My love of cats started at a very early age no doubt thanks to my father Bert who loved cats and made a point of trapping, de-sexing and caring for the strays that would come around our printing factories in New Lynn. When we sold out years later, it was very important that we found good homes for all of them since the new owners didn’t want to be bothered with them!
I took Betty Boop, a little old torty girl whose tail had to be amputated, to live with me at “The Pines” a rather exclusive apartment complex in Epsom.
Of course as children both my brother and I, as well as dad were always picking up stray cats from all manner of situations.. . .
But it wasn’t until around 20 years ago when I moved to Parnell that I became actively involved with caring for stray colony cats. I answered an advertisement in the local courier regarding volunteers for the Rose Garden Colony. Well that was it! I immediately in love with these gorgeous cats who were predominantly very friendly to their carers and I quickly became very involved as did my dad who built little houses for them. I gained permission from the Auckland Council to construct an unobtrusive enclosure which was well disguised from the general public and fed every Tuesday as well as being engaged in all sorts of other activities regarding the cats. They all had names and there were a couple that were firm favourites such as Dancer (who eventually after a tumour operation came to live with us at home) and Fluffy Tom who was King of The Parnell Pussies!
All of these cats were of course de-sexed by us and if not able to be homed , then returned to the colony and cared for. This is termed TNR which stands for Trap Neuter and Return [LINK]– its important that it is understood RETURN and not release. So if healthy, the cats are put back to where they were living happily, cared for by volunteers on a daily basis and will NOT BREED. This is the ONLY world wide accepted method of humanely reducing the stray cat population and is a policy followed in many countries such as the USA, Russia and Chile – not forgetting of course the famous Cats of Rome.
Over the years, I became extremely attached to these lovely cats and worried about the older ones when the bad weather came and it was cold and stormy over winter and I always dreamt of having a sanctuary for elderly stray cats who needed love and care .
Then 8 years ago, my mother passed away and I decided to buy a property in a rural area and there was my chance!
So I started off with the huge help of a vet friend, to build a small enclosure with its own total span intended to house around 12 cats in luxury. The garden was lovely, beautiful grass in front of a small terrace , hanging baskets and its own Champagne Jacquart branded umbrella , table and chairs.
Just idyllic! De-sexing and other operations were done on the kitchen bench!
And I named it “The Pussy Palace for Pensioners” – Pensioner Pussies that is.
After that whenever any of my lovely cats from the “Parnell Pussies” got a bit frail, I caught it and took it out there where they settled in pretty quickly.
Starting with Balthazar who, 8 years later is still living here – King of the Pussy Palace. Now around 17 he is getting quite frail with suspected lymphoma but still very happy and loved by all.
Then came shortly after, his brother Nero, who had a head permanently tilted to one side, wobbled when he walked and stone deaf!
And of course, we couldn’t leave behind dear little Whiskey( dubbed the “carer kitty” because he took such great care of his friends when they became unwell) , their much loved friend and third member of “The Three Musketeers”, then came “Nudger” named after his habit of nudging his head against us while feeding. . . . and on it went!
Over the last 8 years the “Pussy Palace“ has gained Charitable status and is now known as “The NZ Cat Foundation” with myself as Founder and Chairperson and Lawyer Alex Witten-Hannah as my fellow Trustee.
During this period I was one of “The Real Housewives of Auckland”, a reality television show.
The main reason I wanted to be on the show was the increase in personal profile which would give me the opportunity to have a “voice” for the cats, particularly stray cats and to encourage support for our work at The NZ Cat Foundation through volunteers, financial support and donation of food and other necessities.
The RHOAKL series certainly had that effect in some respects, with a lot more volunteers, a strong voice for the cats, particularly dealing with Councils but sadly not too much in the way of financial support. Coupled with that we have had an enormous number of people asking us to take on stray cats as well as domestic cats fallen on hard times.
Over the years the sanctuary has grown to around 8000 square feet, encompassing quite a few rows of olive trees, calls for help are daily occurrences and we are now taking care of around 350 cats on a daily basis. Many of these (around 150) are in the sanctuary, others (usually kittens) are with fosters, and the others are cared for on the street in colonies after de-sexing, vaccinating and returning to where they were picked up.
Happily over recent times we have become well-known as an adoption destination and we are having a great success rate but at any one time we will have around 150 in the sanctuary who will live out their lives in luxury, cared for as well if not better than most domestic cats. We do not put cats down because they need their teeth removed or an eye removed or such like. As long as they can enjoy a good quality of life we look after them as if they were our personal cats.
We have some wonderful dedicated volunteers who are putting their heart and soul into the sanctuary BUT WE ALWAYS NEED MORE!
And if we are to continue to Help the Helpless we need HELP ourselves in the way of donations, sponsorship to pay the ever increasing bills which are amounting to around $15,000 per month and climbing.