Shifting fortunes of Bomber, Spitfire, and Chester

Young foster mum Hayley De Bruin dispensing love to the “wildies”. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

They are a picture of misery. Three kittens with ‘icky eyes’, runny noses and sneezing. They have cat flu. It can be deadly for the littlest babies.

“Very sickly,” says Sharna Asplin of Wild Whiskers – a bunch of volunteers committed to the well-being of ‘wildies’ – the true strays and wild kittens, Tauranga’s alley cats, the homeless of the feline world.

Sharna has Bomber by the scruff. And she’s cooing at the little black package of sickness, sadness, and patheticness. “But of course she’s still cute.”

Bomber and her siblings, Spitfire and Chester, have lucked it. They were recovered from a Mount Maunganui industrial site by someone who cares. They’re in isolation in Sharna’s warm bathroom – in a well-appointed cat cage with some subdued radio ambience, people talking, company.

“A lot of people have the attitude that wildies are good for nothing. Who cares? Shoot them. But that’s a little narrow minded. At the end of the day every creature, big or small, has a right to be on this earth.”

Wild Whiskers is committed to adding some value, some quality of life and comfort, to that right.

Bomber, Spitfire, and Chester arrived hissing, spitting, scratching, and wretched.

“But we will handle them, rehabilitate them, socialise them,” says Sharna. “Then when they’re old enough, friendly enough, and weighing at least a kilogram, they’re off for a day stay at the vet, vaccinated, microchipped, then put up for adoption.”

And there are always options once they’ve shaken off the ‘wildies’ tag. “We look at every animal as an individual case. They will always have a place to go, we will find them somewhere.”

They’ve had a rough start to life and the group aims to give these ‘poor souls’ a chance at becoming loving family pets. It might take time, it might take months for that right person to come along. “But when they do, it’s all worthwhile.”

In every litter there is a runt, there’s always a confident boisterous one, and there’s always a scaredy cat. “And unfortunately not all rehabilitate as well as we would like. We have a strict no euthanise policy [for healthy cats], so the difficult ones that aren’t 100 per cent, we home them on farms and orchards to be barn cats, to help rodent control.”

Which are wonderful outcomes compared to the uncertainty of life in a wild cat colony in the alley. “There’s sad stuff all the time,” says a weepy Sharna. “I get quite upset about it.

“We have trapped cats which have suffered horrific injuries in fights – and because they’re wild you can’t pill them or put cream on their wounds. So often the best and only solution is to put them to sleep.” Not ideal, but quality of life has to be a consideration.

And there was the queen (the molly or female cat) who was trapped to be desexed. “We think she’d been attacked by a tom which wouldn’t have wanted newbies on his patch. She had wounds to her belly and was unable to feed her litter. They would have died one by one before we could get to them.”

For every sad ‘wildie’ story there’s an uplifting one – like the tale of a grey fluffy girl called Tammy, a tale that is the motivation for Wild Whiskers volunteers.    

“A litter of four kittens were trapped in an orchard and unfortunately one did not progress like its siblings. She was a scaredy cat, always frightened and unsocialised. I ended up having her here for months.”

Then a ‘wonderful woman’ and her parents came to view a kitten. She decided to take both Muffin, the kitten, and scaredy-cat Tammy. “They ended up going to a new home together, which was absolutely fantastic.”

Tammy’s tale is the dreamy, romantic aspect of their work. But across town, at a Mount Maunganui industrial site Wild Whiskers is dealing with another reality of the wildie problem. They’re doing some TNR – trapping, neutering, and returning.

They use ‘humane’ cat traps to round up a colony of nine wildies. “A company has been keeping an eye on the cats, feeding them. But we need to break the cycle – desex them to stop all those unwanted litters.” Then they will be returned to the lifestyle they know.

But it’s not just about reproduction. Wild Whiskers is also attending health and unwanted behaviours.

“Desexing the boys helps deter them from roaming and potentially being injured or killed by vehicles. And it deters them from fighting other wild and domesticated cats for territory. It’s also doing the girls a favour because what the toms do to the girls when trying to mate with them isn't very nice, they’re actually quite vicious.”

Once the girls have been desexed it will deter them from roaming and crying when in heat. It will also stop any unwanted litters and any injuries from mating and protecting their kittens from other cats.

Sharna has a cheeky wee cat tattoo on the inside of her wrist. “Love cats, love them, but I love all animals.” Which accounts for the cheeky wee dog tattoo on the inside of her other wrist.

But the first responsibility of Wild Whiskers is to kittens, eight weeks old and younger, which come to them needing time, patience, and care. Add food to the equation.

“Because food is the number one best way to get them socialised,” says Sharna.

“Food is a positive thing for them – and then the person feeding them, so they associate people with something pleasant. The trick is to schedule feeding, so rather than leaving food for them to eat whenever they want, I am there to give them the food. They associate me with food and it’s a very positive experience.”

A positive experience dripping with love, patience, and goodwill.  “But unfortunately all this costs money and we rely on donations.”

Help Sharna, help Wild Whiskers, help Bomber, Spitfire, and Chester, the real waifs and strays. “Because they deserve to be here just as much as anyone.”

Visit Wild Whiskers on Facebook, message or go to their Givealittle page.