A woman faces the agonising decision of having 40 feral cats she is caring for destroyed unless she can find them homes.
Denny McLeod has spent four years and $30,000 feeding the unwanted cats near Katikati. Her efforts to manage the colony were fuelled by her desire to limit the damage to birds.
But all her care - which included feeding them every night, trapping for desexing and finding homes for kittens - will end next month.
She has been given notice to leave her rented farmhouse on a 4ha Apata avocado orchard that was for sale. And because she had taken responsibility for the cats by feeding them, the onus was on her to find a solution.
The colony was largely domestic pets turned wild after their owners dumped them in the area before heading off for Christmas holidays. What began as three or four cats when she shifted into the house seven years ago had grown with each passing Christmas until she began to feed them four years ago.
"I started feeding them to save birds and it morphed into something bigger," she said.
She has formed close bonds with the Holistic Vets which desexed trapped cats for free and the Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Even Bob Kerridge, from the Auckland SPCA, supported her efforts to educate people who abandoned cats and left them vulnerable to miserable deaths from cat flu.
"I am called the mad cat lady - it is not a label I aspire to," the former Bay of Plenty Polytechnic nursing tutor said.
Ms McLeod has distributed 50 flyers in a bid to find homes for some of the cats, which she said would be ideal for orchards with pest problems.
"I'm extremely anxious about these gorgeous animals because I can't take them with me. If I can't find a home for some of them, they will have to be destroyed."
Sadly, her letterbox drop did not draw a single response. "The hurtful thing is the indifference, I would rather people got angry."
She fed the cats every night on a mixture of cooked rice and five big cans of pet food in winter and more expensive biscuits in summer, costing $300 a fortnight. Her efforts to improve the cats' lives extended to buying little shelters.
"It's cost me a fortune, I'm probably naive and stupid," the nurse and former ambulance officer said.
But it seemed to work because the bird life had flourished and there were a lot more avocados from the cats killing rats and mice. "I have taken up their cause to educate people."
Sue Mackey, of Holistic Vets, said Ms McLeod had a heart of gold and they had done all they could to help: "I am really upset for her about where this could all end up."
But it was a big ask to find people willing to take on the cats, which would be desexed. They could not be left without someone to look after them once Ms McLeod left, she said.
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