Give food or affection, clean, rub, put fresh water or simply play. This is the set of tasks that Rita Alves does every day, for almost four years, with all inhabitants da Midnight Cabin Association, based in Faro. In addition to caring for cats, their sterilization is a growing concern.
When the door opens, the routine is almost always the same. A welcome meow is guaranteed upon the arrival of the volunteers, who then dedicate themselves to cleaning and feeding the cats.
The association did not yet exist when, on January 30, 2018, the “Cabana” project was created with Malhadinha, a kitten who was going to wait for Rita Alves at work.
«I started at the association as a caregiver. I mean, there was no association yet, I didn't even dream of having one. This started with a kitten who would wait for me near my workplace and I started seeing her pregnant all the time», says Rita Alves, responsible for the Associação Cabana da Meia-Noite.
Later, Midnight appeared, a feline that was captured at 00:00, with three more cubs.
«After six months, this kitten didn't appear for two days, she was found at the door of a demolished house, almost lifeless», explains Rita. The caregiver still took her to the emergency hospital, but she didn't make it in time.
This sad story gave rise to the name of the association Cabana da Meia-Noite, created on February 24, 2020.
Em Faro, before the creation of this association, sick or injured cats had no place where they could be treated. As cases of abandonment have increased, litters of stray cats have also proliferated. Furthermore, there are still more and more requests for help.
All of this came together to create the new association.
One of the biggest problems with stray cats is sterilization. «Until sterilization becomes mandatory, what we do is little more than “rain in the wet”. We are sterilizing 20 and then 40 appear», laments the person in charge.
One of the association's objectives is to raise awareness about sterilization, so that it becomes mandatory to safeguard animal welfare and even public health. To continue the fight, there is already a national petition to change the law.
Despite everything, animal welfare issues have been improving in Portugal, at least in terms of legislation. Since 2016, the slaughter of stray animals has been prohibited. However, as there are no sterilization campaigns and animal abandonment continues to increase, «if nothing changes on the part of the Government and people's initiative, there is the possibility of returning to slaughter in the future», warns Rita.
Sterilization would be the great solution to prevent new litters and the continued increase in wild cats, as associations, collection centers and kennels are full, and the “search continues”.
The association also promotes the adoption of the animals it takes in by families. At this stage, it delivers the chipped, vaccinated, sterilized cats only to a responsible family, complying with all safety standards. After the process, the association accompanies the new family for a few months to check that everything is ok.
For those who adopt, videos are sent on how to care for the animals in their first time at home, the socialization of cats, how to play and their needs.
According to Rita, adoptions have a success rate of around 95%, with failure resulting from sudden changes in people's lives and a lack of patience for the animal to adapt at home.
To publicize its work and encourage adoption, the Midnight Shack promotes awareness raising in schools, at Mar Shopping and at Fórum Algarve. At Mar Shopping, throughout the month of December, the «Wrap Solidarity» campaign is taking place, during which volunteers from the association make Christmas packages to raise funds.
The association has support from the Municipality, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), patrons, that is, people who participate monthly in monetary form, bearing the costs of medication, food and other expenses, from the Office of Social Insertion, through volunteers in community work, and volunteers from the University of Algarve.
Anyone who wants to help the association can contact it via Facebook, you can help with donations of sand, food or even sponsoring monthly or sporadically.
The routine goes from Monday to Monday, without rest. Rita provides treatment every day and volunteers lend a hand when they can.
The number of volunteers is uncertain, especially in summer, although this is the time when help is most needed.
«When we volunteer, especially with animals, there are no expectations, that is, everything that is given is from the heart and what we receive is also from the heart. Animals don't thank us because we take care of them, they thank us because they feel this empathy with us», adds Rita Alves.
Every day, the association has to guarantee the survival of the 30 cats it takes in and who are waiting for a new home. But donations don't arrive every day and, when the facilities are full, more animals have to be refused entry. «I have to think about those who are here. Therefore, I cannot put these at risk for the sake of others», reveals the person in charge.
Rita, who even puts money from her own pocket into the association, guarantees that donations or support are not enough for Cabana da Meia-Noite to survive.
Interestingly, it is the association that helps the Kennel and the Municipal Veterinary in collecting animals, as it is the only one with an incubator for newborn animals.
«We are all interconnected between animals and people, and people among themselves. Therefore, for me, as a representative of this association, it is very important that state and municipal institutions also give importance to our work», says the head of the Association.
The projects for this Farense space are never ending. For 2024, the objective is to acquire a van to transport the animals, which are currently transported in private cars.
Over these four years, there have been many stories that have passed through the four walls of the association and each inhabitant has its name associated with the past.
Branquinho, Big Boy, Captain Hook, Esmeralda, Thor, Torta de Claras, Resonância, Edward, Jacob, are many of the names that are on the waiting list in search of a new family.
«Big Boy was a cat that had a big impact on me, he didn't even have an association at the time. He was a cat we called “exorcism cat”. He looked at me and then started to turn his head, almost turning his head 90 degrees», recalls Rita Alves.
«I had just assumed that I was a caregiver and helped some caregivers with complicated cases», she recalls.
One of them was Dona Irene, an 80-year-old lady, diabetic and without a family. Whether in the sun or rain, every day I went to take care of the cats on the street, four of which stood out: Big Boy, Maria, Nina and Amarelinho.
Big Boy appeared downtown Faro with indication to be euthanized, due to aggressiveness. The head of the association, upon learning the story, captured him, took him to the vet to see what was happening, took him home until he recovered and found a solution. At the time, his recovery ended with some consequences, but he managed to be adopted by a fisherman in Aljezur.
The other cats also had their ways. Maria died of breast cancer in 2022, Nina was adopted and Amarelinho is still in Cabana da Meia-Noite.
Currently, there are several cases similar to Big Boy and Dona Irene. Many people, especially elderly people, try to help abandoned kittens, but when they have health problems, there is no one to take care of this task.
For this reason, Rita ends with an appeal, to solve this problem: «Sterilize until exhaustion, because it is the principle so that there is no need to have an association. The objective is for the association not to be necessary,” she concludes.
Photos: Cátia Rodrigues | Sul Informação
Note: Cátia Rodrigues is a finalist for the Master's in Communication and Digital Media at the University of Algarve and is doing her internship at Sul Informação.