As Chairperson and founder of Galway Cat Rescue, Dr Claudia Frank has worked tirelessly for the past three years to help improve the plight of the thousands of feral cats that are abandoned throughout Galway City and County.
The recent fiasco at University Hospital Galway (UHG), where a pest control company was contracted to trap and put down feral cats on the hospital’s grounds in order to control a flea problem, has placed Galway’s feral cat problem into sharp focus.
A new Animal Health and Welfare Bill is currently being debated at the committee stage in the Oireachtas, but as Dr Frank points out, it does not give any more protection to feral cats than the previous bill, which contributed to the current designation of feral cats as pests.
“This designation has fostered a poisonous mentality that allowed the management of UHG to take the most extreme, cruel and ill advised step,” says Dr Frank, who believes that blaming flea bites on notoriously shy feral cats is “a totally ridiculous idea”.
Dr Frank believes there is a great deal of misunderstanding out there regarding feral cats. Rather than being wild cats, they are actually abandoned domestic cats and their offspring, and the product of “human cruelty and neglect”.
“They deserve some human compassion, but traditionally have received very little but more cruelty as they struggle daily to survive,” she says.
Dr Franks first decided to set up Galway Cat Rescue when she met her Cat Rescue co-founder Olivia O’Reilly, who had also noticed the rising numbers of feral cats in the city and its environs.
The pair began to take action to alleviate the problem and, taking inspiration from Mayo Cat Rescue, adopted the internationally recognised policy of Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR), whereby the cat is trapped, neutered, health-checked and vaccinated, before being returned to the wild or re-homed, where possible.
Realising that many people might feed feral cats but lack the resources to have them neutered and stop the problem growing, the pair established Galway Cat Rescue in August 2010 and registered the organisation as a charity a year later.
With both Claudia and Olivia holding down jobs as well as their extra-curricular charity work, it has been a huge undertaking and they can often be found crouched in alleyways or bushes trying to trap feral cats in the most inhospitable weather.
“I like doing it, to be honest; I really enjoy that part! The impact is so big. If you think about it, if you’re out there and you trap a female cat and you get her spayed, she doesn’t have that next set of five kittens and another litter; you prevent so much misery.”
Despite this, she says, it can be a harrowing experience when she comes across a cat whose suffering is too great and cannot be saved. “Sometimes it’s almost too much emotionally.”
Of course, the problem is exacerbated by owners of domestic cats not neutering their pets and Claudia is emphatic that the solution to the problem starts at home with the neutering of pets.
The workload can be overwhelming, says Claudia, but she and Olivia simply concentrate on the positive impact on their work rather than fixating on what they cannot do.
The majority of the TNR work is done by Claudia and Olivia, although they do have volunteers that will foster cats until they are adopted and others who will help with fundraising.
Fundraising is a “big challenge” for Galway Cat Rescue; veterinary bills are a huge overhead, despite the special charity rates offered by many Galway vets.
To this end, the charity is constantly looking for fundraisers and for donations, while volunteers for TNR and foster care are always welcome. Adopters are similarly welcome and the charity has a near constant stream of cute moggies awaiting a loving home. These cats are either kittens or cats that have been tamed by a foster-carer.
For now, Galway Cat Rescue will continue to use their limited resources to help as many cats as possible, and continue to pursue their non-lethal TNR programme. It is, says Claudia, the only effective way to deal with the problem, as well as being infinitely more humane.
“If you wipe out a feral cat colony, as University Hospital Galway did recently, a new colony moves in to take its place. The killing of feral cats as pests is an immoral situation and serves no positive purpose.”
Newsworthiness: The recent controversy surrounding the trapping and extermination of feral cats on the grounds of University Hospital Galway has highlighted the extent of the feral cat problem in Galway, which Galway Cat Rescue is working to alleviate.