COSPICUA, Malta, 19/02/2017 by Alexander Johnson. Sugar’s life started brutally. As a small kitten he was thrown from the roof of a high building on to a hard pavement, a violent act which severed a part of his young brain, causing paralysis from the head down. Somehow, the little tabby managed to drag himself into a dark doorway, where his squeals of pain attracted the attention of a kind passerby who fortunately called a friend, an animal lover, well known for taking care of sick and injured cats. This was the beginning of many years filled with a deep bond of love and commitment between «Sugar» and his human Doris Zarb.
Even though he could barely move, the traumatised kitten was hard to catch, and still had a lot of fight left in him. Beaming, and with a twinkle in her eyes, Doris recalled, “When I finally managed to pick Sugar up, out of fear he bit me, causing my hand to swell like a balloon”. The weeks that followed involved journeys from one vet to another, the final diagnosis was Sugar would remain paralysed for the rest of his life. Doris told us, “I was recommended to have Sugar put down. However, he wasn’t in pain, and he had life, therefore there was no reason to destroy him, so I ignored the advice.”
Affectionately, Doris continued, “Furthermore, as the days went by, he started to accept me as his friend, and warmly purred when I stroked him. After that I couldn’t let him go. He was so sweet and loving, so I named him Sugar, and decided to keep him with me.” Since then, for the last thirteen years, due to his disability Sugar has had to be hand fed and cleaned several times a day, a chore which Doris lovingly does, besides seeing to any other needs.
No matter where Doris goes Sugar is close by, snuggled in his soft layered basket. “I also have him by me at night”, said Doris. “When he sleeps he lies straight and stiff as a board, not curled up into a soft ball like most cats.” Doris asserted further, “Sometimes, when he’s dreaming, he has moments of spasms, which wake me up.” Extraordinarily, in all those years Sugar has not been sick once! “The fall broke all his teeth, and we had to take them out,” related Doris, “but in the course of the years his gums have become so hard that he can chew dry food. Other than that Sugar, besides his paralysis, has had a very healthy life!” Taking care of Sugar means that Doris has had to sacrifice some of life’s pleasures, such as a holiday. “How can I have a holiday, when I’m needed here with my cats!” She smilingly exclaimed.
Doris has dedicated her life to cats, especially to the most vulnerable of the feline family. Over the years she has worked hard to establish one of Malta’s leading cat sanctuary, CSAF (Carers for Stray and Abandoned Felines), which today is home to over 250 cats. It is at the sanctuary that Sugar and Doris spend most of the working day. Sugar lies in his basket, surrounded by an entourage of cats, who seem to be very happy and proud to be in his presence. “The cats here love him, play with him, and one can see he enjoys it”, said Doris. On hearing Doris’ voice Sugar lifted his head to see where his loving human was. “I love all cats,” said Doris looking down at Sugar, “but Sugar has his own space in my heart.”
It was not expected that Sugar would survive a week, never mind to live all these years, but he proved all the pessimists wrong. Today, he is happy and healthy, with a lot more life to live, a miracle of love and devotion.
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Among the many available cat books, “Islands of Cats” uniquely highlights the work of stray cat carers, specifically the more than 1,000 individuals in Malta and Gozo, who dedicate a significant amount of time and personal funds to the well-being of their feline stray co-citizens. Not only do they feed the cat colonies daily and all year round, they also take the animals to the vet if sick or injured, and, most importantly, have them neutered/spayed as young as possible. With a conservatively estimated 300,000 stray cats on the Islands, these men and women actually help control the cat population, keeping the number of this very fertile species from exploding in our sea-locked, small nation. “Islands of Cats” introduces a representative 22 of these individuals on Malta and Gozo, tells a cat story, provides cat facts, and outlines places of interest in the Maltese Archipelago at the same time. Indeed, an entertaining, socio-relevant photo-story book.