What’s happening in your country? Montenegro

FEATURED ON: https://vetezi.in/

What do you do if you visit an area famous for its street cats but discover there’s no spay-neuter programme you can donate to? You start one of course! This is the story of Kotor Kitties…

“Kotor Kitties began as the first ongoing programme offering free neutering in Montenegro (part of former Yugoslavia). It was 2018 when some American tourists and their Airbnb hosts agreed to raise money to fund 10 spay surgeries through the local family vet in Kotor Municipality; they had no idea that there were no other neutering programmes in the entire country.

The situation for companion animals in Montenegro is very poor, with low rates of sterilisation and thus lots of uncontrolled breeding, and consequently large numbers of street cats and dogs and abandoned kittens and puppies. Animal welfare laws are in place but are poorly enforced.

Many residents do have pet cats which they house indoors, but most allow them to roam outside. More often though, Montenegrin residents will feed friendly cats on the streets, which means that their numbers quickly grow. If the kittens are not taken from the mother by pet owners and deposited alive in the trash (unfortunately this is common) then Mother Nature has a way of controlling this over-population – and it’s not pretty. Kittens die by the thousands on the street. When the last proper tourist season of 2019 was in full flow, it was a common occurrence for tourists to message the newly formed Kotor Kitties in desperation about kittens literally dying as they tried to help.

It is also an option for cat owners to raise the kittens until they are not feeding off their mother, and then abandon them in a ‘cat friendly’ environment (such as a vet clinic). This is seen as far kinder than abandoning them at birth to certain death but greatly increases the cat numbers, even after a good TNR programme has already cleaned the area.  Areas which have already been completely sterilised are constantly revisited to cater for this situation.

This is why Kotor Kitties also focuses attention on education and providing low-cost spays and neuters to local people for a small donation. We have produced educational posters on sterilisation for local people and flyers for tourists explaining our work. There have been features on local TV and radio stations that our local volunteers and veterinarians have taken part in. There was some initial resistance to sterilisation from the local people although this is where we have made significant progress. It has been reported that the biggest change is in people’s attitudes to sterilisation. Before most people said it was cruel and unnatural, now it’s becoming sought-after, respected and almost normal. People are also much more likely to adopt a cat or kitten when they know sterilisation is covered.

Now at the 3½ year point, over 6,000 cats have been neutered by Kotor Kitties by our four partner vets, with 2,470 cats being operated on in 2021 alone. Kotor Kitties was appointed 501(3)(c) non-profit status in the USA in 2019, registered as a charity in England and Wales in 2020 and most recently in 2021 made an official Montenegrin NGO.

More and more people are joining our ‘revolution’ to change the fortunes of the community cats in Montenegro. Presently, the majority of the volunteers are expats in the country, but as our reputation grows it is becoming more common that Montenegrins help our cause.  Most recently we have had a major breakthrough with the Mayors and Tourist Boards of the two main resorts in the country. They are now supportive of our mission, having ignored previous approaches for communication over many months. They have offered us printing resources, free car parking for volunteers when trapping and some storage spaces for traps. The British Ambassador in Montenegro is very supportive of Kotor Kitties and has offered her help promoting animal welfare issues.  Early in 2022, the US Ambassador had a meeting with volunteers in Kotor.

The pandemic of the last 2 years has seen a great drop in tourists to the region, particularly as it is a common port for Mediterranean cruise ships to dock in. This has completely coincided with our need to spread our message, and so our fundraising has been majorly affected. It also had an effect on the cats in other ways. When the restaurants remained closed, for example, it was reported that cats were howling with hunger. At one time local transport in Montenegro was only permitted within certain areas. This produced one of our more memorable ‘rescues’. A particularly sick cat was reported and caught within one area, driven using a taxi to an area ‘border’ by this individual, handed to another volunteer who had to take a ferry to another border area, where the cat again was handed over to another volunteer to be transported to the vet. Happily, the cat is cared for now, and was given the name Živi; ‘she lives’.

The quiet period we all spent at home during various ‘lockdowns’ allowed us in late 2020 and early 2021 to develop and launch our website www.kotorkitties.org. Apart from professional translation to Montenegrin (which was paid for by a grant), all volunteers gave their expertise for free.

We do some ‘rescue’ type work when a situation demands it, but from the beginning, Kotor Kitties deliberately chose to focus on spay and neuter funding. It was decided that this was the best impact we can have on a per Pound, Dollar or Euro basis. On the flip side, it is much harder to raise money for spays and neuters even though it is entirely logical, particularly in the Balkan area where there are so many stray companion animals. We have been lucky to receive some grants from supportive providers, and we still have loyal donors from the 2018 and 2019 tourist seasons.

Building up a charity from scratch, remotely, has not been without its challenges; language, cultural and even time zone differences have added to the difficulties. However, Kotor Kitties draws upon our volunteers’ wide experience, work ethic and desire to change a situation which has a proven solution.”

What an inspiration and a great example that collaboration and determination can reap incredible results. For more information about Kotor Kitties, see https://kotorkitties.org/

For more information about unowned cats, see our Cat Friendly Solutions for Unowned Cats section

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