We've had three FAROS surgeries so far, and the dates for the fourth have almost been finalised. For the visits to work, the golden rule is that animals must be brought to the surgery by people who are prepared to take responsibility for any aftercare that is required. Christos and I do not want FAROS to be seen as just another group stealing animals off the streets without permission (too often people's pets) as this type of behaviour seems to do nothing more than alienate people. If there is going to be a lasting change to the health of Symi's animals, this will only be acheived with the active support of Symi's people. With FAROS speaking each month in the local newspaper, and reaching out to the young people of Symi with initiatives like the FAROS Symi art competition, we're hoping that permanent changes for the better are already starting; if nothing else, the presence of FAROS is a constant reminder that care of the animals of Symi is not unimportant.
I've been wanting to tell people about Thea, a Symi cat about one year old, since the second FAROS surgery in August. During the summer months, she lived at the bottom of the Kali Strata and had cat biscuit and water, but she was in a bad way. She had no teeth (possibly a congenital problem) and one eye was a mass of pus. She was covered in mites, tics and fleas, and wasn't much more than skin and bone. She was pointed out to Christos and me a week or so before the surgery by a woman who runs one of the shops at the bottom of the Kali Strata. She asked that the cat see the vets when they came. On the first day of the surgery I took a cat basket and went to find the cat. She was in her usual place outside the jewelery shop where she spent her time and I brought her up to the surgery.
The cat was cleaned up, de-flead, de-mited, de-ticked (etc.), and her eye examined. The bones around the socket had collapsed, possible the result of a blow to the head (a car, a boot, who knows?) but the eye was still there. The vets cleared away the pus, cleaned the eye, and administered eye drops and antibiotic. They said that it would be best for the cat to wear a collar to stop her scratching the eye for several days and for her to be kept indoors and for her eye to be treated with drops a couple of times each day. She also needed to be fed well, as the diet of cat biscuit she'd been surviving on had clearly not been a good one for a toothless cat.
I went back down to the shop at the bottom of the Kali Strata to talk to the woman who had asked me to take the cat to the surgery. I told her that the cat needed to be looked after for a few days, and was surprised, disappointed and embarrassed with her response - "Oh, I really can't do that, I have a cat already and she'll get upset with another in the house." "Could you not just keep her for a few days in your shower room, or in your yard?" I asked. Again, the answer was "No", followed by "Why can't you look after her yourself, Will?"
I knew that I had broken the golden rule of FAROS in taking the cat to be treated...that all animals should be brought to the surgery by somebody prepared to take responsibility for them. The FAROS vets have always insisted that aftercare is as important as initial care, and I guess it had never occured to me that I would be let down and forced to take the cat on myself. By the time I returned to the surgery, Christos had already anticipated that I'd be let-down; he is a more astute and cynical man than I. Having brought her to the surgery, the cat was now our responsibility.
We named her Thea (after the vet you can see syringing antibiotic into her mouth in the picture above) and she took up residence in our bathroom where she ate, slept, used her litter tray, and received treatment for the next week. After this time, with the collar removed, she started life with 14 cats that Christos and I feed and care for. Neither Christos nor I were happy for Thea to be returned to the bottom of the Kali Strata; in her weak state, she was likely to fare badly.
For the next month and a half, Thea kept herself to herself, sleeping most of the days under the tamarisk tree. She found it very difficult getting on with the other cats, and too often struck out at any cat or person who approached her from her blind side. We watched her getting plumper and stronger and assumed that she was a permanent fixture, but then, one day, she was gone.
Despite being fed several times a day, Thea had taken herself back down to the bottom of the Kali Strata and she's lived there since. Christos and I saw her the other day and as you can see in the picture below, she has now become quite a fatty. She is also being stalked by tomcats, so I expect she'll be having kittens in a few months.
If Thea hadn't seen the vets when she did, she would have been dead within a few days and this makes her a living example of how FAROS can make a difference.
Seeing her looking so changed and healthy, I wanted to share her story with you. I'm also hoping that people who live on Symi, like those who felt unable to bring Thea to the FAROS surgery and equally unable to care for her for a few days, may read this and feel more able to step forward and make an effort the next time they see an animal in need of help.
UPDATE: March 18th 2009
I found Thea again this evening and fed her some of my ham & cheese sandwich. She is VERY pregnant, and from the affection she showed, I'm sure she remembered me.