Journalism adventures: Helping cats with C.A.T. Garden Route

CAT Garden Route, in cooperation with the Garden Route SPCA, consists of two women singlehandedly trapping and sterilising thousands of cats in George and the surrounding areas. In February, we got to know Rita Brock and Coriza Vermeulen and their daily lives of helping cats in need.

What CAT does

The Cat Assistance Team (CAT) do a lot for local feral and township cats, but their main goal is sterilisation. In 2019 alone, they sterilised more than a thousand cats. Once they’ve sterilised a cat, they usually follow up with their owners on how the cat is doing. Furthermore, they provide food and medical attention to the cats that are in need of it.

We joined Coriza, who works in the local townships around George, on an expedition into the community of Borcheds. While Rita is the expert at tracking down and trapping cats for sterilisation, Coriza works with the cats and their owners in township communities daily. She is a welcome face in the community. The owners are always glad to see her because she helps them take care of their pets. She teaches them about leaving out clean water and filling the food bowls regularly. Sometimes, when she comes to visit, she brings a little extra treat for the cats.

Our expedition with CAT Garden Route

Steven Lang was our journalism student writing about CAT and their work. He is also a big cat lover, which made him the perfect writer for the story. We met Coriza at 7:30 am at the Garden Route SPCA in George. Once there, we drove with her to Borcherds where she visits specific owners. More importantly, she visits specific cats.

“Where’s my little girl?” she asked the owner of the first house we stopped at. The elderly couple, who were the owners of the female cat in question, didn’t have to answer. The young tortoiseshell cat appeared and rubbed against Coriza’s legs, before returning to her beloved owners. It was the first of many houses we visited. At each house, Coriza introduced us to the owners first, and then their beloved pets.

Each owner got a packet of cat food. In addition, Coriza inspected each cat for possible medical conditions. Some of them had a few fleas, for which she gave a tablet that the cat had to ingest. One of the cats had a very bad abscess on her back, and we had to put her in a carrier box in the car with us to take to the SPCA.

The cat lovers of Borcherds

Coriza knows the routes and trails among the makeshift houses in the township like the back of her hand. We followed her, Steven with his camera at the ready. It was a wonderful experience to meet the different owners and their cats. Some are older people who see their cat as a child and companion. Others are younger, but still love their cats to the moon and back. 

When she started, the community was not educated on how to care for a cat. Being a more sensitive creature than dogs, there are certain things that a cat owner needs to know and do. Coriza told us that before, people used to get cats only to get rid of the mice and rats. Now, they play a much larger role in their homes. 

A story to remember

It was a great way to spend our morning. Helping cats, learning more about the community and their culture. All while doing some interviewing and photographing as well. Another unforgettable journalism adventure, with the help of Rita and Coriza’s inspiring NGO.

Do you like experiencing new things and meeting new people? Maybe writing about interesting places and environmental issues? To join in on these adventures, join our Travel and Environmental Journalism program for a month. We explore all the travel, cultural and environmental stories in the Garden Route. Writing for local magazines, you can kickstart your career as a freelance journalist. Submit an application on our website and we’ll get in touch!

Photos by Steven Lang

Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen

Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism program and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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