October 16 is National Feral Cat Day, but feral cats aren’t just limited to North America. Here a Discovery staffer shares the story of her friend’s experience helping feral cats in Kuwait. For information on how to help stray and feral cats in your area, check out our articles “Helping Abandoned, Stray Cats and Kittens” and “Feral Cat Care and TNR: A Beginner’s Guide.”
It’s 4:00 am in Kuwait, a time of day when the desert city actually feels cool. And Yoko Watanabe is already up and preparing the plates of food she is going to take to the cats she feeds around the district she lives in every morning.
“I open 80 to 100 cans of food each day,” she says. “I have a wrist inflammation from opening so many cans!”
She takes along 12 bottles of water and gets in her car by 6 am, driving to eight different locations throughout her neighborhood. When she gets to a spot, she sets down the morning’s food, then calls out to the cats: “Every one has a name,” she says. While they eat, she talks to them, pets them and checks them for any diseases, making mental notes to bring eye drops or ointment on her next visit. Once they’re done, she collects all the plates and bowls to take home for washing.
The whole process takes about two hours. After that, she starts work at her engineering consultancy business. In the evening, between 7:30 and 10 pm, she repeats the whole ritual of feeding and caring for the cats, and then goes back to her job if needed.
It’s a huge toll, physically (she gets about four hours of sleep) and financially. She estimates she spends about US $6,000 a month on cat food, litter and vet care. But in a country overrun with stray cats and few animal shelters, she feels she has little choice.
“In the beginning people were so negative,” she says of the bystanders who watched her at work. “They’d say, ‘Why don’t you help children in Africa or something?’ And the people who say this kind of thing are the ones not helping anyone.”
Now reactions have changed. “Now they say, ‘God bless you.’ In Islam, it’s good to help animals – there is a saying that killing one animal is like killing seven people.”
Nevertheless, she has had to fight off people stoning cats. “I start yelling at them,” she says. But lately she’s noticed that the animal abuse has lessened in the areas where she takes care of the cats. “They’re learning from me not to do it,” she says. “In fact, some teenage boys who used to throw stones at cats now come tell me about sick cats they’ve seen around the place.” A few people even give her food to help feed the cats.
Her one-woman operation, started simply enough in 2000, feeding one stray cat and her three kittens in her apartment garage. Soon other cats joined that first feeding spot. Today, she estimates she feeds 150 to 200 cats. A further 23 are in her home, mostly ones in need of extra care. “I always carry cat food, containers and a cage in the back of my car,” she says. “If I see a sick cat, I try to catch it and take it to the vet.”
Stray cats and dogs are a huge problem in Kuwait. Many pets are imported and then later abandoned. The two main shelters are full and animals are seldom adopted. Dog fighting is popular. Local animal activists say that Kuwaitis often perceive animals as being unclean and impure even though the Quran encourages compassion for animals, according to an article in the Kuwait Times.
Although her consultancy business has slowed and she is feeling the financial burden even more, Watanabe, who was born in Japan, feels that she cannot stop her work. “These cats need help,” she says. “Someone has to do it. Even if it’s the cat’s last day on Earth, I want her to at least have one good day. As a human, I feel I have the responsibility.”
For more information, please contact Yoko Watanabe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathryn Whitbourne is an editor at Discovery Communications. She has edited content for HowStuffWorks, TLC, Animal Planet and Discovery Fit & Health and, like her friend Yoko, is an avid cat-lover.