This page: How did we get into what has turned out to be a life filling mission? - It all began in a shoe shop!


How it all began

 We realise in 2015 that what we wrote below was ten years ago, but reading through it, we have little to add about the beginnings. Things have moved on a little in the last ten years, but essentially, Catwork is simply continuing what was begun all those years ago - so we leave what we wrote in 2005 as it stands, an introduction of how we got into all this!

As 2005 saw Catwork clock up its tenth year of catworking, we thought we would give you a little introduction of how it all came about.

It all began in a shoe shop!
Barbara grew up surrounded by animals her father kept rescuing (including an orphaned deer). Cats were her favourite animal and she can't remember a time without one.

When Barbara and Bob were living in Burnham-on-Sea with just the two Burmese, Bill and Ben, Barbara overheard a conversation in a shoe shop about a difficult Siamese that was going to have to be put to sleep as the owner could not take it into her new accommodation. Barbara offered to help. Carly, the Siamese, was taken to a specialised rescue in Gloucestershire which Barbara found, and remained there as a house cat for the rest of her days.

- The seeds of rescue had been planted! -

When we came to live at Nether Stowey, Barbara's birthplace, and back into the very cottage in which she had grown up, the odd cat casualty began finding its way to us, and we purchased a timber chalet and sited it in our large garden; this was in 1995.

One thing led to another, or rather, one cat led to another.

The first two years of Catwork were mostly rescue and rehoming, though even in the early days a few 'special needs' cats turned up and stayed. One such was Millie, who would have been almost impossible to rehome as she was so terrified of everything. Millie remained with us and was the inspiration behind the Catwork logo.

What happened here at Catwork was, and still is, dictated by the needs of the cats who come here. We could never have anticipated those needs and planned what has become the sanctuary today. Each special needs cat that arrived seemed to need some further development of the sanctuary to cater for it; this is how it has become what it is today.

A few notable individuals
During those early days, a few individual cats had a major influence, that changed the way Catwork developed; these individuals feature large in our memories - remember, this was before we had even heard of "FIV":

Bertie Bertie, an elderly ginger cat who had been brought to Exmoor during the making of a film, or television production, was simply left behind when the filming was over! Sadly, Bertie had to survive on handouts from the locals for quite some time before he was brought to our attention by a cat-loving lady, who had noticed our advertisements in the local paper, seeking homes for rescued cats.

Bertie's rescue was quite dramatic - not knowing his rescuers, we arranged to meet by the church, we didn't wear red carnations, but we did swap car makes and colours. We needn't have worried, there was no one else at the church! It was a fearfully cold February day when Bertie was hauled up a very steep valley in a hamper and handed over to us at the top. It was all somewhat 'cloak and dagger' as, although no one would give Bertie a home, the locals had got used to him being there - Exmoor can be pretty bleak for wild animals, let alone a domestic cat; especially so in February!

Bertie's stay with us was all too brief, as he died a few months later, but he really enjoyed his bed and regular meals.

Barbara knew that Bertie was just the sort of cat she needed to be helping, the ones forgotten and poorly cared-for, or shunned in some way.

Georgie Georgie, was a little black cat who came to live in the home. She always had so many health problems, but was such a strong character! Georgie inhabited the upstairs and would come to the top of the stairs and shout loudly when she thought it was time for food - like a little old lady demanding to be attended to!

Georgie was quite frail, and might venture out into the garden for a few minutes on nice days, but spent nearly all her time either sharing Bob's chair in the office, or sleeping in her bed. Imagine our astonishment when one day we saw her walking on top of the 10 ft high wall beside our garden! To this day we don't know how she managed it, but Bob rushed to get a ladder to bring her down again - she was not amused!

Given a maximum of three months to live by our vet because of recurring mammary cancers, Georgie defied them and lived a full year after her prescribed limit. We featured her with this photo on a Catwork Christmas card. The photo was taken on Christmas Day, just a few weeks before she died, leaving a huge hole in our lives.

Original Sandy Sandy. Barbara was at the vet's one morning when a couple brought in a dear old cat. When asked what was wrong with him, they said 'nothing', he was their mother's cat, she had gone into a home and he was surplus to requirements and they'd come to have him put down! Barbara pleaded with them not to do it, and that she would give him a home; she spent an anxious few minutes pacing the floor outside the consulting room where they discussed the alternatives with the vet.

No one could see why Barbara should not take him, so Sandy came across the road to Catwork where he spent another two years. He was a lovely old cat and much loved.

Peggy Peggy has to be the rescue that not many people would have thought stood a chance - found blind and three-legged, dumped outside a disability centre! (we really do wonder about some of the human race!) She was, again, a cat of tremendous character and coped extremely well on her three legs. Her only front leg appeared almost central, like a peg - hence her name.

Peggy found a couple of years of happiness with a cat-loving friend of Barbara's who had a houseful of rescues already, including another blind cat with whom Peggy shared a chalet in the garden on days when it was warm enough to go outside. In the home, she had her own little 'safe' area, and was much loved.

The accommodation at Catwork was beginning to expand as the cat numbers grew. People needing help for cats came into our lives, including Mrs Pope. Having got to know us through some individual cats, Mrs Pope continued her generosity to Catwork until she died in 2005.

Others came along who gave us substantial donations, which enabled us to build more accommodation, which always quickly filled up!

Harry When Harry, our first terrified FIV, came into our lives, he changed the whole direction of Catwork and our lives. Other FIV cats came along and from knowing nothing at all about the condition, these years later, and many FIV cats later, we feel we are beginning to know a bit; enough to know, anyway, that FIV is nothing like the problem people think it is: it is more the perception of FIV that is the problem. The cats with the virus aren't that dangerous to other cats unless they are fighters by temperament, which very few are. Unneutered stays are more likely to fight, over food, females and territory, but once neutered and given a good food source, cats rarely fight.

An article we wrote in the local paper about FIV and Catwork led to the sponsorship idea. Mr Davies nominated Harry as his 'god cat' and sponsorship at Catwork was born.

As Catwork is just the two of us, we are unable to do the usual fund-raising activities; sponsorship has therefore become the method by which our work can proceed. Being able to rely on a known amount each month enables us to plan what can be done, and we have the added benefit of our sponsors becoming well known to us and visiting, so Catwork is very personal. As the FIV cats are almost never homed, we get to know them all extremely well, and our sponsors get to know them too.

Harry had come to us with his dad back in 1997 when the lady who had been feeding them as strays emigrated to Canada. Little did we realise when we agreed to take them on, knowing hardly anything about FIV, how that would change both our lives and enable many other FIV positive cats to have a life as well, instead of being put down.

Harry was at first terrified, and it took two or three months to win his confidence. He had the sweetest nature and was the most affectionate of cats.

Although he had evidently had flu before he came to us, and he always had a bit of a 'sniffle' he actually enjoyed extremely good health all the years he was with us, only needing treatment once to sort out some poor teeth.

Barbara would tell him most days, looking around at the rest of the sanctuary: "What a lot he had to answer for!"

Harry was chosen by one of our first sponsors, Mr Davies, who called him his 'god cat'. Mr Davies would come on the bus from Bridgwater to visit Harry, usually armed with a bag of prawns which were shared out amongst the garden gang. We think Mr Davies enjoyed being 'mugged' by them all; Harry and his friends certainly enjoyed his visits!

Dear Harry, who began the work with the FIVs, died in his sleep eight years later, after being off-colour the previous day.

Very strangely, Mr Davies, a musician of some renown it would seem, outlived Harry by just a couple of weeks and passed away in much the same manner. We miss them both so much.

Since Harry's arrival at Catwork, we have put our energies into helping FIV and FeLV cats, plus a few special needs cats, who are not homeable. Whatever their status, they all have a right to life, and we feel very privileged that we have been able to help just a few over the years since 1995.

<back to top>