From humble beginnings as a “cat and kittens” section in a Balinese dog shelter to a full-fledged cat sanctuary complete with a quarantine area, a veterinary hospitaland lots of room for its residents to roam safely, Villa Kitty Bali is the result of one woman’s fight to help the cats that nobody wants.
That woman is Elizabeth Henzell, an Australian who now lives in the sanctuary she set up in beautiful Lodtunduh, Bali.
An animal lover, Henzell has always had pets, but says she had never intended to open a cat foundation; it just ended up happening after she was asked to care for three kittens in 2009 but didn’t have enough time to properly nurse the small babies back to health.
Henzell had two Balinese friends who were looking for work and hired them to care for the kittens. Henzell’s close friend, Robert Elliott, generously offered to pay for the two young men’s wages, along with all the supplies, medicine, and food necessary to care for the kittens.
As time passed, and more and more stray and injured cats started arriving, Henzell knew she needed more space than was available in the dog shelter, and thanks to financial support from Rosemary Fry, an Australian woman who had visited Bali in 2010 and was touched by the work being done by Henzell and her small but dedicated staff, the first “cat house” for Villa Kitty Bali was constructed in a secluded area near Ubud, Bali. Robert Elliott told Henzell he’d cover the cost of the lease for the following 10 years, and Vita Kitty Bali was officially established in March 2011.
But Henzell says that the news of a cat sanctuary spread fast, and that by October of 2011, they had already outgrown the first building. To prevent infectious diseases from spreading rapidly among the sanctuary’s residents, Henzell needed a separate quarantine building and a separate hospital from the main building where the healthy cats were free to roam around and play.
And thanks once again to the generous aid of Robert Elliott, along with the Parr family, whose daughter, Molly Parr, heads up the sanctuary’s Young Ambassador program, the sanctuary was able to acquire a 10-year lease on an adjacent property and extend its size.
Henzell explains that extreme care is taken to keep infections from spreading among the cats. The adoption center, hospital wings (intestinal and respiratory), and the quarantine building are all color-coded along with their corresponding towels, bedding, and staff coats. But despite their vigilance, they are frequently faced with cat flu outbreaks and other airborne viruses. And, sadly, to give the other cats the best chance at survival, and eventually adoption, one of the sanctuary’s three veterinarians or seven vet assistants must often make the call to euthanize sick cats and kittens.
And it’s the loss of mothers and babies that is most tragic for Henzell. Pregnant females or those with young litters who are brought to the sanctuary can be so timid or afraid that they will stop eating and their milk dries up.
“Even though we try our hardest to feed their babies, they die,” Henzell laments. “I cannot tell you how gut-wrenchingly sad this is. Pleading with the mother, gently stroking her to eat, but she has just closed off. You can see it in their eyes, and they are dying, too.”
And although there is a team of veterinary professionals working in shifts around the clock to care for the cats, Henzell says she needs to hire at least two more vet assistants in order to have three on per shift. But finding staff can be hard.
According to Henzell, in Bali, the religion of many of the local people is Dharma Hinduism, which teaches that animals are secondary because they cannot communicate. As a result, cats and dogs are seen as more of a nuisance than as pets to be loved and cared for. Vaccination and sterilization rates are low, as the steady influx of kittens at Villa Kitty Bali can attest.
Henzell has created after-school programs at the sanctuary that aim to educate young children about the benefits of cats — including teaching them the saying, “Have cats, not rats!” as rats can be very problematic in some areas and cats could help families keep their populations in check — in the hopes that the younger generation will treat cats differently.
“And, after four years, we are slowly getting support from the community. Slowly!”
And in spite of the heartbreaking hardships that come with animal rescue, the sanctuary’s success comes from being able to adopt out healthy vaccinated and sterilized cats and kittens, and by educating the local population about spaying and neutering. Last year, Henzell says that Villa Kitty Bali took in more than 300 cats and was able to adopt out 143.
Unfortunately, the landowners from whom Henzell is leasing the land upon which the sanctuary is built do not want to renew the lease after 2021, which means that Villa Kitty Bali will have to move and rebuild elsewhere. She worries about finding the money necessary to do that, but says that the focus for the next five years is on changing the local community’s attitude towards cats and how they can be beneficial.
But even though the work at the sanctuary can be overwhelming at times as staff and volunteers struggle to care for so many sick, injured, abused, or pregnant cats, Henzell tries to focus on the positives, and updates the sanctuary’s Facebook page regularly with beautiful photos of the animals who have found their way to Villa Kitty Bali.
“What makes us special is that we have beautiful areas that are netted in and our old cats sit around just lazing their lives away, free from free,” Henzell says. “They will never have to endure another pregnancy, risking their lives trying to find food to sustain their own health to feed their babies.”
All photos via Villa Kitty Bali’s Facebook page.
Villa Kitty Bali is in constant need of donations in order to continue providing round the clock care for its ever-growing number of cats and kittens. Henzell also encourages tourists to visit the sanctuary and volunteer their time. To find out more about the sanctuary and what you can do to help, please check out its website and Facebook.
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix,Pinch, and a needy Sphynx cat named Skinny Mini. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.