Trap-Neuter-Release is saving lives!

A day of a Have-a-Heart volunteer

It’s 6:30am. Yesterday morning I came home from my 5th night shift as a nurse working full time. I forced myself to only sleep 4 hours, so that I can sleep at night to be fresh and ready for today: A day dedicated to my most loved hobby: being a volunteer for Have-a-Heart, short HaH. 

HaH is a non profit organisation, that tries to get street dogs and cats as well as pets of low income families sterilised, vaccinated and dewormed to prevent both unnecessary suffering among the animals and spreading diseases among the communities. Further the uncontrolled multiplication affects the environment severely. The only solution to break this vicious circle and to help the poor animals (who live a life in the streets only because of human failure in the past) is to TNR (trap-neuter-return)…

Coming back to me getting up at 6:30 am even though I feel like a zombie currently. But luckily coffee exists..Beginning of 2019 I helped a friend in Karibib to get the feral cat colony he is feeding spayed/neutered. That’s when I heard of Have-a-Heart for the first time. They financed the operations of the WHOLE colony of about 15 cats. Since the founding, about 11000 animals could be helped through HaH already!!!

Already as a small child I felt very connected to animals, so I decided to join HaH as a volunteer. Even though I work and live in Windhoek, I was promptly made the ‘Karibib cat Manager’.┬áTo not drive the almost 400 km (there and back) unnecessarily every time, a bit of planning has to be involved. First of all: there is no veterinarian based in Karibib. The closest one is in Omaruru. Another 70 kms one way. We work together with the state vet Dr Estelle, communication with her is very easy going. A few days in advance she gets a WhatsApp from me saying ‘on Tuesday we’ll try our luck again. Can you please organise material for about 6-8 cats’.

When I don’t drive alone, after my cup of coffee I drive to Karin. Together we’ve done many successful Karibib tours already. Once I get there, we normally load at least 20 kg of cat food that will be distributed among the kind people, that feed the feral colonies in Karibib. Then we quickly leave, to not end up in full morning rush hour. Every time we discuss the same question: which is the best way – through Olympia on the western bypass, past the Christus church or straight through town… and every time we regret our choice.

After a while we manage to leave Windhoek and start getting excited about how many cats we’ll hopefully trap this time. Always keeping our Co-planner Gia, Have-a-Heart and the ‘Karibib and Usakos cats’ WhatsApp group updated. To be able to catch the animals, we provide big wooden boxes to the people, that are feeding the shy cats. They have to give food only in there for several days, so the cats are not getting suspicious. On the day of our arrival, they just quickly close the boxes and the cats are trapped. It’s relatively stress-free and sometimes we are lucky with 2 or even 3 cats being trapped in one box. Heidi, a good hearted teacher in Karibib is feeding a huge feral cat colony. She managed to trap the cats usually in a tiny laundry room with double door function. Equipped with blankets, steel gloves and not a small package of bravery we then have to catch the spitting, growling and wall climbing cats with our bare hands and put them into the boxes. 

Now that all boxes are safely put into the car with a blanket above them to calm the cats down a bit, it’s time to drive to Omaruru to Dr Estelle. Those 70 km are usually rather filled with pity for the poor cats and ‘ag if only I could explain to them that it’s better for them…’ but obviously we know and are convinced of that fact! Having arrived in Omaruru, we have to explain to the vet and co-workers, which cats belong to which colony, so that they better not mix them up in the boxes post-operation. In one occasion we caught two mommy-cats, the one litter of kittens were big enough already for the mother to be spayed, while the other litter was still way too tiny and still depended on the lactating mother, so she could not be operated yet. Dr Estelle had to figure out on the anatomy of the female cats, which one is the mother of the tiny ones. The other time we only after the operation realised, that two cats looked EXACTLY the same- one of Heidi’s colony, one of another lady’s colony. We sent them photos but they were both very unsure. And if we would have mixed them up, the colony would very likely chased the wrong cat away. Luckily I still had photos on my phone, that helped us to successfully identify them eventually. 

After a few hours in Omaruru, where we usually spoil ourselves to a nice lunch, it’s time to take the fixed cats back to Karibib. They now have a small mark in their ear, the international sign that this cat has been spayed/neutered. Here we just leave the – usually still asleep – cats in a safe corner of their own territory. It takes them a bit to fully wake up. In that time they obviously must not be close to a road or dogs for their safety.

Sometimes we take kittens along to Windhoek as well. They will be fostered and have the chance of a hopefully wonderful life away from the dangers of the streets. If we can’t take them along, latest at 3-4 months of age we need to TNR them as well, that’s the time when they started re-producing! Female cats can give birth at least twice a year with an average of 4 kittens. The sum shows you how terribly important the work of HaH is!

Finally back in Windhoek after a long day of carrying boxes, getting hissed at and seeing fresh operation wounds, I come home to my own spoiled cats and feel overwhelmed with happiness for having made an impact and improving the life quality of these special creatures. About 80 animals in Karibib already joined the happy Have-a-Heart family through us, they can continue living without the stress of fighting for territories (males) or providing a safe place for tiny undernourished kittens (females).

A great shout-out to all the beautiful souls that help making animals’ lives better. PLEASE everyone: if you have a pet, get it fixed! There is so much suffering out there and the world has more than enough cats and dogs already. The SPCA’s are bursting full. There is absolutely no need for ‘but it is so cute, if she has to get babies once’!

Also educate your friends, relatives and neighbors about the importance. If you belong to the HaH low income community, the costs will even be fully covered! If you need help (for example transport), contact us via Facebook, we will try everything to help! Thanks to everyone, who makes our goal more and more possible through continuous funds. You all rock!

We wish you a healthy and environmental-& animal conscious 2021.

Jette