Life is tough for cats trying to survive on the streets of Manila and other cities in the Philippines. Even though the climate is warm year round, the rainy season from June to November is hard when you live on the streets and are trying to find your next meal. Fighting off other cats, dogs, and humans is, of course, also a big problem.
Meet Michelle Fiegehen, who has adopted countless Manila street cats and has helped foster and rehome them. We caught up with her to hear her story.
Tell us a few things about yourself.
I’m Australian and a former IT director with a global bank. My company sent me to the Philippines in 2009, which was well timed because my 18-year-old ginger kitty had just died. I spent five years in the Philippines and India before leaving my job and deciding to settle in the Philippines and start a business here. And of course when you decide to put down roots, it’s time to adopt a cat.
How many cats are you owned by?
I have nine cats, all younger than two and a half years — six boys and three girls, three sets of siblings.
You call yourself a foster fail. How many times have you failed, and how did you get into fostering?
I fostered Asha, who was five weeks old when she came to me. She had been picked up off the side of the road by an expat from New Zealand in Manila, but he couldn’t keep her. I had never really been attracted to white cats, but Asha set me straight.
Next I fostered four tiny babies who were dumped on the side of the road at just one week old. They came to me a week later and I raised them, intending to adopt them all. When the time came, Chico stayed with me and the other three went to their forever home. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out so well, and Lulu came back to me, terribly thin, sick, and neglected. I desperately tried to recover the other two kitties who I had raised, but the owner vanished and they were lost to me. My heart is still broken over the whole affair. That was the end of fostering for me — I don’t have the emotional fortitude to let them go.
Are there other passions in your life?
I have a young business with offices in Cebu and Manila. We provide offshoring and social media services around the world. As part of our marketing activities, I’ve been writing articles on LinkedIn and have discovered a passion for writing.
What is the general stance toward cats in the Philippines?
The plight of cats is poor here. They are largely considered vermin. Those locals who do have pets tend to prefer breeds so are more likely to have Persians and Siamese. Since joining the Instagram community, I’ve been delighted to connect with other cat lovers who adopt street cats. Interesting fact: In Filipino, street cats are known as “puspins.”
There was a recent horrific case here where hundreds of cats were poisoned in one village. PETA has stepped in and offered a substantial reward.
Are there spay/neuter or trap/neuter/return programs where you live?
In Manila there is CARA Welfare and PAWS, which run free spay/neuter days and TNR, if requested in a particular area. Here in Cebu I recently contacted the Island Rescue Organisation about a TNR program, but it didn’t have one.
The Philippines brings to mind horrific typhoons and flooding we see in the news. How does this affect the street cats? Is there help for them in disaster scenarios?
CARA Welfare, PAWS, and IRO may step in, but typically those events affect the poorest areas and the poorest people, and the priority is providing assistance to them.
Do any special cats you’ve known stand out for you? Only the two I mention above who I let go still haunt me. All the others I have rescued are still here with me. One of the cats I adopted early on, my No. 2 kitty, was a beautiful Persian/Siamese lynx point called Maxi. She couldn’t adjust to the growing kitty household and was terribly unhappy. After many months of following all advice I could to stabilize the household, I sadly rehomed Maxi. She now lives here in Cebu with just one other Persian kitty and lots of humans who adore her.
You are active on social media, and you have a website and blog. What have you learned from connecting with other cat people from around the world? My old ginger boy in Sydney was a rescue, but I really didn’t give it [the rescue aspect] a lot of thought. After seeing so many street cats here in the Philippines, I really wanted to adopt from a shelter, but I had never really thought about “adopt don’t shop.” Now I’m very much an advocate. My street cats have the biggest personalities, and I feel like they just know they were saved from an unhappy life. There is no sense of entitlement; they are happy and loving and thankful.
I set up my Instagram account because I am besotted with my cats and want to share them with like-minded people. I am amazed that I have so many followers and that they know my cats’ names, personalities, and quirks. Through Instagram I discovered the concept of fostering, which is such a wonderful, rewarding activity — as long as you can let them go.
A video posted by Foster-fail Aussie in Cebu ? (@kittycentral) on
What are your plans for the future?
I have decided to run a mini-spay/neuter program in March. Basically, I put out a call saying that I would sponsor any of my staff who have cats to get them spayed and neutered. One in Manila has seven cats, and one in Cebu has four cats. I will organize transportation and pay for the procedure for them.
My long-term plans are to retire here in the Philippines and build a house on a big property. I’d love a massive organic garden, providing employment to local workers and food for local schools, and I’d like to maybe subsidize some other cottage industries to bring tourist dollars into the region. Part of the property would be allocated as a cat sanctuary with rescue kitties roaming free, but also with comfortable indoor shelter and lots of love from employees and residents. That’s the dream.
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About the Author: Barbarella Buchner — Ailurophile. Geeky Goth Girl. Ex-Musician Singer/Songwriter. Photographer. Web Designer. Fibromyalgia + RA Sufferer. And totally mad. She originally hails from Hannover (Germany), then moved to London, and since 2004 has lived on the tropical island of Lanzarote, together with her tabby twins Lugosi & Spider, and ginger queen Ruby Akasha. Apart from being an avid hobby — and sometimes even paid. — photographer, she works as a freelance web and graphic designer and occasional Catster / Dogster contributor.