A stray or feral cat is an unowned domestic cat that lives outdoors and avoids human contact. Outdoors can not only be a harsh place for the cat but also detrimental to the environment. According to Utah State University (USU)’s Extension programme, a single female cat may produce as many as three litters each year with two to four kittens per litter, with the capacity to successfully raise as many as 12 offspring in any given year. With the potential to increase in population, the number of stray and feral cats in an environment can quickly overwhelm the natural resources by increasing competition with native predators and depleting populations of local prey species. Scientists estimate that 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals are killed by free-roaming (house cats that are allowed outside, stray and feral) cats each year. El-Rahim Jaffer, founder of Pet+, a Rwanda-based company that aims to educate pet owners on proper pet care and promoting rescuing of animals, has made a move concerning rescuing, adopting and castrating stray cats. “If we find somebody who has found a cat that has either been thrown near their area, or in the sewer during rainy season, or something like that, they can bring them here and we can either take care of the cat for them or they can do it themselves,” he says. Jaffer declares that they also give ‘cats rescuers’ big discounts on pet care and castration, preventing them from producing when they are released or adopted, which he says is the best way. “Personally, I prefer to keep the cats indoors for safety reasons and diseases and other dangers. I am okay with people having their cats out there but again, those cats should be castrated. In Kigali, we are at the beginning of overpopulation and can still control and catch the cats in time,” he says. Pet+ also seeks to start Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR), a programme in which stray cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, and then released into the environment. According to Jaffer, that will prevent overpopulation. Can one adopt a stray cat? Studies have shown that stray cats and young feral kittens that are adopted by humans may become socialised and make good pets. For instance, in 2020 – mid-pandemic, Happy Tahirih Kampire adopted two cats. She first adopted ‘Hissy’ who was avoidant and didn’t like people or even her dog. Kampire says that it was because Hissy has been a stray cat and was found in a watercourse on the side of the road by a friend. “She was quite feisty and she hissed at her rescuers all the time,” says Kampire. “My friend couldn’t find someone with the patience to adopt a pet that kept hissing at them. When I saw Hissy in an Instagram post, I was urged to give it a try and luckily, my friend said yes.” Kampire brought Hissy home and they lived in the same room for a month, but without being in contact. “During the day,” narrates Kampire, “She would either be under my bed or in the closet. And at night, she would come out to explore the house. It was before I brought Peppa home and the game changed.” Peppa, according to Kampire, was her youngest cat who liked playing with any small movable objects such as pens, and didn’t shy away from playing with Kampire’s five-year-old dog which was at least 10 kilogrammes heavier than her. “When Peppa met Hissy,” Kampire continues, “Hissy came out of her hiding spot and started showering her, giving her lots of nose bops, and every day, we watched her get closer to humans by following Peppa’s lead.” She says that she got advice from other pet owners in Kigali on how they’ve handled similar situations, among other pet care tips. Kampire shares that what she loved about adopting the cats is the excitement they created around her. “Studies have shown that humans are happier when they do acts of service,” she says. “In 2020, adopting Hissy and Peppa felt very much like an act of service. It also helped me because they are active and entertaining creatures.” Sanaa and his wife, Burhan, who own Mocha Café located at Gacuriro in Kinyinya Sector, Gasabo District are known in their neighbourhood as cat lovers for they have rescued and adopted some. Speaking to The New Times, Sanaa says they started doing so since they came to Rwanda from Malaysia – getting stray cats, taking them to the vet for vaccination, and adopting them. “When our first cat gave birth to four kittens, we let other people adopt them,” he says. “We then started telling people to bring cats here so that we could take care of them. In the beginning, it was a challenge because some people don’t like cats, but as they grew to know that we loved them, they brought many to us and we gave them to some families. Now, we only have one.” He advises people who don’t like cats that in case they find them, they can at least have them taken to vets who can find people to adopt as well as castrate them, preventing them from making more kids. Saana also tackles the high price of most vets in Rwanda as a challenge, declaring that they should play a role in supporting the community to reduce cats on the streets. A case of rabies According to the ministerial order No. 009/11.30 of 18/11/2010 on animal husbandry in its Article 26 on prevention of rabies, a straying animal with symptoms of rabies must be immediately killed by veterinary services in collaboration with security services. In the area where the rabies disease is confirmed, says the law, movements of cats are forbidden unless they accompany their owners, attached with chains or muzzled. “Wandering cats are caught and taken to a lock-up place. Cats are killed on the spot,” reads part of the order. According to Small Door Veterinary, an association of vets, rabies can have serious health implications when contracted by humans or local wildlife populations. Unvaccinated cats, including domestic house cats that are allowed to roam freely outside the home, are at the highest risk for rabies infection.