Audio and Written Feature by Allison C., Concordia Applied Journalism
One day this past September, I was leaving school from Huangyang gate and crossed onto the sidewalk bordering the Green Villas neighborhood. To my surprise, I saw a figure kneeling next to the dark green fences.
The figure, to my surprise, was Mr. Dwyer. From afar, I saw him pull a box of cat food from his bag and feed a cat that was hiding in the bushes.
Around four to five years ago, Concordia educator Mr. Dwyer began to take an interest in feeding and taking care of the cats around the neighborhood. He tells the story of his first encounter with a cat in need of help: “There was a really cold winter,” recalls Mr Dwyer. “It was so cold that pipes were actually freezing in the buildings.”
“There was a little calico colored cat and she was hanging outside of the building by the door, crying to get in,” he continues. “She looked very upset and me and the other residents noticed this cat. Night after night she looked so sad and lonely, so we started feeding her ‘cause we felt sorry for her.” Ultimately, Mr Dwyer and some of the other residents were able to relocate the cat to a loving home.
“One of the families [within the community] took her in and she is still living with them today,” he adds.
“After that first experience with that cat, I saw that once you start feeding cats they start to trust you,” explains Mr Dwyer.
“And once they trust you, you can maybe trap them to get them treated with vaccinations, get them spayed or neutered so they can’t continue to have other kittens. In some cases, if we can’t find a home for them, we will actually re-release them on to the street, and they’re a lot healthier and it manages the population.”
The process that Mr Dwyer is describing is commonly referred to as Trap-Neuter-Return or Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR). Instead of capturing stray and feral cats to turn them to pounds or shelters where they may not be adopted or are potentially euthanized, TNR prevents cats from reproducing while also improving their health. Cats are vaccinated and protected against infectious diseases. Spaying and neutering cats can also prevent cancerous tumors on the reproductive organs of cats. Studies have shown that TNR effectively stabilizes feral cat populations while helping them live healthier lives.
When talking about the cats around Concordia, Mr. Dwyer warns that “they are safe as long as you don’t approach them. They usually want space.” There are a couple of indicators to help identify whether or not a cat is feeling friendly and social, he explains. “If their tail is not up, it is best to give them space. If they, in any event, brush your leg, they’re trying to put scent on you that means that they want to be your friend.”
“I always wear gloves and sleeves for protection, just in case they scratch by accident,” he explains.
Mr. Dwyer also shares an experience of how he and several other teachers were able to help a cat that was trapped on a roof in Jinqiao.
“This little kitty had been trapped up in a spot for about three to four days and it couldn’t come down,” recalls Mr. Dwyer. “I spent the better part of the entire Sunday working on different ways to try to get it down, including building ramps, trying ladders and nets, and getting on the roof. Multiple teachers stopped and helped at various points.”
“At about 9:30 that night, after about 14 hours of sticking with it, we finally got the cat down in a net and it was one of the most joyous and celebratory moments I’ve ever had,” he describes. “Everybody jumped and cheered, and we hugged strangers…it’s a really good memory.”
According to the estimates of local authorities, there are around 3 million stray cats in Shanghai.
When addressing the problem of feral cats in Jinqiao, Mr. Dwyer shares, “I don’t really know who’s ultimately responsible. I guess it’s really on all of us to try to do what we can, and I just have a lot of space in my heart to give, so I’m happy to serve in that way. But I understand that not everybody is called to do that, and that’s okay too.”
For those who are interested in helping the cats in the neighborhood, Mr. Dwyer recommends a few actions that can be taken:
“The more you learn about something, the more you might be motivated to take action, so, go online and see what you can read,” he urges. “There are numerous adopting and fostering agencies around. Fostering is when you can take a cat for a little while, maybe it’s sick and it just needs a little TLC and adoption, of course, is fully owning the cat.”
Mr. Dwyer’s dedication to helping the cats in the Jinqiao is not only heart-warming but also serves as a reminder that, if willing, one’s service can make a lasting impact on the community.
Allison C. is a student of Concordia Applied Journalism.