Incredible volunteer has transformed her home to become a haven for cats
A self-confessed cat crazy lady has transformed her house to help care for more than 200 moggies for the RSPCA to prepare them for finding their loving forever homes.
Maureen Austin (78), from Woking, Surrey, is one of the charity’s most prolific fosters and has also spent years volunteering at the nearby Millbrook Animal Centre, Chobham.
She has been fostering pets for more than 12 years and in that time has looked after more than 200 cats, including mums and kittens, hand-rearing orphaned pussies, and caring for elderly and sick cats – as well as a few dogs – three of which at different times she adopted!
The self confessed ‘cat-crazy lady’ has spoken about the important role she plays in the hope she can encourage others to help volunteer for the RSPCA as the charity has been inundated with abandoned and neglected pets due to the cost of living crisis and also to highlight the charity’s Winter campaign to raise funds to help to continue their vital rescue work.
It comes as results from an exclusive survey conducted on RSPCA frontline staff show 94.7% – say lack of space to take rescued animals is the top challenge facing the animal charity at the moment.
She said: “I know I’m helping the cats but they also help me. I get so much out of doing this – it is incredibly rewarding and I am so indebted to the RSPCA for entrusting me with so many beautiful animals.
“I hope my experience inspires others to take up this important role and also urge people to support the RSPCAs winter campaign so they can continue to rescue and rehome – so many cats in need.”
Fosterers play a vital role for the RSPCA, preparing pets for living in a home and freeing up much-needed space in animal centres so staff can care for more animal victims of cruelty and neglect.
Maureen retired from her role with a construction company in 2009 and jumped at the chance of being able to volunteer.
She said: “I initially went to Millbrook to help in any way I could, cleaning pens, washing food bowls and dirty cat litter trays and putting unending amounts of fleeces, towels and toys in the wash.
“I spent time helping in my own small way to socialise and gain the trust of the cats and kittens who had, through no fault of their own, found their way there. Then one day I was asked if I would foster some kittens and I have never looked back.
“I have always loved animals and birds – especially in my childhood – now I am again cocooned in a life filled with love, and a feeling of usefulness. I feel very lucky and really try to get to know the animals so I can help them going forward.
“Often early experiences of cruelty and neglect can have a lasting effect and yet many animals appear not to hold real grudges. Nurture and nourishment liberally dished out can slowly help even the most neglected animals – but respect, gentleness and consistency of handling and care can help cement a true bonding.”
Some pets have come to her terrified of their own shadow and too frightened to be touched due to being victims of horrendous cruelty. Others like Penny (pictured below) came from a household with 60 cats and she had never been socialised.
Maureen’s fostering role is to help them recover from their ordeal slowly and get them used to life in a home environment so they are ready to take their next step – and find their forever home.
Dedicated Maureen has even played surro-cat to newborn kittens she has handreared. The gruelling job means waking up every few hours through the night to feed and clean the tiny kittens.
The caring volunteer has even adapted her home so one of the bedrooms is converted into a cat specific room – complete with scratching post, toys, a television for them to watch and lots of comfy beds (pictured right). She also plays classical music to the cats in her care to help calm the more nervous ones and also reads stories to them to help with bonding.
She said it is difficult to say goodbye when they go to new homes but she knows they will flourish thanks to her help – and there will always be other pets in need of her patience and love.
She added: “Often the new owners keep in touch with me and send me updates and photographs of them enjoying their new lives.
“One cat who was described as one of the worst cases of cruelty the RSPCA had ever seen really took a very long time to recover and was not well enough to be adopted so I am delighted to get updates showing her enjoying being petted and loved in her new home.
Maureen juggles her caring activities while looking after her terrier-cross dog Belle aged 7 and cat Ebony aged 13. Both were originally fostered and then adopted and both she describes as ‘an absolute delight”.
The RSPCA is currently facing it’s toughest winter ever as the cost of living crisis is putting pressure on pet owners and incidents of neglect and abandonment are on the rise and centres are full to bursting.