On the small tropical island of Lanzarote, an autonomous community of Spain, off the west coast of Africa, there lives a guy who people know as Freddy the Cat Man. Why? Freddy is dedicated to improving the quality of life for feral cats in his town of Playa Blanca.
I met up with this remarkable man, whose real name is Freddy Leon, to find out more about his work.
Tell us a few things about yourself.
I am originally from Germany and visited the island of Lanzarote for the first time in 1994, after struggling with serious health issues, which the specialists called “burnout syndrome.” I had to give up my job as an international textile sales manager, and I had to think about my future and what to do with myself. Then followed a time when I was commuting between Germany and Lanzarote, a four-and-a-half hour flight, while deciding what to do.
About 10 years ago I moved to the island and I found that in my town there were hundreds, if not thousands, of feral street cats, who at first I started feeding just a few hours a day, but this quickly turned into a full-time job. I now have approximately 130 to 140 cats and 26 feeding stations to look after, including feeding stations in hotels and on tourist complexes.
In the beginning it was only me doing all the work, but over the years I met more and more lovely people who offered to volunteer, whether occasionally or on a regular basis, and about a year and a half ago I officially registered the charity as Freddy’s Cathouse.
What does a typical day at Freddy’s Cathouse entail?
I start the day with breakfast, followed by picking up cats from the vets who had been neutered/spayed the day before and releasing them to their familiar surroundings. After that I go to the shops to buy cat food, control the water supply at the feeding stations, clean them, go to a hotel that phoned the charity for some or other feline emergency, and of course I feed all the cats and socialize with them. I also do “cat walks,” which are guided tours for cat lovers whom I show around. Every day is a new, different day!
There is also a lot of admin work like writing and answering email and liaising with local councils. Our president deals with the social media side of things. I am out there with the cats six to seven hours every day. There are two volunteer couples who look after six of the cat stations, so there is a bit more time for me to go and trap feral cats, but we are always looking for new, reliable volunteers.
Tell us more about your “cat walks.”
Whenever somebody asks me, or I am recommended to someone, I will take them on a guided tour of all the feeding stations to meet the cats. I will tell them a bit about the history of the charity and stories about the cats, their background (if I know it) and their names. The cats are a tourist attraction.
At this point, a black-and-white tom, one of Freddy’s friendly ferals, called Fefe walks into the café where we were sitting and came to say hi to us. :)
So you give all your feral cats names and remember them all?
I think I know about 75 percent to 80 percent of them by the names that myself and other volunteers have given them. No “cattism” intended here, but the “blackies” are a bit difficult to identify sometimes because many of them look so similar. Sometimes I tell people “Oh, that’s Blacky 15 over there” or “Hey, have you met Blacky 74?” until they realize that I am joking.
I have heard that you sometimes find your feeding stations destroyed or defaced. Have you done anything about this?
We identified certain individuals who turned out to be the culprits, and we have now sorted this problem out — we always try and find a peaceful solution for any problem. There was a time where every second feeding station was defaced with cigarette butts or dog feces in the cats’ food, or washing-up liquid poured into their water, and even poison put down. There are still a few “souvenirs” around of somebody having scrawled “Freddy Go Home” (to put it nicely) on a rock, but I like to move on and concentrate on helping the cats. I do wish, though, that these individuals would have the guts to just face me and talk to me and not take it out on the cats, which I find very sad.
Do you get help or money from the Spanish government or local council?
No, we depend on private donations. However, we work very closely with our local council. I am not sure whether it was ever illegal to feed cats in public here, because you would see a lot of places putting up signs saying “do not feed the cats,” but Freddy’s Cathouse now has official permission from the town hall to feed the cats at our designated feeding stations.
Do you like other animals?
I love all animals. But, of course, cats are my favorites. Maybe I was a cat in my previous life or will be one in my next life. Either way, working with cats is the best job in the world.
Do you have any cats at home?
I have four cats at home, but I very often have a fifth one whom I foster when it needs treatment such as eye drops, tablets or other special care.
Do you have any other passions and hobbies?
I like to read, especially crime stories. And I also love gardening.
You are very active on Facebook. Has connecting with other cat people from around the world helped your charity?
Yes, most definitely! We have gained so many followers that way and are in contact with some of them almost every single day because they ask for updates on their favorite cats.
Some even sponsor one particular cat that they really like, which is wonderful.
Looking to the future — what are your dreams regarding your work with cats?
To find a big piece of land to set up a foster home for feral cats. I would also like to open a little coffee shop or a cat café, which you find in so many other countries now: Freddy’s Cat Farm and Freddy’s Cat Café.
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. She is a photographer, and she works as a freelance web and graphic designer and occasional Catster/Dogster contributor.