Cover Story - Ear Tipped Cats A Mark of Happiness and Health!

Ear-tipped cats can be seen in every corner of Hong Kong. They walk freely through our streets with impunity, and can be found chilling out in the sun, leaping between building canopies or looking down from above observing human activities. The missing tip of ear is their most significant identification mark. Even in a dark street, in the overlap of light and shadow, this distinctive sign is clearly visible from afar.

Cat Colony Care Programme

Getting Rid of Misfortune

Since the 1950s, the Society has received abandoned cats from all walks of life, with the number sadly increasing year by year. By the mid-1960s, cats who were injured and sick, uncared and unwanted, continued to be discarded intentionally on the street, being left to fate and to fight for their survival. Due to limited resources and manpower, “Cat boxes” were set up around Hong Kong and Kowloon for people to simply “post” kittens and adult cats, not ideal but better than being abandoned on the street! According to our figures, up to thirty to forty thousand cats each year were abandoned during peak periods. In the early years cat owner’s poor behaviour coupled with uncontrolled reproduction on the street, and the public’s limited awareness of adoption, left the relevant government departments and the Society with no choice but to let the unwanted cats leave the world in a humane way.

In an attempt to break this viscous cycle, in the late 1990s the Society took the lead in introducing the concept of Trap–Neuter–Return (TNR) to control the number of street cats and improve their welfare in a more humane and sustainable way. The aim being that they would live happier and healthier lives in Hong Kong’s concrete jungle. After much research and discussion, the Society officially launched the “Cat Colony Care Programme” (CCCP) in August 2000. Starting with a small group of enthusiastic volunteers, they identified one cat colony after another, gradually building up a record of street cat “pawprints” around the territory of Hong Kong.

 

Benefits and Blessings

Cats living on the street are shy and extremely vigilant towards humans, so it is incredibly difficult work to cultivate and care for a cat colony. Volunteer carers, with their great love of cats, must have extreme patience and be prepared to put a great deal of time and effort, to gradually gain the trust of cats in a colony. When the time is right, they will start a cat-trapping operation, sometimes with support from the Society’s welfare team or experienced volunteers. As the driving force behind the CCCP, the Society undertakes the overall management and liaison works to ensure that it operates smoothly and successfully. This is in addition to providing practical support in terms of desexing, vaccinations, microchipping and basic preventative treatment against parasites. Finally, the cat’s ear is “tipped”, enabling easy identification as being desexed and part of our Programme, and most importantly helping to safeguard their future!

Each cat colony is a small community built up over the years by dedicated volunteer carers. After surgery the carers return the desexed street cats back to their original colony, and continue to look after the resident street cat population – monitoring their health and welfare whilst on the lookout for newly abandoned cats. The small missing segment at the top of a cat’s ear represents the guardian promises made by this group of cat lovers under the Programme. It is not a missing corner, but a mark of happiness and health!

Looking back at the past 20 years, we sincerely thank the more than 1,100 volunteer carers, their 250 plus helpers and the Society’s strong support team who have been watching and guarding silently day and night. Day in and day out, year after year, to date these feline-friendly guardian angels have assisted us in desexing over 75,000* street cats, and together we have worked to achieve a total of approximately 1,900 cat colonies spread over Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories. Thank you to you all!
*As of 31st July 2020

 

Twenty years of “cat” dreams

In the beginning, due to the Society’s limited resources, only one full-time staff was in charge of the whole Programme handling everything from volunteer registration, colony management, spay-neuter scheduling and nursing support. Even with help from the SPCA’s Inspectorate and veterinary team, without the selfless contribution from volunteers working hand in hand with the CCCP in establishing one colony after another, it would have been be impossible to achieve such impressive results.

In the blink of an eye 20 years have passed, we have established over 1,900 cat colonies; and the Programme is still expanding, with new volunteers regularly joining up! Today a great mark of the Programme’s success is in the fact we no longer witness large numbers of sick and unhealthy cats on the street, and in some of the older, mature colonies it’s even harder to catch a glimpse of a cat! Cat lovers may feel a little sad about the lack of their feline friends, but they should be happy knowing that the cats they do occasionally see live freely, happily and healthily.

Over the past ten years, the number of cats desexed per year by the CCCP has declined from more than 6,000 at its peak to around 3,000, another mark of the Programme’s success - less cats to desex! Dr. Fiona Woodhouse, the SPCA’s Deputy Director (Welfare Department) said, “Today, in planned implementation areas, it can be seen that the number of street cats is effectively controlled, and newborn kittens are rare. It is obvious that the welfare and health of street cats has improved. Many cats have benefited, and it is not uncommon these days to see neutered street cats living happily to fourteen years of age or more.”

 

Looking forward, we hope to continue to include more areas in the Programme, including: country parks, LCSD parks, private areas and some restricted areas. Entering the SPCA’s 100th anniversary, the Society is planning to build a new large-scale animal welfare and education centre in Tsing Yi. The new centre will be equipped with special facilities for the Cat Colony Care Programme to strengthen desexing services in the New Territories and help us continue to promote and service the Programme in undeveloped areas or villages in the New Territories.

To tie in with the development of the Programme, we will continue to lobby the government to formally include TNR methodology as part of its animal management strategy and to consider how feral or street cats entering into AFCD animal management centres may also be able to benefit from the Programme as well as, allocating resources to support the implementation of the Programme.

In terms of the Programme’s operation, we expect to expand facilities and increase capacity at our branch clinics, this together with the opening of our New Tsing Yi centre will provide carers with more convenient desexing locations closer to their colonies.

The distinctive missing ear tip reminds us of our promise to watch over and protect street cats!

 

Support “Cat Colony Care Programme”

 

 

Special colonies

Lingnan University

Short story:
Trapping street cats and desexing is only one part of a jigsaw puzzle, the most important “piece” is the long-term participation of committed people and the community. Only with all-round cooperation can we build harmonious and sustainable cat colonies. Lingnan University had been troubled by the presence of street cats from 2004. Due to the demolition and redevelopment of nearby housing estates, pet cats had been abandoned, undesexed cats were left to reproduce uncontrollably and began to invade the campus. It is regrettable that the university did not participate in the Programme at the outset as this allowed the problem to spiral out of control and by 2007 the number of cats had increased from 30 to more than 100. At this point, the management facility asked for help, and after many lobbying sessions, the SPCA team successfully won the support of the university. A number of educational activities were organised to let the staff, students and related personnel on the campus understand the significance of the Programme, which lead to the birth of the Lingnan Cat Colony. In 2007 to help stabilise the number of cats, the SPCA team arranged a “Cat Nip Mission” (a large-scale cat trapping operation). Utilising the mobile Animal Welfare Vehicle, manned with two veterinary surgeons, welfare nurses and volunteers who toiled for a whole day, a total of 91 cats were desexed. In the past 13 years, even though some of the original enthusiastic staff members have left, there are still many staff and students who are willing to take over the responsibility of taking care of the cats. In fact some of the staff who have left also regularly return to help; as a result, the Programme is still in operation today.

 

Lamma Island

Short story:
In the initial stage of the Programme, a group of volunteers from a local animal welfare organisation began a TNR operation with the SPCA to catch street cats, desex them, and place them back in their original environment. With an initial estimated island population of 600 roaming owned and street cats, the project’s biggest challenge was to persuade the more traditional villagers regarding the benefits of TNR. In particular, some villagers were especially opposed to putting cats back on the street as they viewed them and their large numbers as a nuisance. Initially, the volunteers aimed to trap and neuter 70% of the street cats on the island, a figure which would stabilise and eventually reduce the population. They worked hard on setting a good example in managing the cat population, and not only did they reduce the nuisance caused by street cats, but they also gained the trust of the villagers, so that the Programme could continue smoothly. To date, the first generation of the SPCA’s ear-tipped cats have passed away. Although on the way there have been newly abandoned or unsterilised free-roaming pet cats contributing to the street cat population, the number of cats on the island has been controlled and sightings of street cats are now much reduced and undesexed cats are even rarer!

 

Peng Chau

Short story:
In 2000, a cat lover from Peng Chau wishing for a better life for feral cats, and to promote respect, love and care for them became one of our first volunteers. This dedicated cat lover was also working on Hei Ling Chau, so she helped to extend our Programme to these two small isolated islands. Since then, the Society has formed an indissoluble bond with Peng Chau and Hei Ling Chau. The Programme has helped to sew the “seeds of love” in this tiny island, through a group of animal lovers, utilising their leisure time to take on the mission of sterilising and caring for the street cats. With the assistance of the SPCA, they have been successful in desexing most of the street cats. With their unconditional love, not only have street cats benefited, but also pet and free-roaming dogs from the Society’s animal welfare programs. With the support of residents, council members and the Rural Committee, the SPCA team transformed the small island into a happier and healthier community of animals. SPCA ear-tipped cats can be seen on the street, and many sterilised pet cats and dogs are living more contented lives.

 

Sha Tau Kok

Short story:
Located at the border of Hong Kong, Sha Tau Kok is isolated from the world, in this restricted area, cats once multiplied without limits. Even with a large SPCA team it would be really difficult to implement an effective Programme in this remote area without the assistance of the local residents. But luckily for us, out of the blue, an original inhabitant of Sha Tau Kok took the initiative and with our help successfully set up a colony. In 2010, she became a volunteer carer, and assisted the SPCA team in organising six large-scale sterilisation operations in Sha Tau Kok, and even helped to persuade more residents to desex their pets. Although she has now moved out of the area, she has delegated the important task to another resident who is also a cat lover. So far, over 90% of street cats in Sha Tau Kok have become CCCP ear-tipped cats, and the number of cats in the district remains stable. However, the colony continues to expand beyond its initial geographical boundaries serving a wider population of cats.

 

Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Shatin Stables

Short story:
Mrs. Lucy Wong, a Trustee of the Society, as a horse owner had the opportunity to visit the Jockey Club’s Shatin stables, and learnt there were over 100 cats helping with rodent control. Initially there were just a few cats, but they were not desexed, so their number had rapidly multiplied. Lucy, who loves cats, took the initiative to recommend the CCCP to the Jockey Club Veterinary Department to assist with population and health management of the cats in the stables. In 2003, the Society received the full support of the Jockey Club who loaned out the stable’s veterinary recovery facilities as temporary operating rooms, so that the Society’s veterinary team could perform sterilisation on the spot, and the cats could return immediately to their original stables. This “Cat Nip Mission” desexed 79 cats. After this initial “snip”, the CCCP has continued to help control the number of cats, and the remaining cats are in much better condition. Some horse trainers have been so impressed with the results that they regularly donate to the Programme to allow the Society to continue to vaccinate the stable cats every year and provide appropriate treatment when needed. Over the past 17 years, some stables have opened their own “cat worlds”, and the feline friendly staff have become volunteer carers to help us manage their cat populations. Today, there are around 100 cats living in the stables, and they continue to enjoy the love and respect of the stable’s workers and trainers.

 


 

For Over 20 years, the Programme has received great support from corporations, organisations, educational institutions as well as from communities and district council members. The inception of the Programme and the impact it has had on the stray cat population has been witnessed by us all. We are sincerely thankful for their generous and continual support. Let’s hear from some of them:

 

The SPCA’s Cat Colony Care Programme has been instrumental in maintaining the health and welfare of cats and the stability of the cat population in the stable compound at Sha Tin. It has raised the awareness of responsible ownership among staff in the stables for the welfare and care of the stray cat population. Cats under the Cat Programme are clearly identified by markings on their ear and should they be taken to the SPCA for treatment their veterinary fee is covered by a stable fund contributed by trainers and other cat lovers from the stable. The Programme has encouraged nominated care takers to take prompt action when cats become injured or are sick and has helped in the general education of animal care. In a sense, this further enforces and encourages consideration for the welfare of all animals within the Sha Tin racecourse compound. Cats under this Programme are all neutered and this has helped to control the population to sustainable levels.

Dr Christopher M Riggs, BVSc, PhD, DEO, DipECVS, FRCVS
Head of Mainland Veterinary Operations
Department of Veterinary Clinical Services
The Hong Kong Jockey Club

 


 

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Cat Colony Care Programme. Because of the Programme, many cats on the island have benefited and the street cats’ population has been sustainably controlled.
I am very pleased to take this opportunity to thank the SPCA for offering free desexing services for the stray cats on the island. It helps to curb the cat population as well as allowing them to enjoy happier and healthier lives on the island. I am very grateful to the SPCA for their continued support.

Ms TSANG Sau-ho, Josephine
Peng Chau District Council Member

 


 

Lamma Animal Welfare Centre was one of the first members of the SPCA CCCP team. From the days when every garbage bin on Lamma was a feeding station for feral cats until today when you rarely see a cat around, we have witnessed a reduced number of strays. And the number of feral cats that we do see today are all in healthy state, hence changing people’s perception of feral cats. In the past, when feral cats were numerous and sick, the community would see them as a nuisance. Trap-and-neuter was just the beginning — and the easy part. For the past two decades, with the support of our local community, our neutered cat colonies have been well-fed, well cared for and well loved. We would like to thank all the volunteers of LAWC and all those on Lamma who supported us throughout these 20 years of CCCP work, the SPCA CCCP team, and special gratitude to Dr John Wedderburn who advocated this Programme for Hong Kong.

Elizabeth Huang
Chair
Lamma Animal Welfare Centre

 


 

In 2001, I had just become an Inspector for the Society. Every day, I visited different districts to collect abandoned cats from “cat collection boxes”. I dreaded opening the boxes — 80% of the cats were injured and sick – a lot of the cats were newborn kittens also suffering from injuries or illnesses. All were abandoned. I was particularly affected when I found lifeless abandoned newborn kittens – which was often. The inception of the Programme successfully reversed these daily happenings. In the beginning, we visited different districts to promote the Programme. Many people thought that street cats were a nuisance but thankfully we have managed to change their perception. Today, we seldom see stray cats on the street – and the cats that we do see on the street are healthy and in good condition. The Programme promoted the awareness of caring for animals — now many citizens will proactively contact us to rescue street cats. Furthermore, the Society has a comprehensive system for fostering and animal adoption. All of this decreases the mortality rate of the kittens.

Anthony Leung
Deputy Head of Inspectorate

 

Photo credit: Micros Yip and Virus