Cats have a special place in my heart, and none more so than the hundreds of lovely kitties that have become synonymous with the Greek islands. From postcards to calendars, Greek cats have become superstars in their own right. Even the inspiration for Aphrodite, the cat at the heart of my picture book Catch that Cat!, came from Kanella, my aunty’s cat who lived here on Kythera!
However, it’s not always a happy story and some of these animals live hard and sad lives. It’s not unusual for unsterilised female cats to have many litters of kittens each year, despite hardly being more than babies themselves, and for male cats to suffer terrible wounds as a result of fighting over territory and food.
Slowly, the situation is getting better across the Greek islands with charities being set up to help control the population of cats and ensure the ones that remain are being cared for and, in some cases, rehomed.
One extraordinary lady who is doing just that here on Kythera is Irene Op. She came here from Holland a few years ago and now runsAdopt a Cat as well as caring for 28 kitties with special needs. Irene helps catch, sterilise and vaccinate cats all over Kythera and is driven by the fact that she has been able to allow them to live longer, happier and healthier lives, as well as bringing down the total number of homeless kittens on the island. You can identify cats that Irene and Katerina the vet have sterilised by looking for cats whose left ear is slightly cut (a harmless and internationally recognised method of identification).
Irene also helps other animals in need, and regularly posts updates and photographs on her website. She also runs a stall every Sunday at Potamos market, where you can support the charity by buying merchandise and gifts. If you are visiting Kythera, go along and say hello!
On her website you can make a donation or choose to sponsor your own cat. For just €4,60 a month you can feed a cat, or for €7,95 a month you can feed, neuter and vaccinate a cat. It’s a really great cause and you can read more about it at her Facebook page.