Jo Welsby, a former veterinary nurse from the UK, was inspired to help unowned cats after a holiday in Cyprus. Here is her story…
How it all began
Way back in 2006, I was thumbing through holiday brochures, looking for a spring getaway with a friend. As a lover of all things Greek, the shortlist consisted of Crete and Cyprus but we opted for the latter, based purely on the fact that Cypriots also drive on the left, which I thought might make my life easier. Little did I know, that decision would play such an instrumental role in shaping the next 15yrs of my life.
It quickly became apparent that, like many popular tourist destinations, stray or feral cats were present in abundance, right across the island and there was a great deal of hostility and hatred towards them, in certain circles. In my younger years, I was the type of person to slip a few mouthfuls of food to cats under the table in a restaurant, without realising the longer-term implications of encouraging them to hang around places frequented by holidaymakers. In too many countries, when the tourists go home and the hotels shut down for winter, there is no one to feed these cats, which have become so reliant on human kindness and there have been many instances of whole colonies being poisoned, in order to break the never-ending cycle of new kittens each season. Added to this, are the number of abandoned cats, once owned, but now left to fend for themselves due to owners failing to plan for overseas moves, falling on hard times or just ignorance about the importance of neutering their pets.
Initially, I became involved with a charity in the Paphos region, who took me under their wing, allowed me to visit their numerous feeding stations, introduced me to local vets and showed me the benefits of trap, neuter, release. As a veterinary nurse, I felt ideally placed to try and raise awareness and funds back home in the UK and for the next few years, I did just this, organising craft fayres, themed discos, car boot sales, producing a charity calendar and even jumping out of an aeroplane, whilst also setting up social media pages to help spread the word and volunteering for sanctuaries, during my yearly visits back to the island.
Then, in 2010, my path crossed with that of a lovely lady, whose philosophy, much like my own, was that proactive education and neutering were the way forward, rather than constantly back pedalling by trying to fund a lifetime of captivity for these once free cats.
As a British expat, who had lived in Cyprus for many years and was well connected through her own boarding cattery and support of animal rights groups, Cynthia was ideally placed to start something new.
In 2013, Mandry’s Fund, Cyprus Feral Cat Project was born (Mandry was a young feral queen, who died shortly after giving birth) and I was more than happy to become the UK face of the organisation and to do my bit, both online (please visit Mandry’s Fund on Facebook, to learn more) and fundraising, whilst Cynthia focused on the hard work, hands on.
Since then, our little project has gone from strength to strength and we’ve recently neutered our 2000th cat. We’ve acquired numerous, more sophisticated traps and squeeze cages, as a result of generous donations and now have a small team of volunteers, islandwide, who have identified colonies in their local areas and were keen to become involved. We regularly loan out traps and fund neutering procedures via the volunteers’ own vets, as well as Cynthia responding to many of the dozens of requests we receive each week to blitz specific areas, often in small, traditional villages. She has built up excellent working relationships with numerous local hotels and taverna owners, to the point where many proprietors are now even happy to feed the cats, as long as the numbers are controlled. We also treat for parasites (if we’re able to handle the cats) because there is still a certain amount of stigma attached and the belief that they spread disease.
Our philosophy is simple – we have no overheads or wages to pay, so if we have money in the bank, we neuter and if we have no money, we fundraise. In Cynthia’s case, this has included opening up her village home as a vegan bed and breakfast, with a percentage of the takings going straight into the neutering kitty (no pun intended), creating crafts and pet beds, which are sold in several shops and running online auctions.
Prior to the pandemic, Cyprus had become my second home and my twice-yearly visits almost always now involve some volunteering and I love nothing more than taking a trip out with Cynthia to try and catch a few more elusive felines. Along the way, I’ve met numerous characters, who I am now proud to call friends, from those who organise feeding stations, to those who volunteer regularly at sanctuaries.
I have no idea what my Cyprus animal volunteering journey might involve next, but I do know that it’s most definitely now a fundamental part of who I am and I can’t wait to be back, having missed out on both visits, during 2020.