The front courtyard of the Sanctuary is home to a variety of cats, many of whom roam freely to all corners except the Val Jones area (FIV cats) and the Leukemia area (confusingly, once known as Old Aids). But at night, and especially with the disappearance of our summer weather, most of them return to specific areas – and sometimes to specific beds. That’s a great help to the med-staff, who need to know where to look when medicating yet another black cat! Through our summer visiting hours one specific place is blocked off, so that shy cats have the opportunity of avoiding interaction with visitors. This area lies between the Yellow Door shed and the Hill House, and is the home to most of the front courtyard ferals.
The Old Rabbit Area (ORA) has nothing to do with old rabbits, but in the very early days of the Sanctuary there was in fact a rabbit pen on the south side of the courtyard. The space between the two buildings was walled in and the floor paved, though the south side is still open-netted. As the cat numbers increased with the trapping of local ferals, the area was given over to the cats, and the rabbits were moved into the DoubleWide. When I arrived in 2010, we were at almost 700 cats (there had been more!) and the rabbits were Kringle, Amy, and when Amy passed, Kris.
In the Old Rabbit Area, priority is given to hiding places. The shelving around the walls and the large cat-tree in the centre are all well-draped, and the drapes remain in place unless the med-staff need to access specific cats. Sweet stubby-tailed Dixie is one of these; she is tame and touchable, but prefers to remain out of sight.
Usually a human intruder into the area walks into blank drapes and no movement. The inhabitants of the bed under the heat-lamp give resentful glares. But the production of a little edible bribery will often result in inquisitive noses and hopeful faces – even if they don’t much want to be touched. Solar and Mabel are usually in this area – they are half of a quartet of ferals that came to us from VOKRA some years ago; their brother Midnight did a jail-break through to the back courtyard and remains there.
Our two little tripaw’d cats make this area their home. Marmalade (minus a back leg) has become much more mobile and can occasionally be found on the climbing frame on the other side of the courtyard. She emphatically does not want to be touched, but she loves chicken bits. Chutney (minus a front leg) prefers to stay around her home-zone, but enjoys contact with her select humans. She can often be found sitting up like a little meerkat.
Eddie had a home in the Hill House middle cage for some time, and was not a happy camper there; the Kitty Comforters who visited him were known to shed blood, and getting him comfortable with contact was a painful process. When the cage was opened and Eddie was out, we saw a different cat! On his first weekend out he was making nice with visitors – and no blood! Eddie prefers to hang out in the ORA with the other littles, as does sweet Abel. Abel is the chosen brother of Nemi. Both cats can be shy and a bit timid but overall, they have really blossomed and can be rather outgoing at times. Abel and Nemi are also very sweet. Nemi divides her time between the Connor, the climbing frame, and the ORA. Both cats are semi-feral, but on the tame end of the spectrum. Nemi and Abel are available for adoption.
Many other ferals hide behind the drapes, high up by the ceiling, or in the beds that form a barrier between the two courtyards. Bobtailed Bowie will venture out, but prefers to hold himself away from humans; he is one of many black cats in the area that is happier not dealing with us – the rest of his mini-colony (Jett, Joan and Janice, who I cannot tell apart) do the crepuscular cat thing, and prefer to emerge only at dawn and dusk when there are fewer people around to scare them.
Others enjoy transitioning through the window above the heated bed which leads into the Hill House; once there, they are often found to be more willing to venture a little human contact with volunteers.
Like everywhere else, the place is well cleaned every day, but other than that, volunteers tend to stay out of it, so the ORA can remain a sanctuary within the Sanctuary for the shy and the scared. a place where they can interact without our eyes on them, and where they can feel well fed and secure for all their lives.