Anyone who’s ever spent a day in Cyprus, knows that it is as much a cat country as it is a human country. The relationship between human and feline inhabitants of the island dates back to the Neolithic era.
As archaeological discoveries tell us the oldest evidence of human domestication of cats anywhere in the world was found in Shillourokambos, a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site six kilometres east of Limassol.
Previously, it was thought the Egyptians were the first to domesticate cats, with the earliest evidence dating to 2,000-1,900 BC. However, a team of French archaeologists led by Jean-Denis Vigne found that ancient Cypriots actually beat them to it by approximately 7,500 years.
Today, rough estimates place the population of stray cats in Cyprus at 1.5 million. This is 600,000 more than the human population of the island.
Christina Kyriacou, creator of Jerry & Friends says that overpopulation of any animal species can be devastating.
“By allowing cats to breed on the streets, more and more kittens are born into a life of suffering and hardship. When the cat population surpasses the environmental carrying capacity, cats suffer from disease and malnutrition. If the population continues to grow, it will over-tax the resources of the environment causing environmental imbalances,” Christina explains.
Driven by her love for animals, Christina started Jerry & Friends to raise awareness of the importance of neutering and spaying cats and to help people who would like to neuter their community cats by finding volunteers to assist with trapping and transporting the cats to the vet.
“We have partnered with a network of vets in all the towns who have offered rescue rates for neutering stray cats. These rates have been offered based on the volume of stray cats we already send to them, and we try to help by offering these rates to volunteers too,” she explains.
To assist the team’s effort at spreading awareness on the welfare of cats, Christina authored a children’s book suitable for Primary School students, “but interesting and fun to read as an adult too,” as she notes.
The book, whose title is “Jerry & Friends” takes the reader on a guided journey and teaches how we can make the life of stray and feral cats a little better. At the same time, it highlights the important role that humans play in their struggle for survival. It was first published as an interactive eBook and later as a paperback.
“By educating the younger generations, my hope and dream are that we will change the way in which people deal with stray cats, therefore making the life of a stray a little better,” Christina says.
“I believe that we need to change the perception that some people have, about stray cats. It is not the cats’ fault, that they are strays, or have to fight to survive on the streets. Humans have put them there. By changing the way children see a stray, we change the way they treat them. By understanding their struggle, we hopefully encourage children and in turn the parents and grandparents, to help to make the life of a stray a little easier and more bearable. If we understand something, we can deal with it in a better way,” she adds.
Besides raising awareness, the book supports Jerry & Friends’ community service, which relies solely on volunteer donations. As Christina explains, all the income from the book sales funds the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) projects of colonies.
Although in Cyprus it is volunteers who have taken up the mantle as regards animal welfare, recently, the state started trying to chip in and control the overpopulation of stray cats. Offering a yearly subsidy, in the form of vouchers, which in 2022 increased to €100,000, it helps cover some vet costs.
Christina explains that the amount covers 3000 neuters. Merely a drop in the ocean, if we put the population of strays into perspective.
“Leaving even one male or female unneutered means the cycle of unwanted births begins again,” Christina notes.
“If we do a quick estimation of what will happen per breeding season: With a population of approximately 1,5 million cats and only 3000 cats (0.2% of the estimated population) being neutered per year with the help of this subsidy, the other 1,497,000 cats are left to breed and multiply.
“If 1% of these cats are female and have 1 surviving offspring per breeding season this means 15,000 kittens will be born per season and this happens twice a year. This means 30,000 kittens born per year (maybe more), that are subjected to the dangers of the streets,” she explains.
Besides neutering, there is also the issue of healthcare. In Cyprus, there are no animal clinics that offer free healthcare for sick or injured strays. These costs are covered by volunteers and donations.
“If you take a look at animal rescue groups on social media, there are so many pleas for financial help, pleas for volunteers to help care for injured or sick cats that cannot be released back on the streets, people trying to find homes for helpless cats,” Christina says.
As a solution, she suggests a comprehensive official government initiative for high-volume neuters. “‘Free neuter clinics should be set up in all the towns making TNR more accessible to the general public, therefore encouraging people to neuter the cats that they can catch by hand, in the colonies they care for and for them to be able to ask for help to trap the feral ones.”
Furthermore, a public pharmacy or clinic for volunteers to obtain the necessary medication and help when caring for strays could go a long way, Christina says.
“A volunteer who cares for sick or injured cats is probably caring for a large number, not just one or two. It is not sustainable to expect volunteers to pay normal vet prices when caring for 15, 30 cats or more,” she adds.
TNR should be managed and monitored by an official organisation, that will implement a proper mass neuter plan, and have the full responsibility to ensure this is done in the correct, transparent and humane way, Christina proposes.
“A dedicated team of TNR volunteers should be employed to carry out TNR campaigns over a number of years and the correct population monitoring and management programs set in place,” she says.
Additionally, a mobile ambulance can be set up in villages and areas where there are no clinics nearby, to help with neutering animals in remote locations. “Town halls can be used to monitor the cats overnight after their surgery and released the next day. The concept exists abroad, and has proven to be effective,” she adds.
Solving the issue of stray cats in Cyprus might seem like a herculean task to outsiders, but Christina remains optimistic and offers clear guidelines and solutions, starting with changing people’s minds.
“By educating people we open the mind’s eye. This will start off a chain reaction and Jerry & Friends is just one of the little seeds that have been planted to help this process. I feel it is my duty and my purpose to help cats in need, and even though one person cannot save them all, I would like to make a difference for as many as possible in some way”.
Why is it important for cats to be spayed and neutered?
- Spaying a female cat helps prevent uterine infections, uterine cancers, and breast cancer.
- Neutering male cats eliminate the chances of testicular cancer and lower the risk of prostate problems.
- Stops the catfights.
- Spayed and neutered cats live healthier, longer, and happier lives.
- Cats will be less likely to roam, yowl, wail, bite, display aggressive behaviour, or spray or mark their territory. Intact males will do just about anything they can to find mates.
- Stops the stray cat overpopulation.
- Fewer birth defects and genetic diseases from breeding amongst siblings.
- Cost-effective – the long-term costs of feeding a colony of cats, and their medical expenses to cover diseases and injuries will be much higher and ongoing, than the initial costs of neutering the colony.
How can you help
- Neuter your pets and speak to people around you about doing the same for their pets.
- Find out who the rescuers are in your community so you can help with time, funds, and resources.
- Offering your help means more lives can be saved.
- Ask for advice from a vet in your area if you see a sickly or injured cat. We must all do our little bit. Volunteers are already overwhelmed with cats in their care.
- Create Fundraisers for TNR.
- Help as a volunteer on TNR days.
- Spread the word.
- Learn about Animal Welfare.
- Create clean and safe feeding stations for your community cats away from busy roads and dangers.
- Create shelters.
- Ask for donations of food and bedding by placing donation boxes in popular spaces.