Making a difference, one cat at a time: Dr Lili Mezhlumiani in Rustavi, Georgia



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Let me introduce you to Dr Lili Mezhlumiani. Lili and her husband have a vet clinic in Rustavi, Georgia. Rustavi has a population of around 130,000 and is the 4th largest city of Georgia, situated 23km from Tbilisi, towards the border with Armenia.

Lili has been trained by the animal welfare charity Mayhew and knows the importance of population management and cat welfare for both owned and unowned cats. Mayhew International got in touch with iCatCare in April 2021 to see if we had any advice for Lili who had identified a number of cat welfare issues in Rustavi.

Dr Lili Mezhlumiani

Unowned street cats were in abundance, with not much neutering of cats taking place generally and the situation would only get worse. There was lots of cat flu, trauma injuries from road accidents, skin diseases associated with ticks, and high rates of FIP and FeLV.

Most veterinary clinics in the area didn’t offer neutering services. In Rustavi, there are 3 vet clinics – with Lili’s own the only one offering cat neutering. The municipality has a small shelter for dogs, but no cats, and as a consequence people try to support the unowned cats and create shelters in their homes. But they soon become overwhelmed with too many cats in a small space.

Lili knew something had to be done, so with the support of Mayhew International and a few email exchanges with iCatCare, she decided to do a small survey of her cat-owning clients to gauge the attitude of the local people to cats.

In July the survey results were in and 23 clients completed the form, of those most had multiple cats, and 3 of them had more than 6. Over 50% of their cats were not neutered but they largely kept up with flea and worm control and their cats were up to date with their vaccinations. It was a 50/50 split between indoor only cats and those allowed access outdoors. Most of them were acquired as strays from off the street. Most felt that there were a lot of cats in Rustavi and that the people of the town didn’t care about street cats in general, most of which were thin but generally healthy.

When asked where they think all these cats come from, most suggested that they were either abandoned pets or the street cats were breeding prolifically. The majority of those surveyed said they were feeding these cats, but just over half said that people think the cats have a negative impact on the community (eg raiding rubbish bins, public health concerns, sick and dying kittens/cats on the street etc). Three-quarters of those surveyed felt there would be general support for individuals or organisations to work towards resolving this problem and all said they would personally support a TNR programme.

In October 2021, Lili and Mayhew Georgia started to plan a cat neutering project in Lili’s clinic in Rustavi. They started small, by focussing on clients known to Lili that have a lot of cats at home or feed cats in their yards.

To date, Lili has neutered 79 cats from starting the project at the end of November 2021 to 30 June 2022 (12 castrates/67 cat spays). 43 of the cats were from multi-cat households/semi-hoarding homes – so are classed as owned and 36 were street cats with regular feeders.

Community engagement like this doesn’t happen overnight. Lili has been cooperating with people who have taken in cats from the streets and/or feed them for some time prior to the start of her programme, but thanks to this pilot programme she can actively collaborate with these people. The clinic has a social media page and she posts on it about the programme and when people come to the clinic they get information and see the posters about it.

One of Lili’s main challenges is getting people to neuter the cats, as some think that female cats shouldn’t be deprived of their right to motherhood. Hopefully, over time, this will be better understood and people will be more willing to neuter their cats as the societal norm.

Lili gets at least two enquiries per day for the programme and plenty from Tbilisi wanting to come to Rustavi as well. But sometimes it is difficult for them to catch/trap the cats as there is little proper equipment available.

There has been some concern about getting hold of ketamine recently (part of the anaesthetic protocol) as it was usually imported from Ukraine, so if this becomes an issue for them they will look at another cocktail of drugs, if possible, without compromising the welfare of the cats being neutered. Mayhew Georgia and Lili wish to thank the Edgard Cooper Foundation for funding this work for them.

For more information and to support Mayhew Georgia, visit: https://georgia.themayhew.org



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