I started doing TNR pretty much as soon as I moved to the small fishing village of Simaisa, located 15km north of Doha, in 2016. While I was moving in and throwing trash away in the dumpster located across the small street in front of my compound, a group of hungry, sweet faces appeared at the dumpster and begged for food. I watched them over the next few days and asked some neighbours if anyone was feeding them. When I learned their only sustenance was dumpster scraps and their only water source was hose runoff from the garden next door, I started providing daily food and water. Absolutely no cats were sterilized so I started trapping and neutering as often as I could afford to. These cats were very hungry, and it gets to more than 50 degrees Celsius in the summer, so I did not think it would be wise to let them breed and multiply when they would have to fight so hard to survive. Through TNR, I can keep the population from increasing and therefore having to fight for food and territory.
Soon, the dumpster cats learned where I lived, and also that there is always food and water in my back garden for my cats who live there, and they started coming to visit. One of these cats was a very big, old, beat-up tom who I started calling Old Man Winter. At first, he would come into the garden and sneak some food, and run away when he saw me. Then he started sitting at the kitchen door, begging for more food. One day I saw him with the other colony cats, waiting for food, and when he tried to eat, I saw he had a lot of saliva and was clearly in pain. I trapped him right then and took him to the clinic. He was successfully neutered and had some bad teeth removed. The doctor said to keep my eye on him, and he was an old boy, and his teeth might go bad again. The doctor also said it was good to neuter him as I was most likely extending his life; now he wouldn’t fight and get deep bites and infections and would roam less, and eat more and gain weight to get stronger.
One thing I did not do for this cat, who I named Istvan or Pisti for short, was test him for FIV. Why? For starters, most groups in the United States, such Alley Cat Allies, do not recommend FIV testing for colony cats. I agree with this for several reasons. First of all, probably most male cats on the streets of Qatar are FIV+. I do not need a test to confirm this. Secondly, there is no treatment I could provide for an FIV+ cat other than what I’m already doing for all my colony cats: neuter, food, water, medical care such as dental and other check-ups as needed. Thirdly, FIV is only transmitting through sexual activity and very deep bites; both of these behaviours are prevented by neutering, so simply by neutering Pisti and all the other cats in his colony, I am stopping the FIV virus from spreading. Knowing his status is a possibility, I just need to keep him healthy and take him to the doctor for check-ups if he starts to decline.
Luckily, after Pisti’s neuter and dental, he became a very happy cat and started using the doggy door to come in the kitchen in addition to spending time in the garden. A few months later, he decided to move into my house full time and became a sweet and happy member of the family. He got along with all the other cats, played with the kittens, and slept in my bed at night. He decided he prefered being a house cat and never asked to go outside. We had a little scare in 2017 when Pisti stopped eating. We thought it was his teeth, but it turned out he had a blood parasite called haemobartonella, which causes anaemia and anorexia. It is common in immunocompromised street cats, but only transmittable through mosquitos; cats cannot give it to other cats. After a few days of antibiotics, he started eating again, and after a few weeks, he made a full recovery and was back to his normal self.
In September 2018 Pisti did start declining. He stopped eating again and became lethargic. He went to his favourite doctor who he had been seeing regularly since I trapped him in 2016, and who he had formed a close bond with. Blood tests showed he was anaemic and had an infection. The doctor tried treating him but he wasn’t able to fight and get strong again. After a long night of snuggling and sleeping together, I told Pisti it was OK if he wanted to leave this world and stop suffering. He passed away in his sleep the next night. I was absolutely heartbroken at his loss, but I was comforted by the fact that he had a longer, healthier life with me, and that he had two years of health and happiness as an indoor cat.
I was also comforted by the lessons I learned from Pisti. He is the perfect example of how TNR works and saves lives. If Pisti had been neutered at a younger age, he may not have contracted FIV, and would have had an even longer and healthier life. If his mother had been spayed and she would have never had kittens, there would be no toms like Pisti running around, fighting over food and territory. Pisti also taught me that even old, beat-up, grumpy-looking toms can benefit from neutering at any age (even though younger is better). He inspires me to continue doing TNR and helping any cats I can.
By Caitlin (a TNRQ volunteer)
For more on FIV testing: https://www.alleycat.org/resources/protocols-testing-feline-immunodeficiency-virus-fiv-and-feline-leukemia-virus-felv/