Helping strays/needy cats The Story of Bramble


Regular readers will know that we like to keep you informed of stories and developments within the work of the branch since our last publication. All of the more active members of Canterbury Cats Protection contribute an article, and when it comes near to that time when the magazine needs to be locked off, many of us panic not knowing what to write about this time. For years now we have groaned on and on about Neutering and the fact there are too many cats and too few homes that it’s hard to find something original to say. We print photos of little kittens to give everyone something to ooh and ahh about over your morning coffee. We grin with pride telling stories of the many cats and kittens we’ve helped since our last publication.

This time, fact is it is way past the deadline for article submission and only this week has a story touched me to such a deep extent that I feel it’s vital that everyone knows his story and hopefully be sharing this story need never be repeated again.

A few months ago, a teenage friend of my youngest daughter called round at the house asking for advice. The family lives on the outskirts of my town, Sandwich, in an area largely taken over my public housing and people on low incomes or state benefits. I still maintain nowhere in East Kent can truthfully be labelled ‘rough’ but some would say the St Barts area of Sandwich is as close to the Gaza strip as Sandwich gets. The family friend said that for some time a ‘feral’ cat had been ducking and diving around the roads in her neighbourhood. No one knew anything about where this cat had come from and everyone denied responsibility for him. One of two locals were prepared to do something to help this cat but didn’t know what needed to be done.

As we don’t actually cover the Sandwich area, I gave advice about starting a feeding station. Cats are much easier to trap if a regular pattern of behaviour can be established and as 50% of a stray cat’s motivation in life is based around finding food, that’s a perfect way to get a cat in a specific spot at a specific time making the task of trapping him much easier. Believing that I could trust these people to know the difference between a wild and feral cat and a domestic cat that just didn’t like strangers picking it up (this was my first mistake!), I gave this family friend a contact list of organisations and people who could help getting this cat’s needs assessed and maybe even a farm to live on. Off the friend went, armed with more information than many people suddenly placed in this position take hours and hours of phone calls and web searches to amass, back to tell the local people whose gardens and garages this cat was trying to scratch a living from, exactly what they should do and who to ask for help. And then I heard nothing more… not until this week!

The phone rang at 7.30pm. I was told the cat had been trapped in someone’s kitchen and that its legs were broken! A feral cat with two broken legs trapped in a kitchen?? Not the kind of plea for help I am likely to delegate so I jumped in the car, armed with every bit of feral cat handling paraphernalia Cats Protection had graciously issued to me. I needn’t have bothered! What met my eyes when I arrived was the saddest, sorriest looking tabby cat I’ve laid eyes on in a long, long time. ‘Bramble’ as we called him was so painfully thin that all his bones were sticking out through his fur like razors. The reason why the family whose kitchen he was in thought his legs were broken is that his shoulder blade was sticking out. He was so weak he couldn’t support his own weight. Not due to injured limbs but more likely due to illness and starvation. He was also one of the friendliest ‘ferals’ I’ve ever seen. As soon as I bent to pick him up he started to purr. He purred and purred and purred. He knew, finally, that after months of asking for help someone had listened.

As luck always has it on these occasions, all the vet surgeries I could have taken him to had shut an hour ago. Emergency out of hours vet provision in most of our vet surgeries have taken over by a company called Vets Now and the blunt fact is that their basic consultation fee (without any treatment) is £100, which is way beyond our branch’s funds. So unless a cat is in pain or imminent risk of collapse or dying, cats have to wait until morning. 

I settled Bramble in my kitten pen as best I could and for the first time in a long time, he had food, water and a soft blanket to ease his fragile body. I sat with him while he ate a little and looked up at me and purred in contentment. It’s always a humbling experience to be the first point of contact for newly rescued animal which has so badly let down by Mankind. They are always prepared to forgive and are always grateful for help! I got very little sleep that night and kept waking to check on Bramble. He was comfortable yet something told me he was slipping away.

At 7am I made the decision that Bramble and I would just jump in the car and be waiting outside the vet surgery when they opened. Simon at Bournes took us straight in for an examination. Bramble weighed 2.3kgs, which seeing that his bone structure was fairly big, meant he was around one third his proper weight. Simon also confirmed my suspicion that Bramble was badly dehydrated and needed immediate fluids and other blood tests to see if there was any medical cause to the state he was in. Simon tried to listen to Bramble’s heart but Bramble was purring so loudly he couldn’t hear it.

For the first 24 hours, Bramble only responded slowly to the drastic and heroic efforts to safe his life. But 24 hours is 24 hours and he looked like Bramble was making a marathon effort to recover. All if us who had met Bramble were hoping against hope for a miracle. Sadly on the second day Bramble breathing collapsed and duty vet Wendy phoned me to ask permission to let him go.

“I expect you get used to this” is a line often thrown at us during times like this… well no! How can anyone with a heart get used to stories like this? Bramble had been systematically starved and dehydrated to the point that all his major organs packed up. We tried valiantly to save him but it was just too late.

So next time you see a stray cat rummaging around for scraps out of a dustbin. No, it will not be fine to leave it be and don’t listen to anyone who tells you to do nothing. Stray cats need help! If a rescue space is not immediately available they need people prepared to watch out for them while they are waiting. Merely reporting a stray to an animal welfare group is not enough. You need to follow through to make sure they get helped. The welfare team at Canterbury CP do rely on people to work with us, and that means getting involved! We cannot be everywhere at once and while we exist as a safety net for ownerless cats, that does not mean by default that all stray cats belong to us. We need support from people who find cats in trouble and we need those people to follow through to ensure the next Bramble story has a happy ending. Put food down for stray cats you come across and believe are at risk. If you can’t afford food, ask us and we will give you a supply to feed to the stray. And very importantly in this weather, access to clean water is vital not just for stray cats but also wildlife… an old pie dish placed under a bush topped up each morning will save lives. Above all, do not think it’s enough just to report a cat and walk away leaving it to its fate. In recent times the rescue workload has grown so significantly that we need your help on every case.

I’d like to thank Simon, Nurse Julie, Wendy and all those others at Bournes who fought so hard to save Bramble’s life and made his last two days on this earth at least comfortable… and of course, you our readers and supporters who work to raise fund to help the next Bramble in need – because sadly it’s only a matter of time before my phone rings again.