My SymiWillA Needle in the Neck 09/02/2008, 02:34

I recently read the following in the latest Symi Vomitor after it had plopped like a journalistic turd from the unhappy Rhodian presses: “the street cats are dry, healthy and aren’t forced into scavenging food-scraps from the smelly, rotting, damp waste-skips we’ve experienced in previous wet winters!” The same words, supplied by the self-appointed ex-pat animal “welfare” group here were puked forth by one of Symi’s two resident purveyors of male rape fantasy in his “Biliary” (please click for the definition…the first seems most apt.).

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While I would really, really like to agree with them, I’m afraid that this rosy picture is just a pile of poop. The feral cats aren’t well on Symi and nor, generally, are they in any feral population anywhere in the World. They are born here in large numbers (2000 a year is a good estimate) and the vast majority (over three quarters) are dead within the first six months of their lives. Those that survive are then plagued by numerous other problems, which means their life expectancy is unlikely to be above three years. I have had 25 cats in the 2 years I have lived on Symi. All but 6 have died, and this is despite regular feeding and care. The photos I show here are of cats that have featured on SymiGreece banners and who have died violently, slowly or suddenly, painfully and unnecessarily.

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“Oh Will!” you may say, “you are just careless!” but this would be a cruel accusation to level at me. Let me tell the tale of Toula, a cat born in the summer of 2006 who gave birth to a litter of four kittens near our house last summer. They were a shy bunch, but Toula would come and be fed twice a day and even allowed us to pick her up eventually, though I never heard her purr. Toula is dead now, as are all four of her kittens. Three were killed by the same tomcat after about three months of life, and Toula and the remaining kitten were poisoned a couple of months later. This latter is an occurrence all too frequent here on Symi.

So I get angry when a picture far rosier than reality is announced and spread as though it is the unchallengeable truth. It’s time to cut the bullshit and admit that the bins have plenty of cats in them this year (I spied no less than eight at the town hall skip today). If their number is less than in recent years in certain places, this is more likely due to epidemics and poisonings than to any wonderful, magical effect of an inadequate cat care policy. Just because cats take themselves away to die unnoticed and in quiet, doesn’t mean that they can be treated as though they never existed in the first place.

If you have looked at the Symi Chat Page lately you may have read that we have lost three more cats to feline enteritis this week. The most loved was Wee J, a delightful little thing. Despite the best care we could manage, she died in our hands, desperately trying to gasp for breath at the end. She should never have been born, of course. Her sister survives her and will be taken to Rhodes in the next two months to be neutered.

I would like to see every feral cat on this island neutered. Symi can then work out how to deal with its rat population without having to pay for its control in the currency of thousands of cat lives per year. Anyone who would suggest this was fair is either woefully ignorant or even more woefully immoral. Probably both.
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If you have lost a cat to a very infectious disease you find yourself worrying constantly about the ones you have left. Feline enteritis is highly infectious and can kill within a couple of days.

You may be surprised to hear that the idea of vaccinating the cats here had never even occurred to me. It would, I thought, be too expensive, or unavailable, or necessitate a trip to Rhodes laden down with full cat baskets. The truth is entirely different. I wish I had known about it a month ago.

Yiannis at the pharmacy in Yialos has been wonderfully helpful in locating the vaccine and getting it to us promptly; in less than 24 hours, in fact. At just over five euros per cat, it’s rather good value.

The vaccine comes in two bottles. One is a liquid (containing a cat flu and feline herpes vaccine) and this is added to the freeze-dried lump in the second bottle (containing the feline enteritis vaccine).

The combination is then ready to be put inside the waiting cat.

I confess that I was an injector-virgin…well, I’d never injected anything living before (long story!) and didn’t know how to go about it.

Would I stick the needle in the right place? Would it snap off inside the cat’s scruff if the beast struggled? Would it cause a lot of pain?
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I made a ‘phone call to my sister, Lorna. She’s been injecting for years. She’s even jabbed me before! Well, she is a nurse, after all. She was my instructor; thank you Sis!

First to be jabbed was Wee J’s sister who was a bit of a guinea pig, I’m afraid. My squeamishness meant that half the vaccine ended up on her fur.

After learning from this mistake, it was easy; before I went to bed last night all our regular feline visitors had little holes in their scruffs, and hopefully a brighter future.

This morning I had one more cat to jab.

She’s a soft, gorgeous fatty with more than her fair share of neuroses. She sat on my lap and received first a cuddle, then a scratch, and finally a needle in the neck.

I have to do the whole thing all over again in four weeks time to confirm the immunity, but after that, all the victims of my needle should be OK for up to three years.
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I shall always regret that I didn’t know about this simple solution to the scourge of feline enteritis a month ago. Wee J would be out in my yard playing with her sister, if that had been the case.

If you’re a resident of Symi...or anywhere else for that matter, get your cat jabbed! If you can afford cat food, you can afford a vaccine!

It’s thundering tonight, and there’s lightning flashing across the sky. I am going to cuddle up under a blanket with my dear Mikroulis, who has such a beautiful purr, watch some telly, and ride out the storm.


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