THE bundle of black fur backs away as we near, and two distrusting eyes show fear, writes Sammy Jones.
“This is Tommy,” Becky*, one of the RSPCA cattery staff tells me.
“He was dumped in a box on one of the estates, under a bridge...”
Spend a little time coaxing the scared animal away from the frail safety of his blanket, mind, and all he really wants is a cuddle.
Like all the animals here at the Newport Pagnell rescue centre, cage after cage of unwanted, ill treated creatures, all they really want is to be shown affection. But all have sad, and sometimes horrifying backgrounds.
“He has obviously not been loved or taken care of,” Becky says.
“He has had a terrible start in life, like so many of the animals, and all we can hope is that with a lot of care and patience we can turn them around.
“Tommy has been here for three weeks now though, and he is starting to come out of his shell.”
“We have one kitten that was dumped in a park with her mother...there may have been more babies, but unfortunately, we were only able to locate the one.
“And, when kittens grow up, all too often owners decide they don’t want a full grown cat, presumably because it’s no longer cute and cuddly, and so they wind up being dumped on the streets.”
The recession has seen numbers of animals, not just feline, thrown out like rubbish.
Horrifically, numbers of cruelty cases are rising steadily too – and that has nothing to do with a recession, but instead shows a disturbing rise in the number of sick individuals.
The absolutely horrendous story of a pet terrier being stolen and thrown from a new city bridge caused widespread shock and disbelief.
A week prior to that, an adult cat was pulled from the Peartree Bridge canal.
She had been tied to a concrete block and thrown to her death.
“We have one 13 week old kitten which has been kicked in the head and left with a degree of brain damage, and another younger kitten that has had its tail pulled so hard that it had to be surgically removed...
“Abuse is very much on the increase. I don’t know what the answer is, but everyone knows that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“The RSPCA does what it can, and we always prosecute, but things are really bad and worsening.” The centre in Newport Pagnell has 35 cats in residence when we visit, which means it is full to capacity.
But those numbers don’t go anywhere near to explaining the size of the problem – the Milton Keynes RSPCA and its small army of invaluable fosterers is currently charged with the welfare of 250 cats and kittens.
Unfortunately, it’s the same story across the country.
“The numbers we are receiving is increasing year on year, and this year is by far the worst,” Becky says, “Every single centre across the country is saying the same.”
Keeping so many dependant animals fed and watered costs hard cash too – around £1000 every month.
“...and that doesn’t include veterinary bills.”
Working in this environment is as mentally challenging as it is rewarding: “It’s not the sort of job where you shut the door behind you, go home and forget about your day at work.
“You can’t turn off from it.”
In fact, Becky has 25 cats at home – 10 of her own and 15 more she is fostering.
“I haven’t been on holiday in 15 years,” she admits,
“It’s amazing how I haven’t ended up in the funny farm!” she says with a smile, but actually, it is the selflessness of her and her colleagues at the centre that have saved thousands of cats and kittens.
“We have a no kill policy here – we won’t put any animal down. One of us will always end up taking it home,” she says.
But with cats coming in at a far quicker rate than they are being rehomed, the battle is becoming ever harder.
How to redress the balance?
“We need more fosterers, and more money – the more we have, the more animals we can take in and help.
“We have to turn people away all the time, but that is never an excuse to throw an animal into the street and close the door on it.
“Make a phone call, there are other avenues of support too |– try Cats Protection, Hula Animal Rescue...call everyone, but don’t throw your animal out like it is trash.
“It has feelings, will be scared and unable to fend for itself...” And she has a promise for anyone that still decides dump their pet: “It is illegal and we will hunt you down,” she says, resolutely.
If you can help the RSPCA by volunteering as a fosterer, or if you would like to adopt a cat or kitten from the centre, call them directly on MK 611179.
But remember, “Having a cat is a life commitment.”
* Name has been changed to protect identity