Cats, Friends, Helpers

Published in About Animals

Eco Hvar is sometimes criticized for doing too little - or even nothing - to help the island's innumerable needy cats and kittens. In fact there are lots of residents around the island, locals and incomers, who consistently do their utmost to help.

Rescued 2021, thriving, 2023. Rescued 2021, thriving, 2023. Elisha Szczerbinski

Hungry cats, Pitve 2019: always more, wanting more!. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

We are grateful to visitors who take the trouble to contact us about animals in trouble. In many cases people respond to our appeals for help, often via Facebook, sometimes through personal contact. For instance, several people reported their worries about a particular very poorly cat living near the rubbish bins in Jelsa car park in the summer of 2023. We are glad to report that he did receive medical care, thanks to the kind efforts of two animal-friends (one German, one Swiss) who took the trouble to order special antibiotics and administer them. The cat made a good recovery, which enabled him to continue his independent life.

'Bin cat', December 2023. Photo: Elisha Szczerbinski

Eco Hvar as an organization provides as much support as possible to individuals, besides working on long-term projects, acting as a means of communication and providing a focus for communal efforts. Everyone who helps animals is a friend of Eco Hvar: we do not have a formal membership system and anyone who wishes to be listed as a supporter of our work is welcome to do so, free of charge. The supporters' list is the basis of a volunteer network which achieves much more than most people (particularly visitors to the island) are aware of.

Strays in Medvidina Bay. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

The work is endless. The needs are variable and the situations often difficult, demanding time, patience and finance. A few examples of what might be involved: bottle-feeding tiny kittens; organizing sterilizations and medical care; finding homes for at least some. There is no cat shelter on the island and the local veterinarians do not have facilities for taking in sick cats, even for post-operative care. So individual helpers have to provide everything needed.

Rescued kittens and a cat house in Medvidina Bay. Photo courtesy of Elisha & MattSzczerbinski

Here we should mention that islanders are almost always busy! Summer visitors tend to think that life on the island is just one long holiday, but that is far from the case. Between commitments to work, family and tending the fields there is little time left over. The dedicated care which so many people give to helping animals is therefore all the more praiseworthy.

Cedrik in Medvidina Bay, before and after treatment. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

We are extremely grateful to all those who participate. A good example of what people of goodwill can achieve is provided by Elisha and Matt Szczerbinski. They settled on Hvar just a few years ago, near Medvidina, a small bay south of Gdinj. There they came across numbers of cats who lived in luxury during the summer season when tourists fed them, but were left largely bereft when the holidaymakers left and the area  was more or less deserted. Elisha and Matt set about making sure the bay’s cats always had food, water, shelter and appropriate veterinary care.

Eco Hvar's cat trap put to good use for Lola's sterilization. Photo Courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

Most importantly, they have been taking cats to be sterilized on a regular basis, making full use of the cat trap which Eco Hvar invested in a few years ago. The system of 'trap - neuter - return' is a vital factor in controlling the numbers of unwanted strays. It takes careful organization, meticulous planning, time and sometimes expenditure if the local council sterilization budget is used up.

Feeding cats in Jelsa. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbhinski

Elisha and Matt's tireless work spread early on to Jelsa. Even after moving to Jelsa, they have continued to travel to the Medvidina Bay every other day to replenish the food and water supplies and give the cats there some loving attention. As all the resident cats in the bay have been neutered, the numbers have remained stable to date. Ideally, Elisha and Matt want to find suitable homes for as many of the cats as possible, as they are used to human contact. Travelling all the way to Medvidina so frequently is a drain on their time and energy, not to mention finances. It is likely to prove unsustainable in the longer term, despite their deep commitment.

Jessica pictured before and immediately after her sterilization. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

Jessica is one who has been lucky enough to find a good home. She was one of the bin cats Elisha was feeding in 2021 near Hotel Hvar in Jelsa. She stood out from the others because she was so friendly, and clearly had been a domesticated cat at some point. Photos of the cats posted online were shared by Amanda Blanch from Stari Grad, herself a tireless cat saviour with her partner Chris Edwardes. Miraculously, there was an instant response from a lady called Silvia living in Hvar Town, who said the grey cat in the photo immediately had her heart. The next day Elisha and Silvia went with the newly-named Jessica to Dr. Mirej, the vet in Hvar Town, where she was checked out and sterilized. Estimated to be around 5 years old, she had ear mites and other parasites, but Silvia looked after her perfectly throughout her recovery and now they live happily together in Hvar.

Bottle-feeding Kira. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

Bottle-or syringe-feeding very young kittens is a time-intensive occupation! It should be said that bottle-feeding kittens or pups is by no means straightforward, not least because the special formula milk needed is not always available on the island. One of the best gifts Eco Hvar received in 2023 was a set for feeding the very young from our German friend Jane Ariane. The powdered milk and drop applicator were put to good use just a couple of days after we received them, when devoted animal-friend Bojana Marijan found a tiny kitten in a field and was able to nurse it through until it was taken on by another well-wisher.

Kali and Kira snuggling, tiny, contented and safe. Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

In 2021, without the benefit of this invaluable gift, Elisha and Matt nobly took on the challenge to save a pair of kittens in response to an appeal on the Eco Hvar Facebook page.

The initial appeal for one kitten quickly escalated when two more were found.

The third kitten sadly died, but Elisha and Matt managed to rescue the two black and white kittens, which they named Kali and Kira. They thrived through the diligent care of their saviours, growing up in an atmosphere of love and security.

Kali and Kira enjoying comfort in Matt's company! Photo: Elisha Szczerbinski

They continued to enjoy snuggling together, and are now house cats who have grown into the beautiful, loving specimens pictured at the top of the page!

Kali and Kira, never tired of snuggling! Photo courtesy of Elisha & Matt Szczerbinski

The example of Elisha and Matt is not unique: there are many on Hvar who go the extra mile to save and nurture stray cats and dogs. We all have to accept that we cannot help every animal in need on our island. We are therefore glad for every single cat or dog which is given the chance of living in safety and enjoying its time in this beautiful environment.

© Vivian Grisogono, December 2023.

Footnote: As mentioned, the island's residents are mostly always busy. Elisha and Matt are no exception. They fit in their cat-saving activities alongside developing Hvar Away, a property management company which has been garnering high praise for its high quality and attention to detail.







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