I was recently contacted by a lady named Mariette Hanssen who lives in Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island about 40 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. For the past couple of years she has been doing whatever she can to help cats and dogs on the island, along with a few other dedicated animal rescuers. Animal welfare issues are bad here in America and the feral cat population doesn’t seem to be declining rapidly despite all the TNR programs out there, but overall I think situations are far worse in other areas of the globe.
I would like to take part in a WORLD VETS trip to help provide international aid for animals and document my experience to raise awareness about their work. It seems Curacao would benefit greatly from being included in a future campaign, I asked Mariette to write about her experience in Curacao and how regular cat people like us can help them in their dire situation.
Cats of Curacao… the beginning – Mariette Hanssen
I moved to Curacao in the fall of 2014. I needed a couple of months to settle down and find a place where I wanted to live. I took my two cats, Max and Tigger, both 11 years old, with me.
Fairly new to the island, I needed to find a vet, where I could take my animals to in case they needed medical attention. So I asked around, but didn’t decide on a vet then and there. A few months later, I found an emaciated kitten on my doorstep and took her in. It was 4.00 am, so I fed her and she settled in my living room chair for a nap, the same morning I took her to a vet.
It was there, that I heard about the huge dog and cat problems on the island and got interested in trying to help. I had been a volunteer for the RSPCA for years in Holland, so I thought it would be nice, to take that up in my new homeland. So I asked for more information and contacted some people who were already doing rescue work for cats and dogs and that’s how it all started.
I also became a volunteer on a sustainable living project, a “kunuku” as it is called over here. Meaning government owned Farmland. There were a few cats, that didn’t look good. They seemed to belong to nobody, they just were around. So I started feeding the cats that were there… and numbers increased by the day. Everyday, more cats showed up for “ breakfast”… and I saw that it could turn into a huge problem, if they all hadn’t been helped. So I took it upon myself, to trap them, get them spayed and neutered. In total the group consisted of about (what I thought) 35 cats. Later on I learned, that a neighbour just 2 houses up, used to feed these cats, So I went over there, to find even more cats, there were at least 20 more! The couple, in their early 70’s, couldn’t handle the problem by themselves, there were just too many cats! This is the group I still feed every morning and give medical attention to, if needed.
As I got more involved, more reports of large groups of cats reached me. People started calling me for help and I started helping on a more regular basis. We have a foundation on the island, called “Stichting Dierenhulp”. They spay and neuter 120 animals a month for free, for people that can’t afford paying for it. But with so many feral animals, it’s just not nearly enough. The waiting list is long (approx 3 months) and the foundation tries to do their best, but relies on donations as well. So a lot of the work we do, we pay for from our own income.
Today, there are more than 200 applications for help, and only a handful of people like me, that have cat traps and kennels, to trap these animals. We can’t keep up with applications if we have to continue like this. We just don’t have enough cat traps (that we could bring to people’s homes so they could set the traps themselves) and we don’t have the financial backup to pay for all these sterilisations. In Curacao it is kitten season all year round, so every week, we get new reports of new litters being born. People see female cats reproduce and call us, so it’s evident that we NEED to respond to those calls first, to prevent more litters from being born. That means, they take up the spot from other cats, that are on the waiting list, but we have to set priorities!
The problem is getting out of hand and we desperately need help in getting the population under control.
We don’t have an animal ambulance on the island, well actually we do, but there’s no money to provide for a driver to pick up animals, no money for gas and no money to treat the animals. So a lot of animals are left on the streets, waiting for one of us to respond to the call for help and find places/fosters for them to stay. I drive around in my car with standard: gloves, kennel, cardboard boxes, food and water and first aid medical supply. I can’t drive by a wounded animal and just close my eyes… although I don’t know how to pay for the vet bills at the moment.
The animal shelter is packed with animals, too many animals together in one cage and with little adoptions and more and more animals dumped each day, they can’t even take in new animals.
The calls we get, aren’t just for picking up animals for spaying and neutering. We get calls for wounded animals, emaciated animals, dumped animals. The situation really is dire!
I was called to get a male cat, who had gotten into the running motor of a pickup truck. I responded to the call immediately, to find on arrival, a cat, with his two hindlegs completely gone. The people who called, didn’t know who to turn to. So I took him to the vet and had him euthanized. *Mariette sent a photo of the injuries this cat sustained and suffered from for a week with no help, but they were just so stomach churning I decided not to publish.
We find emaciated cats in the wild, and take them in to nurse them back to health and get them treated… we also find dumped litters of kittens, abandoned in remote areas, left to die in cardboard boxes, plastic bags with no food and water. Dumped by people, who don’t care what happens to the animals.
But that’s not all… even tourists report animals found in poor conditions, left to die. Recently I answered a call from a couple who was on vacation and they found a kitten, just 5 or 6 weeks old, attached to a rat trap with industrial glue. Those people, didn’t know how to get help. They gave first aid, by getting olive-oil over the glue, to detach her from the trap, but then what? So I called my vet and together we assessed the situation.
The kitten could stay with the tourists until the next day and then I picked her up and took her to the vet, she was sedated and most of the glue was removed by using a hairclipper. I took her home, she wasn’t completely glue free but over the next few days I massaged her with oil so the glue would come loose from her skin and then gave her a bath to get the oil out… I had to repeat that several times and now she is glue free!
Currently we are setting up information campaigns to inform the public about animal welfare and how to properly care for animals in need. We do our best to reach as many people as we can, by media and by going door to door to educate people and offering our help.
We are pushing the Government, to pass a law about animal welfare so we have legal tools to go after people that don’t treat their animals the right way. We need the Government to get involved in a sanctuary for the animals found on the street.
WE NEED HELP! … We need more cat traps, we need vets to come out to the island and support our local vets in surgery, we need materials/surgical equipment. But most of all, we need caring, animal loving people to support our cause and help pay for sterilisations and treatments. We need people who are willing to adopt an animal long distance, and support the caretaker in the monthly costs of caring for that animal. Since for the most part, the locals are very poor, they can’t pay for the work we do. So I’m looking for help outside of Curacao, to solve the problem. I need to, because if I don’t help these animals, who will?
*Purrlease help if you can by DONATING HERE and you can also watch videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3Vlc0EzDIy6aMswHYt3pjQ
If you can help or have any ideas about how to raise funds and awareness to help the cats of Curacao, please email Mariette:[email protected]
Thanks fur reading 🙂