DoneDeal takes a trip to Kitten Cottage

Linda Daly visits Kitten Cottage, where Maire Egan rescues and looks after abandoned cats and kittens, while also doing her bit to keep the population of wild cats under control When Maire Egan was laid up for two years after she broke a disc in her back, she made a resolution: she would do what she loved in this life. For the past seven years, it’s a resolution she’s kept. Maire is director of Kitten Cottage in Cavan, a rescue centre for cats. The seeds for Kitten Cottage were first sown in 2004 when Maire’s two sons tried to catch a sick, wild cat. It took six weeks to rescue the emaciated creature, which was diagnosed with cancer. The vet wanted to put him down but he wasn’t in pain so Maire and her sons decided to keep him. The vet thought he would survive for three months. Five years and 2,000 cats later, Snowball died in 2007. In the past two years, that figure has more than doubled. By November, Kitten Cottage had saved 4,436 cats. Kitten Cottage's cute kittens Our visit My daughter Rachel and I travelled up to Kitten Cottage one fine Sunday afternoon in November. It lies an hour away from Blanchardstown centre, just off the M3 and towards Munterconnaught. The cottage itself lies below the road. From the outside, it looks like a quaint but well-kept home. Attached to the cottage, however, is a purpose-built house for cats. On the way to Cavan I had visions of Maire as Brenda Fricker’s character in Home Alone 2 but with cats replacing the pigeons.  Instead, I met quite a glamorous, attractive woman. On the day we visited Kitten Cottage, Maire had 17 cats. This figure can go up to 75 during the summer months. She greeted us with Buddy, a gorgeous Bichon Frise, who she helped rescue a few years ago.  While Kitten Cottage rescues cats in the main, some other creatures have come through its doors, including three foxes, a hare, birds, bats, snakes, hedgehogs, a badger, rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs. A puppy farm dog Maire took Buddy on as a pup after she got a call from a local vet. A woman had bought Buddy on the side of the road for €400. He was about four weeks old and wasn’t eating or drinking. As it turned out, he also had three broken legs. Maire says that due to his condition and size (he has never grown fully), they suspect he was puppy farmed. She warns against meeting people  ‘half way’  when buying pets. “If you meet someone on the side of the road to buy a pet, you may as well just hand over your bank account to a vet. They are breeding the smallest, weakest pups with the next smallest, weakest pups that won’t grow properly.” Buddy was so unwell that Maire had to feed him every 20 minutes for three days and it was touch and go for three weeks. He wouldn’t eat for anyone else for 18 months. “So I got stuck with him and he got stuck with me or we got stuck with each other. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me because he helps with the kittens,” she says. Caring for kittens Maire led us into the sanctuary where we met the cats and abandoned kittens. One kitten had been left in an estate between the kerb and road for a couple of days. People walked past and ignored her. Maire told Buddy to go get his baby. He went over, picked the little kitten out of her bed, and started cleaning her by licking her. “As a pup he was put in with the kittens and cats, and he obviously picked it up. He does it with all the babies,” says Maire. Trap, neuter, release Of the 17 cats, a few were wild. Kitten Cottage runs a trap, neuter and release programme for wild animals. Kitten Cottage catches the animals, neuters them, keeps them for 48 hours to ensure their stitches have healed and then releases them. “We caused the problem. We had our pets and we didn’t neuter them. It’s reckoned there’s up to 1 million un-homed cats in this country,” says Maire. One cat can produce 18 kittens in a season and can start producing when they are six months old. “Cats in this country are classed as vermin. There are no laws. You can basically do what you like to them. If we had cat licences it would help.” Calling it a day This great operation almost came to an end in February when Maire couldn’t afford to run it anymore. In the month after Christmas, Kitten Cottage received just two donations of €5 each. Maire was running it on her credit card. “We worm the cats, flea them and, when we have the money, we vaccinate them. We always neuter them over six months old. It costs money and we will not apply for a grant as money is so short in this country and there are so many in need.” The volunteers at Kitten Cottage pleaded with Maire not to close and came up with the idea of opening a curiosity shop. A few weeks later, Kitten Cottage Curiosity Shop opened its doors in Virginia, Co Cavan.  It sells everything from toys to designer handbags, with very few items costing more than €10. Seventeen volunteers help run the shop and Kitten Cottage. So far, it has been a success, paying all its own bills and half the bills at the cottage. You can help Maire says both entities need about six more volunteers to make them run smoothly. Maire also calls for donations of old clothes, toys, books and other items. For every 10 rag bags Kitten Cottage receives, it can have one cat neutered. Maire’s aim is to have the shop pay fully for Kitten Cottage. “I’d love if we could pay for ourselves. We’re not asking anyone for money. We’re asking people to buy something they’ll be buying anyway. The stuff we have is gorgeous.” The shop is open six days a week. Kitten Cottage is also open to the public but you must phone (086 1994115/ 087 7676714) in advance to ensure Maire is there.