and begged them to surrender him to us, to no avail. Finally, on day four, a caring vet nurse asked me to come at opening time and quickly handed him over to me. Reuben had a severe bone infection and was extremely anemic. Our wonderful vets did a fantastic job with him, and after three months Reuben was well enough to have his dental and be castrated.

He was with me for 179 days, which is a record. I had fallen in love with him and would have happily kept him, but Reuben clearly didn’t like other cats. I found him a wonderful home as an only cat with a special lady who dotes on him.

There is also Oliver, a filthy injured stray who was reported to me in March 2015. When I saw a photo of him, I was frantic with worry until we finally caught him. He was unneutered and roaming all over the place, and there was a whole army of concerned ladies looking out for him.

When we got him to the vets they suggested to put him to sleep! We felt that he deserved a chance. His eyes were bright and he clearly wanted to live.

Oliver had a broken jaw. A piece of his jaw bone was literally sticking out and there was deep seated infection in it. His lip, which has been ripped away from the jaw, has also started to turn necrotic. He spent a whole month at the vets on antibiotics for the infection to clear. We had no idea if he would make it to the point that his chin would fuse to his lower jaw again. But he did!

(From right to left - the first picture Bobbie saw of Oliver, Oliver at the vets, and Oliver recovered, in his adoptive home.)

What do you love most about your role, and why do you think it’s important?

I work on my own and am quite independent. I get to choose which cats I help and I always go for the worst cases that a lot of rescues would turn down - usually battle-scarred bruisers with injuries, broken teeth and possible FIV. They are often hard to catch as their territories are huge, and because they’ve often lived in the streets for years, they need a lot of rehabilitation in order to trust humans again. These severely neglected cats deserve a happy life just like all the others, and I find these cases the most rewarding. So many broken spirits have entered my home, shaking with fear and scared to be touched - and they all blossomed into confident, purring lap cats. Witnessing these transformations and getting sent happy-ever-after photos from their adopters makes everything I do so worthwhile.

What can the general public do to make your job easier? Both the people who contact your organisation for help, and the public in their day-to-day lives?

To start with it would be great if everyone would neuter and microchip their pets! The amount of households with cat populations spiraling out of control is staggering, and these are the worst culprits in my opinion. People need to be more responsible and only have as many pets as they can afford and then look after them for the rest of their lives. Too many get left behind when people move, and they are usually unneutered and not chipped.

What advice would you give someone who works in rescue, who’s having a rough day?

Take a deep breath and appreciate that you are doing your best. It’s impossible to save all animals. We need to focus on the happy moments, the difference we are making to each and every one of the ones we have helped: "saving just one animal won't change the world, but it surely will change the world for that one animal".

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