Cordelia Madden-Kanellopoulou is one of the co-founders of Nine Lives Greece – Οι Εφτάψυχες, which is a group of like-minded volunteers with experience in animal welfare, who decided to start the rescue organization due to the lack of any other charity in Athens focused on the well-being of the city’s innumerable stray cats. Nine Lives Greece started in 2006 and became an officially recognized charity in 2008.
Mission Statement: To promote cat welfare through neutering, education and enhanced relations between humans and cats in Greece.
Vision: A cat-friendly country where humans treat cats with justice and respect.
A Conversation with Cordelia
What is your role with the rescue?
Volunteer, foster mum, re-homer, trapper, feeder, rescuer, driver, PR, admin, fundraiser, event organizer, newsletter editor, social media updater, board member…Like many of our team members, all of the above!
Why did you start the rescue?
We set up in 2006 as the only charity in Athens for stray cats. There are other charities here that try to help both dogs and cats, and many that are solely working for dogs; we decided that a more focused charity was needed for the vast feline population on the streets. NGOs that work for both species inevitably find their funds and focus being drawn largely to the dogs, which are more visible and often appear more vulnerable. Our expertise and experience is for cats, and thus we are better equipped to help cats in need, and also to offer practical advice to the many people who contact us needing help for stray cats that they look after or have rescued.
Can you describe what you do for the cats in Greece?
Nine Lives Greece – Οι Εφτάψυχες helps cats now, through feeding and care, and for the future, by neutering and re-homing.
Our main aim is the humane reduction of the stray cat overpopulation through trap-neuter-return (TNR) programmes. Each year, we get hundreds of stray cats in Athens neutered/spayed, greatly reducing the numbers of unwanted kittens born each season, and ensuring a healthier adult cat population. In 2015 alone, we got over 1,200 stray cats spayed/neutered, and we are well on track for our goal for 2016 of 1,500 cats.
We also improve the quality of life for existing street cats through feeding programmes (on a daily basis, we feed over 400 stray and abandoned cats in central Athens), routine anti-parasite treatment, and veterinary care for ill or injured felines. In addition, we try to find loving, responsible homes for as many stray or abandoned cats and kittens as possible.
We are just a handful of volunteers who dedicate our spare time to the stray cats, we have no office, no animal ambulance or transport van, and we receive no state funding or assistance.
What region do you cover?
The cat colonies that we feed and take care of every day, that number over 400 spayed/neutered cats, are in central Athens. But we also help volunteers in other areas of Athens to get cat colonies they take care of spayed/neutered, and we try to help as many people as possible who contact us asking for help with ill/injured cats, trapped cats or others in need, wherever they are, with practical help or information.
To help cats in remote areas or islands of Greece with no local vets, we work with The Greek Cat Welfare Society arranging trips by volunteer vets for neutering/spaying/vet care.
Does your rescue have a shelter or is it foster-based or both?
We work on the streets of Athens and have no shelter or other facilities to keep cats or kittens. Cats that need vet care are hospitalized at the vet clinics we work with, and we are constantly struggling to find foster homes where cats or kittens that simply cannot survive on the streets can stay until adopted (special needs kitties, the very young, the very old, or home cats/kittens that have no survival skills).
Approximately how many cats do you adopt out each year?
During 2015 we found loving, responsible homes for 120 cats and kittens. In the previous years, our annual number of adoptions averaged at around 90 cats/kittens.
What is the hardest part about running a cat rescue?
Not being able to help every single animal in need. We always do our best, but the numbers of cats that need help vastly outstrip our resources. Every day we receive dozens of emails, messages, phone calls about cats in need, from all across Greece. In one single recent summer day, we received pleas for help for no fewer than 19 newborn kittens found abandoned around Athens. Just in one day. This is why our main focus is spaying and neutering, as otherwise there can never be enough homes or foster homes for all the unwanted litters, for all the kittens suffering or going blind from infections rife in colonies, for all the cats with limbs shattered by cars or torn apart by dogs, for all the friendly strays at great risk from deliberate human abuse, and for all the colony cats poisoned by residents who object to their very existence.
What is the best part about running a cat rescue?
The happiness of finding wonderful, caring homes for cats or kittens whose days were numbered on the streets. Meeting incredible people in your own city but also all around the world whose kindness and dedication to animals knows no bounds. The transformation of a cat colony simply through spaying/neutering, vet care and good food – from scrawny, flea-ridden ghosts hiding behind rubbish bins and endlessly raising sickly litters of kittens, into glossy, healthy, plump, self-respecting cats that are the pride of the neighbourhood.
Do you hold fundraising events?
We organise fundraising bazaars each season, selling second-hand clothes, books, household decorations and other donated items. Each spring our Ladies’ Day celebration takes place, with premium shopping and pampering, while every autumn we hold a launch party for our annual calendar (featuring beautiful street cats cared for by Nine Lives Greece). At Christmas we organize our Santa Paws fundraising party. At all our events, our unique line of Nine Lives merchandise is available for sale.
Do you find that it’s hard to come by volunteers or fosters?
We are blessed to have a wonderful core team of local volunteers who are absolutely dedicated to helping cats, have endless energy and are full of creative ideas. We also enjoy the help of visitors who come to stay in Athens for studies, work or holidays, who continue to support us once they return to their home countries. The never-ending nature of this kind of welfare work can take a toll on all of us volunteers, but we try to keep a balance between 24/7 cat work and our other jobs and family lives. Working as a team means not only that the work is shared, but also the emotional burden.
Indeed, it is hard to find foster mums or dads, and without foster families we cannot function, since we have no shelter or other cattery facilities. It is not easy to give a kitten or cat your home and heart for weeks/months and then have to say goodbye. Some of our foster mums became ‘foster fails’, who end up keeping their precious charges forever! But it can be a great way for someone who is unable to make a long-term commitment to enjoy having a cat at home. And as, of course, we always keep contact with our adopters, around the world, the foster mums/dads follow their cats’/kittens’ news, photos and videos as they grow and thrive.
Cordelia Shares Two Rescue Stories
Batman & Robin
These two were found as kittens dragging themselves through the streets of Athens with irrevocably wounded forelegs, Batman in the Acropolis area and Robin near Omonia Square, one of the roughest parts of central Athens. Batman had been chased into the road, under the wheels of a car, by a passing group of kids, eyewitnesses said. He was rushed to the vet but the damage was done. Robin, meanwhile, a tiny and frail kitten, his useless front leg hanging from the elbow down, perhaps had been hiding in a car engine when it set off, catching his limb in the machinery.
Our wonderful foster mum and physiotherapist Sydney took both kittens under her wing and tried her very best to save their legs, sadly to no avail. She and her incredibly nurturing cat Chief nursed them through amputation surgery and after-care (even creating little onesies for them to wear so as not to bother their stitches), and the boys were soon gamboling around her house on three legs without a care in the world.
Imagine our delight when Batman and Robin were offered a fantastic home in rural Scotland with our friends Fred and Sandra. The boys have absolutely thrived during their four years there and we receive regular updates as these lovely young cats mature into handsome, strong, healthy and beloved members of Fred and Sandra’s family.
Bo and His Colony
We will never forget Bo, because he led us to the cat colonies that would become our Herculean task over the subsequent three years! In summer 2013, a member of the UK-based Greek Cat Welfare Society on holiday in Athens discovered a seemingly blind kitten stuck in a building near the Acropolis. Our volunteer Caroline went straight to help and managed to get the small ginger-and-white kitten out and into a cage to take to the vet. But while there, she quickly found herself joined not only by the mother of the blind kitten, but by some 40 other unsterilized cats, lured by the whiff of cat food. Having delivered the kitten to the vet, we went back with traps and cages and started the long job of getting the cats of this colony sterilised. Over three years, we have spayed/neutered over 60 cats in the three main colonies of this area, the first 46 with invaluable financial help from OIPA, the Organisation International for the Protection of Animals.
Meanwhile, little Bo spent two months with foster mum Eleni, and then – perfectly sighted after treatment and an operation for inverted eyelashes – to a fantastic home with our dear friends Ann and Trevor. We also found homes for Bessie and Beba, two adult cats who had developed chronic allergies from the dust and dirt of Athens street life (they are both thriving now); for Zoey, a lovely young female cat who had a badly broken leg from a dog bite, and for several of the kittens abandoned at the feeding places there.
Thank you to Cordelia for sharing with us about Nine Lives Greece. The group is doing wonderful work on the streets in Athens. You can connect with the group through their website, Facebook and Instagram. And if you wish to support their efforts, you can do so via PayPal by clicking the donate button on their website.
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