No such thing as a selfless act

I recall an episode of Friends from many years ago, where two of the main characters, Joey and Phoebe, argue that a true "Selfless Act" does not exist, that the person doing the good deed will always get something out of it. This may only be the feeling of satisfaction or warmth for having done a good thing for someone else but they are still getting something out of it.

Why was I reminded of this? Because my husband and I have taken our first few turns at feeding a managed cat colony in Doha!

I was a little anxious to volunteer in this capacity at first as we are both suckers for cats in need (this is how we have ended up with 16 cats in our home!) but following the first orientation trip to the feeding stations I felt a little more comfortable with the idea. After our first trip there unsupervised, we definitely came home with a warm, fuzzy feeling! Seeing the cats come running when we reached the feeding station, some cats grateful for the food, others more for the human interaction, was really wonderful. Then after only a few trips to the colony, we were already getting familiar with the little fuzzy faces that come crashing through the bushes as you shake the food container, or hauling ass across the waste ground to meet the car, so blatantly thrilled that we are there to see them.

It didn't take long to form a few favourites! The one that knocks the food from your hand as you try to fill the bowls, the other keeping a watchful eye (lovely One-Eyed Jack!) on you as you clean the water bowls, snatching up mouthfuls of food between glances. Andy with his croaky meow and waddly walk. 

You head home from the colony knowing these cats will be safe, sleeping with full bellies and not venturing into dangerous areas looking for something to eat. You head home with a big smile on your face and a real sense of satisfaction. You head home knowing that this was not a selfless act.

Managed Colonies

One-Eyed Jack and Tabby Girl

Managed Colony (Definition) - A 'managed colony' is taken care of by humans who supply food and water to the cats, provide shelters and veterinary care, implement trap-neuter-return programs, find foster homes for cats that can be socialized for eventual adoption, and educate people in the neighborhood.[8][47]

The first and most important step in managing a colony is to spay and neuter the cats (Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) - making sure they get their ears tipped to show they have been fixed). Starting early with a TNR programme is the best way, it is much easier to fix 5 or 6 cats than 50! This will lead to fewer mouths to feed in the long run. Female cats are the first goal, this helps to halt the population growth of the colony. Then move onto the males.

It is important to note that cats that are fed without being TNR'd reproduce at an even higher rate than they would without human support, so spaying and neutering is the key step in setting up a managed colony.

Next, feeding stations and schedules are implemented. For TNR Qatar, if there is more than one volunteer for any given colony then a rota is put in place to ensure the cats are fed at least every other day. This may seem infrequent but it is important to ensure the cats are not fully dependent on humans and don't lose their hunting and foraging skills. Unfortunately, some of TNR Qatar's colonies have only one volunteer so the cats may not get fed quite as often as others.

Then it is onto the monitoring phase. The cats are watched to ensure they are healthy and eating properly. A close eye is kept out for any additions to the colony. Any newcomers must be TNR'd as soon as possible or the colony management goes out the window - a new face in the colony can quickly destabilise the population by mating and producing more kittens!

There are generally three types of additions to a colony:

    • Other cats may wander in from another area, although cats are very territorial and may not allow strangers into their inner circle

    • If the TNR programme was not successfully completed new kittens may be born, which sets back the TNR programme by at least 4 months while the kittens mature enough to be fixed. The mother will be fixed once the kittens are weaned

Dumped Pets
    • The most heart-breaking of all is to see a former family pet abandoned to a colony. Dumped pets struggle in a colony as they are used to being cared for in a home, they don't have the survival instincts necessary to forage or hunt. They are often long-haired cats and cannot survive in the heat of Qatar. They stand out from the community cats as they look lost, perplexed and depressed.

If you are out and about in Doha and you see cats in the street, you would know ones that are part of a managed colony and those who aren't. An ear tip is the first tell-tale sign (a notch taken off the top of one of the cat's ears showing the cat has been sterilised). Secondly, they often look like pets! Managed colony cats are healthier looking, often with shiny, clean coats and rounder bellies. They are not struggling to feed the many mouths of their kittens, nor fighting for territory with other males. They don't spend their lives constantly searching or begging for food, meaning longer, healthier and happier lives for the community cats.

The change can be drastic and very rewarding for the humans who help to make it happen.


During this crazy Covid-19 era, volunteering to help feed these homeless cats has given us a real sense of purpose. I look forward to our turn to head out and see the joy that a simple bowl of food, some water and some head scratches brings to these little guys. 

Another aspect that is truly uplifting is the cooperation and communication with the other volunteers. We share photos and videos of the cats in a WhatsApp group, we check up on the well-being of cats we may not have seen for a few days, exchange notes on cats that may be new (especially tricky for us as newbie feeders!) and where to get the best deals on cat food. Rotas swapped and holiday cover arranged (when travelling is an option). It's not just a community of cats but a community of volunteers too!

If this all sounds good to you; a self-satisfied, fuzzy feeling for helping out creatures less fortunate than you, then please consider volunteering with TNR Qatar. Or set up your own managed colony if you see cats in need!

My husband and I were lucky to be able to step in to help with a well established colony, others require more work. If you would like more information on caring for a colony, please follow this link to Colony Care on our website.

If you are interested in volunteering, please check out the Volunteer information on our website or drop us a message on our Facebook page.

TNR Qatar is exclusively run by volunteers and funds are always an issue. Help us to help them and consider a donation to GoFundMe page. 

Self-satisfaction feeling guaranteed!

An Ode to an Old Tom

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.

IMG_20171230_162457One 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)

Social Distancing! Not for cats?

COVID-19. It's all we are hearing and talking about right now, the first thing on everyone's minds. Our lives have been turned upside down, working from home, not travelling, not seeing our loved ones. The message is clear - Practice Social Distancing! Stay 2 metres apart, don't shake hands, don't gather in groups, stay at home.

A quick aside before I carry on - As I started writing this, a friend told me that the local vet has seen a surge of people abandoning their pets as they think they can catch the virus from their cats and dogs. I want to stress this is not the case! You can read the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) article about that here. This blog post is not about people dumping their pets because of the coronavirus but more about the parallels I have noticed with the spread of this virus and how a stray cat population can grow out of control in a similar way.

I have heard several times about how a single female cat and her mate can be responsible for the birth of hundreds of thousands of kittens in their lifetime via their un-neutered offspring.

I don't know about you but I always found this a bit hard to get my head around. How can that be possible? So many cats and dogs as a result of one breeding pair? Someone must have made a mistake with that! Even though the evidence is all around us, it still seems unfathomable.

I saw this animation on Facebook yesterday, showing how COVID 19 will continue to spread if unchecked. It shows how Social Distancing can help help to break the chain, slow down the progression of the infection and help to protect the more vulnerable members of society.

The penny then dropped! This is the same model for how so many kittens or puppies can be born when the animals are not neutered! With animals having relatively large litters, it is easy to see how the numbers can keep growing.

Now, cats and dogs aren't great at Social Distancing. We can't explain to them that they aren't doing themselves any favours by hanging out with their mates and making babies. We can't tell the street cats and dogs to stay home and keep 2 metres away from their friends. They can't help themselves, it is their biology, their instincts, they must procreate!

So, what can we do?

Let's look at the animation again but imagine it is stray animal population growth rather than virus spread. TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) works in the same way, each time stopping a new litter from being born. See how it can break the pattern and reduce the numbers?

TNR can feel like an uphill struggle, that we can't fix them all so why bother fixing one? Social Distancing may feel like that to some people too but this brilliant little animation shows that every little helps, in both situations!

People are saying now that there will be a human baby boom in around 9 months time, too many people shut up in their houses with little else to do. This will also be the case for the animals of Qatar. There is a sharp increase in the number of cats and dogs being dumped on the streets (I can't stress this enough, there is no evidence your pets can give you this coronavirus!!) and many of those dumped pets will not be spayed or neutered. Add this to the existing cat and dog population on the streets and we will have another epidemic, this time of stray cats and dogs.

Many vets in Qatar are still open and taking appointments, so it is still possible to get animals spayed. Please look after yourselves and follow the guidelines from the governments, practice Social Distancing and good personal hygiene (keep washing those hands!) but don't stop trying to help the animals on the street. It is still possible to get animals spayed and neutered. Appointments may be harder to come by and there are practices in place to protect the customers and the staff in the vets but don't let this stop you from doing TNR.

You can contact us on our Facebook page here if you need advice or information about which vets are currently open and available to TNR animals. For all things TNR related, you can also visit our TNR Qatar website.

If we all work together and do our bit we can help slow down the stray animal population growth!

How could anyone dump this sweet girl?

Dumping a beloved family pet is something that I would never consider, it just doesn't bear thinking about. Yet, it is something that happens very frequently the world over. I have never really questioned why someone would do this other than they have changed their mind about having a pet or they are moving on and don't want or can't afford to take their pet with them. Our latest rescue may have given us another answer in the fact that she wasn't spayed.
In December last year, I heard the now familiar call from my husband... "Babe, can you come and help? Bring a cat box!". Another waif or stray on the doorstep, in need of our help. Imagine my surprise when I see this beautiful Persian girl, sweet as anything! She was purring, happy to be picked up and gladly trotted into the cat carrier so she could be taken to the vet for a microchip check.

We were sorry to learn that she had no chip so finding her owner would be that much harder. We tucked her away in a spare bathroom, separated from all of our cats, with the necessities to keep her safe and comfortable until her family could be found. The Facebook posts and knocking on doors commenced to try and find her owner.

The next day, my husband had noticed something strange about her. Whenever we entered the room, she did not react at all, she stayed fast asleep. After a quick Google search and a little test we came to learn that she was completely deaf. This didn't stop her from coming to us for lots of fuss and cuddles. She immediately recognised the cat brush, flopping over, belly exposed, ready for her beautification. There was no way this girl was a street cat, she has definitely been cared for by humans at some point.

We got her vaccinated at the local vet so that we could let her out of the bathroom to have free roam of the house while we continued to look for her owners. We put a contingency plan in place and arranged for a potential home for her over in the States. It was decided she would stay with us until we could get her ready to fly. She got on well with our hoard of rescue cats, although we were concerned they would take advantage of her deafness and bully her relentlessly.

A week or so passed, then we started to hear the most horrendous howling. We immediately think that some of the cats are fighting, a common occurrence in our multi-cat household, but a quick sweep of the house shows no sign of a fray. Cloud, as we now call her, trots into the living room and flops on the rug in front of the TV as if butter wouldn't melt. 20 minutes later, the noise starts again but this time the source is right in front of our eyes. Sweet, darling Cloud is howling as if in the most tremendous pain. She starts pacing around, this guttural yowling echoing around the whole house. When Jareth, one of our male cats, approaches she adopts a tell-tale position. Head down, bum up and the noise she is making changes to something a bit more alluring. We realised then that she was in heat and she wanted some action! All of our cats are already neutered bar one. Thankfully, he is very young and was showing zero interest in Cloud's antics.

We have experienced cats in heat previously as our kittens had "come of age". As soon as we knew they had been in heat the vet visit was booked for them to be spayed so neither they, nor us, would have to endure this heartbreaking racket that they cannot help but make. Cloud had not yet been booked in for a spay and we read online that it is best to wait until after their heat to carry out the spay operation. This is due to an increase in blood flow to their reproductive organs, making the procedure more complicated. She is off to the vet today, as I write this, for her spay to finally be done.

Now, I am not sure if all female cats are quite as loud as this genteel girl when in heat, or if the fact that she is deaf and can't hear herself made it that much worse. What I did realise was that if someone did not know what was causing an otherwise healthy cat to make this awful noise, or how to make it stop, this may drive them to dump their pet on the street. Most people know they shouldn't shout at their pets, that it does little other than cause additional stress but again for those who don't know, shouting at a pet to try and make them shut-up may seem like a reasonable approach. Not very effective with a deaf cat! Getting rid of her may have seemed like the only option. Given that we had no success in finding her owner, we finally agreed that she had been dumped on the street.

After the heat had passed and Cloud returned to her floppy, loving self we arranged for her to go to a foster. She was immune to the warning growls of our resident cats and loved to chase them all around the house, a game the other cats did not enjoy. She wasn't getting all the attention she deserved, so we felt it best she went into foster to be spoiled before her flight to Texas. Her foster mum has had cats before but never females. After Cloud had been there a week she messaged me with a video she had taken in the middle of the night, the now familiar howling in full force asking "is this heat? Or is she sick?". I told her it was heat, it had come on a lot sooner than we had expected (only about 2 and half weeks since the last one) and that it would continue for the next 4 days. She even said herself, a total cat lover, that she could understand why someone would put the cat out when they behaved like that! I think she was nicknamed "Terror" for those few days. You can listen to the audio clip below. Just imagine trying to sleep when this is all you can hear!

This is the audio from the video that Cloud's foster mum sent me. This was at 2:30 in the morning!
I will be very happy when her operation is completed tomorrow and she can go back to her foster mum until all the preparations are complete for her to fly to Texas. I know she will go on to have a happy and secure life in a loving home, without her hormones and instincts kicking in every few weeks taking over her every thought and action. It is very distressing for all involved, a spay is really one of the greatest gifts you can give a pet.

Cloud's story has made me realise that we can be quick to judge, to label people as monsters for dumping their pets. It made me realise the importance of educating our friends, neighbours and colleagues about their responsibilities as pet owners and how they are helping their pets and themselves by having this procedure done. By helping people to make the right decisions for their pets, hopefully they will remain pets and not be added to the ever growing colonies on the streets of the world, putting additional pressure on the volunteers and government agencies who are trying to get the stray animal populations under control.

So, help me out here. Talk to the people around you about their pets, ask them if they are spayed or neutered. Don't judge or force the issue but educate them, gently does it. Answer any questions they may have and never make anyone feel stupid for what they do not know. If you don't have the answers, direct them to the TNR website or Facebook page for more information on the benefits of neutering their pets and how to go about it. Finally, if you have pets and they are not spayed or neutered, I recommend making an appointment with your vet to get it done. You won't regret it!