Moving house, along with 150 cats
Rhona Lucas has turned her house in Galway into a cat sanctuary. Now she’s planning to move
‘I’m a Catholic. I just can’t get enough cats,” Rhona Lucas posts on her business Facebook page. She’s not lying. Since setting up An Cat Dubh sanctuary in 2011, she has had as many as 150 cats living out of her home in Loughrea, Co Galway, at any one time. Every cat has a name and every cat has a story, she says.
Lucas moved to Ireland several years ago after a long, successful career in child-protection services in England. In her work, she was involved in setting up a specialist protection team in Hampshire and then a persistent young offenders project. Not wanting to lose the skills she had gained in her career, nor wanting to settle into inactive retirement, she volunteered with Childline for some time. But she became known locally as an animal lover and, after people began to stop her on the street and to go to her house with unwanted pets, she decided to set up a cat sanctuary in the bungalow she shares with her husband.
“I’m not one of these people who thinks that animals are more important than people, but I do think they deserve the same level of respect and compassion as humans,” she says.
“I wouldn’t be able to bring home 150 abused and neglected children, although I might have wanted to throughout my professional career, but it is possible to bring home 150 abused, neglected and unwanted cats.”
The cats are named so as to reflect how they ended up in An Cat Dubh. So far, there are animals named after JRR Tolkien and Harry Potter characters, after international cities and after the people who left them in her care.
She sometimes gets confused as to which cat is which. “I thought I had the remedy for it, but I should have known better than to think I could get one step ahead of the cats,” she says. “The black ones are the hardest, because with the black-and-white ones there’s usually some variation in the markings, so it’s possible to tell them apart,” she says.
“With the black ones, it’s less possible to tell them apart as they grow – unless they’re missing an eye or part of a tail or some bit of them.”
‘People tell me I’m quite mad’
It’s not uncommon for strangers to pop into Lucas’s home with bags of cat food or the occasional addition to her growing collection of felines and, although these people may respect Lucas for her work, she knows that many people think she’s crazy for allowing dozens of cats to roam around her home.
“People tell me that I’m quite mad. Even my uncle in Cork said to me: ‘Rhona, I love you dearly, but you’re quite mad’, but there are various forms of eccentricity and madness and I like to think my form of madness does no harm and actually does some good.”
Keeping her house clean is a constant battle. The only no-cat zones in the house are the guest bedroom and the living room, but that doesn’t stop them trying to get in to those. Other rooms, including her own bedroom, are fair game.
“They live their lives trying to get into the two rooms that are forbidden territory. If you open the door, a whole herd of cats will rush towards you,” she laughs.
Lucas says she could never imagine living her life without her furry friends by her side.
“I can’t imagine my life without cats, any more than I can see myself not having contact with children and vulnerable people. I’m not one of these people who loves animals and hates people. I think you either love animals and people or you dislike the human race and that includes animals.”
Lucas will relocate to Co Clare soon. It will be no easy feat transporting 150 cats, some of which are still feral, but she hopes that people will continue to support her work there.
A video from An Cat Dubh sanctuary can be found online at irishtimes.com