As an animal lover, especially cats, volunteering to help our furry friends was puuuuurfect for me. Every six months, the non-profit animal welfare project Cats of Gili run a free cat clinic to spay/neuter the islands’ felines. During our time on Gili Air, I was around for two clinics and was honoured to help.
The experience was humbling, tiring, emotional but very rewarding. There was a wonderful community spirit as volunteers gave their time, islanders donated what they could, and I was in the thick of it.
Let me share with you my experience of volunteering at a cat clinic, and show how such a small act can provide such a huge impact.
The Cat Clinic is a cat sterilisation program aimed at reducing the future population of stray and island cats. Around 3,500 cats have the run of the GIli islands, and although they are deemed useful at keeping rats and mice at bay, numbers can quickly become uncontrollable. Mother cats are often exhausted and can die quickly because they are constantly pregnant. It’s also a major stress for them to find the right place to give birth, and find meals for new borns. Always having new kittens around the islands looking for new homes, begging for food (and sometimes love) annoys locals and long term residents. This is why the cat clinic is needed, to keep the cat-human balance in check.
You know the saying “breeding like rabbits”, it should be rephrased to “breeding like cats” across the Gilis.
Five years ago, a Finnish lady called Susanna selflessly set up the charity Cats of Gili. She would see cats in very poor health, and the cat population was spiralling out of control. There was no spaying and neutering and, as cats can reproduce after just two months, the number of cats having litters needed addressing. In 2013, Susanna came up with the brainchild of organising a cat clinic. But Susanna isn’t a vet, just (and I quote) “a crazy cat lady”.
Yes Tori is Superwoman. Yes both Tori and Susanna’s work is relentless. Yes they do it for the love of animals.
April 2018 hosted the 12th clinic. During these clinics, over 3,000 cats have been treated, nearly 2,400 of which have been spayed/neutered.
The main reason for the clinic was to spay and neuter – and 290 were done. The first day on Gili Trawangan was crazy busy and saw 55 cats, but on Gili Air’s first day, there was a record breaking 63.
These numbers show just how much the clinics are needed.
What is involved arranging a cat clinic? It’s a mountainous task which includes flying vet Rini from Jakarta Animal Aid Network, and cat catchers Doni and Adi flown from Kalimantan. For a cat clinic to be ultra-successful, volunteers need to be involved. News of the clinic needs to be spread - social media, posters and good old fashioned word of mouth are all important.
It isn’t cheap to run a cat clinic, especially when you remember a charity will arrange it for free. The April clinic across Gili Trawangan and Gili Air cost 20 million rupiah (US$1,440/£1,045/1,190€)
When there was an opportunity to get involved in the April Cat Clinic, I used my organisational skills to help Susanna and the vet team make this clinic a success.
Thankfully help was at hand. The beauty of Gili Air is their Facebook Community dedicated to its residents, so I put out a plea for any volunteers. My cries for assistance were answered (probably because of the cute help sign I posted!), and I was inundated with responses.
Cats are first “checked in” and given a number which stays with them at all times until they are checked out. They are transferred from their cat carrier to the preparation table, given an anaesthetic and, after they have fallen asleep, are shaved “ready for the op” and inspected. If it’s a routine op, the boys are lined up on one table to be neutered in quick succession. It only takes a few minutes for each one, and as many as 10 can be done. Spaying the girls takes around 10 minutes per cat so are operated on a separate table.
Not all stories are funny, as you can probably imagine, and there are always going to be cats who you fall in love with. For me there have been four across both cat clinics.
This adorable kitten was hit by a cidomo (horse cart) on Gili Trawangan. She had a broken leg and spent her time at the clinic to ensure a smooth recovery. Having a bandaged up broken leg didn’t stop Nursey running around like a kitten on cat-nip. She would jump and climb, and generally made us all fall in love with her. When removing the bandage, we all had high hopes she would be fit and healthy, alas, a few days later her leg was amputated. But Nursey was a young, spritely kitten and quickly adapted to running around on three legs, and being her usual crazy cat self. She lives with Susanna in the Cats of Gili shop
Similar story to Nursey; Luna was hit by a cidomo on Gili Trawangan. At first Luna was completely paralysed, but after a few days of care she stayed with the cat clinic to be monitored. She learnt to stand and walk again, although she was very wobbly, a bit like a drunk hooman. Sadly, she has brain trauma and will not be the same again, but her adorable character melted our hearts. I was smitten and completely in love with her. A couple of volunteers were assigned to just sit with her outside whilst she did “her business” to ensure she was safe. As a proud cat, she didn’t like to go to the toilet in her cage, she liked to dig. She returned to Gili T with one of her many owners, apparently there are about five people who love and care for her, Susanna being one of them!
Garfield had a couple of toes removed so needed after care, he therefore remained with the cat clinic to be monitored (he was also a bit cross-eyed!) He couldn’t go outside as he had an open wound which was healing, but when the clinic was quiet, we would allow him to wander around inside. He adored being petted. If you placed your hand near him he would nuzzle you. Other times he would gently grab you with his paws and direct you to where he wanted petting.
I will confess, this cat broke my heart and I cried. He was brought to us in a terrible state after a “road accident” which we believe could have been a cidomo on Gili Air. At first we were told he had been this way for a week, later the truth emerged that actually he had been suffering with a shattered, broken leg for well over a month. The leg was in such a bad state, you could see his pelvis and the vets were surprised there weren’t maggots. Due to neglect, the leg couldn’t be saved and was amputated. He was also another lover of attention. He obviously had a big operation and took a while to fully come around from anaesthetic, but when he did, if you put your hand on his face he would nuzzle you. Watching him trying to walk on three legs and falling over broke my heart, not because it had to be done, that is a sad reality of life, but the reason why it had to be done.
This little kitty was found paralysed on the side of the road in Gili Trawangan. No one knows why or how, but the vet team needed to assess if this was temporary (like Luna) or permanent. The vet team did all that they could, our volunteer Coco even hand fed him egg yolk with a syringe. Sadly, the paralysis was permanent and he had trouble breathing so we had to say goodbye. A few tears were shed, but I wanted to share his photo so he wouldn’t be forgotten.
As Susanna from the Cat Clinic said about some of these cases: “a few will haunt me forever, but I try to remind myself how much better the situation is now compared to what it was 4-5 years ago when we started. Overall, the majority of cats seen were in good health. And that is how we like our island felines to be”.
If you are visiting the Gili Islands during a cat clinic, please feel free to help! You can do as little as an hour or two, or stay as long as you like – warning, it can become addictive! Some volunteers only planned to do a few hours and ended up returning each day. You can also visit the cat shop on Gili Trawangan and purchase cute cat merchandise, 100% of the money goes towards the charity.
If you have been affected by this post, please make a donation to help the Cats of Gili continue with their amazing work. 100% of the donations go towards the cat hospital on Gili Trawangan, and for funding the cat clinics. Paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feed a kitten for a week 70,000 5.00 3.70 4.15
Vaccinate one cat 140,000 10.00 7.25 8.50
Buy a recovery cage 250,000 18.00 13.00 15.00
Neuter one male cat 280,000 20.00 14.00 16.00
Spay one female cat 450,000 30.00 23.00 26.00
Run a cat clinic for one whole day 1,300,000 100.00 73.00 83.00
The amazing volunteers
181 cats visited
143 – spayed/neutered
1 civet cat rescued
169 cats visited
Rini, Yoana, Kristina, Agi
Volunteer vet team:
Maureen – vet
Coco, Amber, Adeline, Addie – nurses
Doni & Adi
Volunteer cat catchers:
Lamara, Amber, Coco, Josh, Noa
Me, Adeline, Cori, Addie, Melinda, Joelay, Pernilla, Matilda, Henrika,
Special thanks to the following:
Oceans 5 Dive Resort – for hosting the Gili Air Clinic again. They also donated free accommodation to the vet and nurses, provided storage for the equipment to be used in future clinics, and provided fresh water to be used at the clinic for operations.
Grand Sunset – donated free accommodation for our visiting vet, lent an electronic scooter for the day, and donated old sheets and blankets used during the clinic.
Lutwala Dive Gili Trawangan - donated free accommodation for the vet team plus transported the vet team, some cats and all the clinic equipment from Trawangan to Air and back again by boat.
Gili Palms Resort, Trawangan Dive, Manta Dive Gili Air – for donating free accommodation to our vet and nurse team.
Pachamama, Villa Nangka and various people on Gili Air – they answered my multiple pleas for any old towels, t-shirts, bedding, sheets, pillow cases, sarongs – basically any clothes that can be used as “bedding” for the cat recovery cages.
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