He’s little more than eight weeks old, but Salem, the little black tom with the white bib and socks, has already used up two or three of his nine lives.
Salem hung with a colony of “true strays” or “wilds”.
When rescued, was riddled with ringworm. He had his own ‘witch trial’ and the verdict wasn’t good. The cost of returning him to good health was a prohibitive, and at one stage the Wild Whiskers cat rescue team debated whether Salem should be put to sleep.
It was a close call.
Alaska is a beautiful young lady - a little grey tabby. If she hadn’t been rounded up in another Wild Whiskers swoop on feral cats, she too could have become a mangy, disease-ridden fur ball. She probably would have died young.
“Cats can get an AIDS-like syndrome FIV – feline immunodeficiency,” says Wild Whiskers warrior Nicola Hayward. “They’re not protected from disease and their deaths are horrible – long, slow, miserable deaths.”
But like most cats, Salem and Alaska have landed on their feet. Salem is out of quarantine and both have been vaccinated, de-sexed, wormed and vet treated. They’re also flea-free, and have been to finishing school – or foster homes – where they undergo personality transplants and transform from hissing, spitting and scratching ferals or true wilds, to loveable domesticated cats.
Their futures are now secure – warm beds, food on demand, play, pampering, lots of scratching, patting and smooching. They are ready to be adopted out, and have moved on from simply surviving to the real world of indulged cats.
And that, says Nicola, is why Wild Whiskers does what it does.
“We rescue these kittens under eight when they are still young enough to be tamed,” she says. “We rescue them so they can have a lovely home and a good life.
“Every living soul has feelings, and if I can do my part - a little bit to alleviate suffering - then that’s my calling.”
That’s why Nicola and the rest of the small but committed Wild Whiskers crew are looking for others to do “a little bit” for true wilds. They need volunteers to help with the growing workload.
“We need people to assist with trapping feral cats, fundraising, liaising with fosters, collecting gear, sourcing donations and helping with administration and marketing,” says Nicola. “As little or as much as people can give of their time and effort would be appreciated.”
Some 59 kittens have been through the care of Wild Whiskers since last May, each demanding time, patience and care. They’ll be de-sexed at a cost of between $100 and $130 per cat, as well as all other treatment costs.
Another 11 adult females and 14 adult males were trapped, neutered and returned. They’re too old and set in their ways to be domesticated, but at least Wild Whiskers can stop the reproductive cycle and keep the numbers in check.
But it’s just a band of three doing all the work, and they need help.
Wild Whiskers is also in the process of registering as a charitable trust. It has a board and a trust deed set up, and when registered, they can apply to become a registered charity, which will make it easier for people to donate.
It means they can also apply for funding because, at the moment, Wild Whiskers operates on market stall returns, raffles and donations.
There’s one significant benefactor –an anonymous woman and cat lover who pays for most of the true wilds to be desexed. To date she’s given about $6,000 for the welfare of the cats, but there are increasing numbers of cats being trapped and a greater call on resources, time and effort.
The story of Mason might just inspire some empathy.
Mason was a dying feral cat when trapped two years ago. A few months later, Mason discovered a new purpose in life – being a grandpa to rescue kittens, shaping young minds, teaching kitty manners, demonstrating hunting prowess and dealing with furry four-legged impudence.
Mason has now outlived his initial prognosis by nearly two years.
According to a post on the Wild Whiskers’ Facebook page: “Each one of those days has been filled with joy, comfort and love... on Mason’s terms. And this lost cause and worthless old feral cat has enriched our lives in ways we could never have imagined.” The video is a genuine tear jerker for cat lovers.
For more information, visit: www.wildwhiskerstauranga.co.nz/volunteer