Stray cats multiply around Perpignan

Every night for the past 25 years, Helen Ferrieux has driven around the village of Saint-Nazaire to feed stray cats. When she pulls up to one of her usual feeding spots, the cats come running. The 70-year-old sprinkles pellets of food on window sills and under parked cars. She catches all the cats she feeds and takes them to a clinic to get sterilized.

Stray cats have long been residents of Saint-Nazaire and other communities around Perpignan. Animal shelter officials said more and more animals are being abandoned, and they blame the economic downturn.

“People don’t have enough money to take care of their pets, so they bring them here,” said Sylvie Zafra, administrative manager of La Société Protectrice des Animaux (Society for the Protection of Animals) in Perpignan. “That’s a new problem this year especially.”

“If humans have economic and social problems, the pet is going to have the same troubles,” said SPA employee Clémentine Durand.

Ferrieux said it costs 6 to 7 euros each week to feed about five cats in her village.

“If it were more, I would spend more and we would sacrifice,” she said. “We have a choice about how we spend our money.”

A stray cat crouches under a vehicle in Perpignan

A stray cat crouches under a vehicle in Perpignan

Ferrieux said the economy is an excuse for throwing pets out on the streets.

“OK, they say they can’t afford it. Have a look in their houses. They’ll have a [big] television. They’ll have a top-quality car. They’ll have iPhones. And they can’t feed an animal? As we say in French, ‘My eye,’” she said, using her index finger to pull down the skin under her eye in a gesture of skepticism.

In addition to the economy, SPA employees said divorce, pregnancy and a lack of access to animal sterilization cause people to abandon their animals.

Zafra said close to 500 pets are brought to the SPA each year, including dogs, cats, horses, sheep and goats.

Community members find some of the animals and bring them to the SPA; others are brought to the center by the pound. About 700 pets are adopted annually, but the society still has to turn some away from their facility.

“[All of] the dogs, for example, should be in the kennels, but there’s no room,” Durand said. “We can’t do more.”

Durand said she appreciates when people in the community look after stray animals because the SPA cannot care for all of them.

“Wild cats have the right to be outside,” Durand said. “Why should we put them in a cage? It’s nice that people help them.”

Ferrieux said some people in Saint-Nazaire resent that she feeds the felines.

“One guy threatened to kill me,” she said, eyebrows raised. “He said, ‘I’ve got a contract out for you.’”

Others in town leave out rat poison to kill the cats.

Ferrieux also told of a “Madame X” who put fox traps in a public alley in an attempt to catch the strays. One cat had to have a limb amputated.

“If a child had seen this trap, put his hand there and got his hand caught, it would have been a very, very serious matter,” said Ferrieux.

She said she doesn’t know why some neighbors don’t support her efforts.

“It’s not taking anything out of their pockets for heaven’s sake, is it? So why should they be so uptight about it?”

Nevertheless, Ferrieux said she doesn’t mind donating her time and money to help unwanted cats in her community.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you do it?’ Because it’s got to be done.”