#25 ~ crazy cat lady?
For those of us who love the animals, there almost is nothing more heartbreaking than the plight of the forgotten ones; horses left standing in a field with no forage and no water to be found; A dog living at the end of a chain, ignored, underfed, given no comfort or attention. Shut down. Not much ‘living’ there, more like existing; Any animal whose most common interaction with Human is a violent act, newborn kits and pups thrown into the bins like trash, or left in a box on the side of a road…
Of course, while the trials of our world are roiling around us there is great sadness in my heart for those who are being subjugated to the whims of the warmongering few. I get criticized for focusing so much on the problems the animals face, but I will leave the problems of the (adult) humans to others, now. Caring for the furred and hoofed, these voiceless ones, is where I find my sense of purpose.
My Paul once wrote, in our song ‘To Let The Light In’…
“Everything you can beg, steal or borrow
you leave out on the steps for free
‘Cause all the wild things, the lost and abandoned ones
are really more your family tree.”
That says it all, in my case. They are more my family tree.
I’ve written a lot about the dogs here on the blog. Djuna, Lovie, Artie. Margarita, of course was the dog who kindled my awakening to the strays of the island of Skiathos and the streets of Greece and whose story I shadowed in All The Little Graces. I’ve mentioned the Skiathos Dog Shelter, the wondrous place that has done and still does remarkable work caring for, doctoring and re-homing the cast off dogs of the island.
But then, there are the cats.
One of the things I do, when I am taking my month off to steep in creative juices in Greece, is tend to all of the street cats I find along my path. I’ve done this for years and have made several long-standing friendships with many of those who have been able to survive from year to year. Eventually they disappear, but what keeps me on point is knowing that the meds I can dispense for tapeworm, fleas and flea eggs, internal parasites and ear mites––and the food and love I offer them––will make their time on earth that much better. I can only hope the strength they can grow in that month helps them better make it through the winter.
Some people love to tell me it is cruel to feed them, that I just make them dependent upon me. My first response to that is this – How In The World Can You Turn A Blind Eye To a Living Being In Trouble In Front Of Your Eyes????
They have survived the streets of the island and will continue to, however they must, until they just can’t. But if I can help them survive with better health and a better quality of life, if I can help them be free of disease, if I can help them know a kind touch, how could I NOT reach out to care for them?
Why would one not want to help another living being at least find some caring and nurturance in the moment?
I’ve known some of these cats for years. They recognize me the moment I step foot on-island, usually signaled by a jangle of my bracelets or my voice, though this year, Manaki, a harbor cat would come running from 5 cafes down the harbor, yelling all the way when she simply caught a glimpse of me! I’d learned to put my bracelets away while having my morning coffee so as to not bother my café with the clowder of cats that would otherwise come to me, but that didn’t deter Manaki. For 3 years, Ourania has met me in our secret place each morning for her breakfast, and escorts me home along the back alleys at the end of my night. They all come purring, rubbing, some letting me hold and cry over them … there are always newcomers, a few I will recognize when I am next there, and at some point in my month (and sometimes a few weeks in winter) I am able to medicate them all, tend to wounds and fatten them a bit.
Minou, Ghataki mou and Meow Meow were my first Greekies. They showed me how forgiving and loving the strays could be despite the uncharitable behaviors humankind had thrown at them. Over a few years’ time, they withered up and disappeared. I was heartbroken. Then came Psipsina, Ouranos (an amazing cat we found on one empty beach one day, and on another more remote beach, some ways away, the next!), Mana, Stretch, Oneira, Rothakino, Portokali, Mavro, Squeak, Matia mou, Psari, Manaki mou and so many others I never knew well enough to name. All individuals, all huge personalities. All sentient beings. And these are just the cats I’ve grown to know on my short walk to and from the village. I do what I can for them and obviously there are others who step in to help through the long season or they wouldn’t fare so well. There are other neighborhoods filled with cats who have kindly folks caring for them the best they can. And there are the fortunate ones who are looked after by some kind soul through long and sometimes brutal winters; some are fed by old widows on the back streets, some by George, a complicated man with a gruff exterior who owns a harbor grill taverna who has a heart with much room for caring for the cats; and some are cared for in the harbor by the fishermen…
Sterilization and medical care is now much more readily available to all––thanks to two lovely young vets working on the island, and to the angels of the Skiathos Cat Welfare Association who, with the help of volunteers, gather up what unsterilized street cats they can and gets them neutered and vaccinated, and their injuries and illnesses treated so they can go on to live less miserable lives––sadly, many locals, ex-pats and Greek alike, have yet to embrace their grave importance.
Beyond that goodness, there is the rest of the island with its many places filled with the cats that Greece would be very embarrassed to feature on those gorgeous, misleading calendars, ‘The Cats Of Greece’.
But I have to tell you about Koukla.
I first met Koukla when she followed a tiny, 5 week old kitten out of the thick bushes next to my pension. Some despicable idiot had tossed the wee kitten into the thicket, right under my window, and it mewed constantly, mournfully, day and night for 2 days, stuck so deep in the bushes that I couldn’t reach it. I actually had to sleep with earplugs to quiet its calls and hope to quiet my own heart’s fury. I am sure that if I ever catch people doing the horrible things they do to the animals, I will end up in jail.
On the 3rd evening, the tiny thing finally emerged, followed by a beautiful, young calico cat. Stepping carefully through unfinished rooms and the debris of the construction site next door, and finally over rickety scaffolding, the only passage from the building to the grounds below, I was able to capture the hungry kitten, and as I held it to my chest, its little calico guardian wove through my legs, purring madly. Even after I’d taken the kitten down to the fish market to be looked after, and where she was taken in immediately by a nursing mother that may have even been her own, the calico girl lingered at our pension. She was very polite, let me pick her up, and when she snuck through the front door and marched into my room she seemed to know exactly what to do – jump onto the bed and make herself quite at home. Someone had cared for her. This was not a typical street cat. She had a past, one filled with kindness. But what had happened? I don’t know where she came from … all I can think is that she was just watching over the wee abandoned one.
And then she watched over me.
Koukla could be seen down in the harbor in the early mornings, waiting there with a crew of 5 other cats for a kind fisherman who would give them all fish when he came in from work. I began to feed her with the rest of my little clan and she soon decided that I was hers. I named her Koukla , which means ‘doll’ in Greek, because she was so small and so precious …
When I returned the following May, both Koukla and Psipsina showed up on the stoop of my pensione. “Eleonora!!!” my landlady cried, “HOW do they know you are here? You JUST arrived!”
Koukla began to visit me early in the mornings.
Cheeky ginger Psipsina would sneak into the house if she felt I was late feeding ‘my’ cats their breakfast… she is quite the impatient and pushy one. She would knock on my door. Not just any or all of the 5 doors, only mine. Really. (I always ushered them away from the house to a quiet spot to feed them where I would not offend neighbors who didn’t harbor my same fondness for the creatures of their streets.) But little Koukla waited for me, only singing a polite little hello when I arose at dawn to write on the veranda.
Alter writing the sun up with the little waif either curled on my lap or sunning herself on the veranda sofa, I waited for the sounds of our landlord leaving for work. I knew I had about 10 minutes between his leaving and the housekeeper’s coming to get Koukla downstairs and out the front door before we were ‘busted’. My landlady would not have appreciated my harboring a cat in her house!
Soon I began to find Koukla waiting at my bedroom window when I returned from town at night. I was then still quite sad over the sudden loss of our beloved dog Djuna, and as though helping to fill in that empty place, she slept curled upon my heart, working extra hard to keep me loaded up with joy.
And of course, it broke my heart to leave her behind.
The next year, same deal. “Eleonora, HOW to they know you are here…?”. Koukla and Psipsina and the rest of my current clan were all present and accounted for. Of course, Koukla secretly spent every night of that 5 weeks with me. I worked to try to figure out how to get her back to the states, but without a fatter bank account and more time I just couldn’t make it happen. It is not an easy journey.
Really, I am not a crazy cat lady, but I was very attached to this very special cat and the thought of her having to survive uncertainty there tortured me. There was nothing I could do but enjoy her company, and care for her and the rest of my feline clan as best I could so they would face the season ahead in the best of health. I always managed to fatten them all up a bit, and between that and the lack of stress of having to survive on garbage bins and handouts, and being medicated for worms and fleas, they all seemed to be a bit fitter going into the summer. Someone surely would take over from there and barring any unforeseen tragedy, or the Plakes poisonings, they all would make it through another winter.
Again, leaving her behind felt like such betrayal and just broke my heart. Truly. There are no words.
This year, in May…no Koukla. Of course, I thought it likely that she was dead … yet something in me told me she was safe, somewhere. I searched for her. Every morning I walked a different way into the harbor, calling for her all the way. Many nights, around midnight I walked other parts of Plakes and to various feeding stations where kind visitors and locals and the folks from the Skiathos Cat Welfare Assn. stealthily cared for the street urchins.
But no Koukla.
At the end of my 5 week stay, just a few nights before I left for home, I went out to dinner with all of the folks from the Cat Welfare Association. It was the first time I had met Sharon, the force of nature who oversees all of the heartbreak and joy around the cats they care for. Of course, I have been aware of the Dog Shelter and its angels since its inception in ’95, but really this was the first year I was fully aware of the good work the Cat Assn. did for the stray cats. At the end of the dinner I found a few photos of Koukla on my phone, and asked Sharon if she’d seen ‘this cat’. I didn’t say ‘Koukla’. I said ‘this cat’.
“Oh”, Sharon said, “That looks like Koukla, a cat we sent to UK last October! I’m sure it’s Koukla!” Koukla? Was it really her? And how in the world could they possibly have known that her name was Koukla?
I received photographs the next day, and indeed, it was ‘my’ Koukla. A woman from UK, who also stayed in my pension, but always after I had left, had also been smitten by the sweet little calico. For two years she left the island worrying, like me, about what would come of the darling cat and finally she asked Sharon for help finding and catching her, and then sending her on to her home in the UK. The photos I received reflected Koukla’s obvious contentment with her new situation. A bit smug, very content and even a bit fat, she was off the streets and loved.
The night before I left for home I was sitting with my dear landlady in her cafe. The dear landlady who doesn’t like cats.
“So … Eleonora … I must tell you now about… Koukla.”
Koukla? What, now?? Why are you just now telling me this? I have been here for 5 weeks! I have looked for that cat EVERY day and night for F.I.V.E. weeks!” Really, I was amazed that she even knew Koukla’s name.
One afternoon when I was having a lazy day and rather than off exploring the island I’d opted to have a quiet day at home to read and write. Dear landlady came upstairs with a Greek coffee, some wine and a lovely plate of food for me, which she is oft known to do. (ah, beautiful Greek hospitality!) Curled next to me on the settee, on my landlady’s settee on my landlady’s veranda, in my landlady’s house, was Koukla––gazing calmly through slit eyes, one paw on my thigh, smug and sure as though she owned the joint. I remember feeling a bit like a kid who was caught smoking a cig behind the barn…there was no hiding that cat. I am 60, but I sputtered like a 13 year old, explaining that the cat REALLY was a good, clean cat, very polite, and, and … and that her name was Koukla.
So, apparently my dear landlady had remembered.
She went on to recount the whole story, about how she was the one who told her guest from the UK the cat’s name J, and how she had found Koukla begging at one of the few tavernas open in early winter, and had helped the Cat Welfare folks rescue her. (and here I’d been, hiding cats from her for years.) I gave her a big hug and kiss. There is hope.
I told her the name of the brazen little ginger girl who always hangs around her house…Psipsina…and asked her to please see if someone would take HER home with them, next!
Koukla is one of the only real Skiathos success stories I’ve personally been able to affect in the 30 years I’ve been visiting the island. Koukla, and last September, the tiny 5 week old abandoned kitten, Mighty Mouse, who I was able to wrangle from teenage boys attempting to use her as a football. It was 1:00 AM when I heard the pathetic cries, and boys’ laughter, outside my widow. I FLEW down the stairs and out into the square like a furious squall. I am sure I shocked the boys, a granny-type in her nightie, long red hair blazing about my head, burning as brightly as my angry eyes as I snatched the wee thing from their hands and gave them a good tongue lashing. My little Mouse thrives to this day, thanks to the Skiathos Cat Welfare Assn.
I’d been able to help little Margarita–and Beau, another little Skiathos street dog who happily went on to a good and very long life of happiness. Feeding the cats, medicating, and rescuing kitties is the best I am able to do now, and there is never really any knowing what becomes of them all in the end.
But now there is Koukla’s story to ease my heart.
A lot of good work is being done for the animals on the island now, thanks to the longstanding dog’s home – Skiathos Dog Shelter – and its Angels, some big-hearted locals who do what they can to help in their own neighborhoods, and the work Sharon and her volunteers at Skiathos Cat Welfare Assn. do for the cats, bottle feeding bin babies, sterilizing and doctoring strays and finding homes for many of them outside of Greece.
But they still are overwhelmed. The island overfloweth. It never ends.
HOW YOU CAN HELP – The situation for the animals on the island, especially for the cats, is dire. Many are sickly, many are wounded from their street battles fueled by unchecked hormones. Mamas have trouble keeping up enough weight to feed their kits. Most of the cats need to be spayed and neutered to help keep the populations in better check. Newborn kittens get dumped in garbage bins or by the sides of busy streets. It is heartbreaking for those of us who see the animals as sentient beings who deserve our kindness.
If you are at all moved to help any the animals there, you can do so by going to the Dogs’ and Cats’ respective websites (Skiathos Dog Shelter, Skiathos Cat Welfare Association) and make PayPal donations to them there for immediate care. You will also find them on Facebook. Both places look after and sterilize the animals that find their way to them.
OR, you can help me help them –
I buy ‘ADVANTIX’ here and take it with me to Skiathos – Advantix is the only thing that protects the dogs from an awful disease, as devastating to them as Parvovirus is to our dogs here, called Leishmania. Advantix is very expensive here, but even more expensive for them to buy there.
I also purchase ‘Revolution’ and tape worm medication, both of which I dispense to what street cats I can while I am there on the island.
You can help me help them by–– purchasing Advantix (for small and/or medium dogs) yourself, via a respectable online pet pharmacy, and have it sent on to me.
Or you can send money to my PayPal account. I use your donations to purchase Advantix for the dogs, a prescription eye ointment for the street cats who often have irritated eyes, prescription Tapeworm pills and prescription Revolution for the street cats. (Revolution rids the cats of ear mites, internal parasites, fleas and flea eggs) I carry it all with me when I go.
I also use your donations to supplement my purchase of dry and canned food for the street cats I tend. Anything of your donations that is left over at the end of my stay is then given to the Dog and Cat folks, respectively.
If you have any questions, or wish for more information regarding how you can help, you can send an email to me at eleanoremacdonald at gmail.com
In gratitude – for the animals. Always.