After the tragic death of her cat on one of the country’s many canals, a grieving cat owner is teaming up with Cats Matter to raise awareness to prevent others feeling her pain.
Cats go where they please, that’s no secret. Whether it’s roaming around their neighbourhoods or venturing further afield, cats can be found all over. But as they are known for not being fond of water, some people would be surprised to spot cats near rivers, lakes, streams, or in this case, canals. Which brings us to our story here, as because many people wouldn’t expect to see a cat on a canal towpath, they fail to keep an eye out as they would in a built-up area.
Mandy Elmer, spokesperson for Cats Matter, said: “What we are increasingly hearing about is cats living on narrowboats and sadly falling victim to speeding bikers, or being attacked by a dog off the lead.
“Unfortunately, of those we have spoken to, they say they ‘just didn’t expect a cat to be there.’ Given this repeated response, we wanted to raise awareness of the cats and other animals who call our canal network home.”
Anna Louisi has shared her story about the tragic death of her cat, Aurora, or Rora, a Maine Coon, who inspired Cats Matter to tackle the subject.
“It had been my dream for over a decade to share my life with a Maine Coon, and when Rora joined me at the end of November 2019, I was simply overjoyed, and very quickly fell madly in love with her,” she said. “This cute, hilarious, intelligent, beautiful mini-lion was living with me on my boat!”
Anna said that Rora quickly adapted to boat life and thrived as a boat cat, sometimes sitting up on the roof with her, or watching the world go by out of the window or otherwise curled up on the sofa by the fire.
“Rora was my comfort through the long, lonely months of lockdown, as well as through life’s other hurts and losses.
“She was so proud of her boat home and yet retained the most beautiful wildness in her spirit too. She would return from wanderings off the boat with the brightest eyes and ‘chat’ to me as if to regale all she had seen and heard on her travels.”
Most of their sojourns took place along the Grand Union Canal, specifically Rickmansworth, Cassiobury Park, and Harefield. But one Friday in August 2021, the duo had moored in Hackney Marshes alongside Wick Woods in East London, and Rora had only been out for 20 minutes when a young man knocked on their door and said he’d found a dying cat and needed help.
Anna remembered: “With my heart in my mouth, I hurried out, thinking ‘dying’ was surely an exaggeration, and just 10 metres away from our boat, I found my Rora, hissing, struggling to breathe, with blood in her mouth and covered in her own urine; her collar among the leaves and lots of her fur all around her.”
Sadly, Rora died before Anna could get her to the vet’s, and her injuries were consistent with a collision.
“Her position and location when I reached her suggest she was hit by any one of the vehicles which now hurtle down the towpaths, and other shared-use paths, appearing alarmingly quickly along the canals — bicycles, electric bicycles, electric scooters, and even motorbikes,” Anna said.
“Whoever it was that collided with Rora, did not stop to check if she was OK.
Rora’s death had a profound and lasting effect on Anna, leaving her with PTSD and unable to return to work for the first three weeks of the new school year.
“My grief through losing Rora has been the worst pain I have known in my 40 years,” she said. “During the first 48 hours, I wanted to die; I was convinced that it was my fault she had died, to the extent that I believed I had killed her, and I could see no way that I could continue while carrying that burden and without Rora.
“I then slipped into a trance, a state of shock and frequent crying and sometimes whole days in bed which lasted about two months.”
Anna has now said that she has shared her story not only to honour her “beautiful soulmate, best friend, and unbelievably cute, yet wise, wild, and courageous little Rora” but to raise awareness of the dangers feline friends can encounter on canals.
The Canal and River Trust is the organisation that cares for over 2,000 miles of towpaths, and they say that 6.5 million pedestrians and 1.7 million cyclists visit the waterways in a typical two-week period. The Inland Waterways Association also say that there has been a record-breaking rise in boat ownership as rising house prices and the cost of living crisis are making living on boats more appealing to people. Many of these will have cat and dog companions, especially given the rise in pet ownership since the pandemic began.
A spokesperson said: “The code of conduct on these paths is that pedestrians have priority and anybody on wheels should travel slowly enough that they can stop safely in case of any sudden obstruction, including children, wild animals, or pets.
“By law, people should not be racing on bikes down a towpath, or allow their dog to be out of control in public spaces anyway, but we would like to urge extra caution on the approach to busy areas, and areas where houses are adjacent to the footpath, or where there are moored boats.”
Cats Matter, who have spearheaded a campaign to make it a legal obligation to report a deceased cat on roads, has recently written a blog highlighting their campaign to raise awareness of cats on canals (www.catsmatter.org/single-post/cats-on-canals). Mandy added: “If someone does accidently hit a cat on a canal, even if the cat appears to be OK, we would urge you please to try to locate an owner if there are nearby boats or houses where the cat could live.
“Given the location and lack of resources, it might not be possible to take an injured animal to a veterinarian or local wildlife rehabilitator, as you would following road accidents. The police advise animals injured or in distress found on canals should be reported to the RSPCA 24-hour emergency injured animal line on 0300 1234 999.”