Having Hope

9th Jan, 2019

Written by Yakima Waner, Founder – Moon’s Rescues, partners of The Cat Shack

Professional photography by Pet Portrait Photography  

A small but big-hearted feral cat organisation run by volunteers was all that stood between the pastel tortoiseshell cat and spending the rest of her life in the cage she’d grown up in...

Saving the street cats of Brakpan

Moon’s Rescues is run by an amazing 74-year-old woman named Illona Hillhouse-Haralampiev, who feeds five colonies of street cats every evening in the suburb of Brakpan, Gauteng Province. I’m proud to do animal rescues with this organisation.

Illona has been feeding feral cats for decades, following in her mother’s footsteps; she’d started the feedings many years before and continued until she passed away. Illona also does our fostering during rescues and rehoming.

Hope was our second rescue and by far the worst to date.

Cat in a cage

An anonymous informant told Illona about a cat who’d lived in a cage for all its life; it was two years old. I never saw the cage or living conditions – it was reported as being very small, with no shelter from the elements, and that the cat was not fed regularly.

Although Illona tried to gain access to the premises, the cat’s owners refused point-blank to even allow her onto the property, and she couldn’t see into the yard where the cat was kept. I went next, hoping that perhaps I could convince them to let me in to observe the cat’s environment and health condition. But they were absolutely persistent about not allowing people inside the house.

I asked the owner if it was true that the cat was living in a cage and for how long. Nonchalantly, she confirmed that, yes, it was true and that it had been there for two years; she excused the situation by saying the cage was very big.

Excuses, excuses

Finally, we got the story as to why she was kept inside the cage. The cat wasn’t spayed and the owner didn’t want her to have kittens; she also alleged that many of her cats were being stolen.

I offered to get the cat spayed and asked if she’d let her live a normal, healthy and free life. She replied that she didn’t have the funds to spay, but she “loves the cat more than anything” and would allow her out if she wouldn’t fall pregnant. Of course, I agreed we’d cover the cost – anything just to get the cat out of her prison. With every excuse she made, I presented her with solutions.

Before I left I asked to see the cat, which she brought to the gate. I’ll never forget what I saw that day: for a two-year-old cat, she was tiny, and the shock in her eyes when she looked at the sky was palpable; she was terrified of any sounds such as cars or even birds.

I told the owner that I’d be back the following day to get the cat spayed.

Serious questions

When I arrived the following day, the owner wasn’t present but her friend was. I discovered that this friend was helping her to get food for the cat when she could – and that it was often fed dog food; in other words, not only was there often no food, but when there was, it was frequently not the correct food for a cat.

Determined not to give up, I returned later that day to speak to the owner. I asked her some serious questions about this cat’s upkeep. By this stage, everything in me just wanted to get the cat out of what was clearly a terrible situation.

At this point, the woman became extremely defensive, claiming that her son had told her that he’d rehome the cat. She then turned her back on me and marched off.

That’s when I realised that no amount of negotiation was going to work. I told her that if she didn’t comply, I’d call the SPCA and the police. I knew she’d had some previous dealings with the SPCA and was fearful of them returning. At the same house there’s a well-groomed dog that’s well looked after, so I thought that, by emphasising the seriousness of the situation, we could come to an understanding that this cat deserved a better life.

An argument and a resolution

Once I brought up the SPCA, the cat’s owner became aggressive and stormed back in a rage. I informed her that I was getting the cat spayed today, as discussed, and that she needed a vital health check-up. The woman continued arguing, insisting that she’d only hand the cat over if I promised to return her.

But I wasn’t about to give up. I told her that I wasn’t promising anything as my concern was with the cat’s happiness and not the woman’s emotions. I also made her aware of the fact that she couldn’t just feed the cat any food, especially dog food, because cats don’t digest the same way as dogs. She needed the correct, nutritious food for a cat.

I added that I was worried that the cat could have kidney failure due to being fed an unhealthy, irregular diet and dog food. I knew I had to explain the obvious to this woman: that she wasn’t fit to own a cat; that it came across to me that not only could she not afford to look after this cat, but it looked sickly and needed medical care.

When I explained that the only way I’d consider returning the cat after she’d seen a vet was if I could see where it was living, she claimed that her brother didn’t allow strangers onto the property. I informed her that I’d be there the following morning, and if she still wouldn’t allow me in, I’d take further action (i.e. send the SPCA and police).

Later that evening, to my immense relief, Illona contacted me to tell me that the cat had been brought to her. Finally, she was free from her prison. We named her Hope.

A new home for Hope

These situations are extremely difficult because I could see that this owner loved the cat in her own way but was simply not fit to own a cat – and wasn’t open to working with us to improve things. The fact that at the end of the day she allowed Hope to have a second chance to life proves that love.

On the 31st of July 2018, I took Hope and another rescued cat to The Cat Shack, where Brenda Höfer had her screened for any illnesses; she was also vaccinated and spayed. It was a miracle to hear that she was alright – a bit malnourished and in serious need of some TLC, but nothing serious.

The 4th of August was another day I’d never forget; it was the day Brenda told me that she’d found the most remarkable home for Hope – a lovely compassionate couple named Khama and Robert. I cried tears of happiness.

A massive applause to Brenda at The Cat Shack, a real angel who gifts second chances to so many animals and humans. Because sometimes all a human needs to see light and hope in this world is a cuddly companion. I wouldn’t know what to do without Illona and Brenda by my side in every rescue, and thank you to all who support and aid us. Last but not least, I’d like to thank Khama and Robert for giving Hope a new life filled with love and joy; it means the world to us.

Brenda keeps me updated on Hope’s amazing journey – and I couldn’t be happier for this sweet, gentle cat who got the second chance she deserved.

PS: Please, to the readers, if you’re considering introducing a furry loved one into your home, remember the responsibility that comes with it – starting with the responsible choice of adopting. Contact Brenda at The Cat Shack to change a life today.


By Khama Wyatt, Hope’s new owner

Hope was such an unexpected adoption, but such a welcome one.

Earlier in 2018 we’d lost our first pet due to kidney failure; the thought of ever having another pet was daunting. It was only after six months that we started considering the idea of having a fur baby to love again and began looking at pictures of kittens available for adoption.

Somewhere amongst it all we came across The Cat Shack. We decided on a Saturday morning to visit them and have a look at what babies were available for adoption. My husband had said it would be just to look – to get used to the idea of adopting. But on our arrival, Brenda introduced us to Hope.


A tiny, scared, skinny kitty (which we thought was approximately eight months old) was lying in a bed alone in the corner, with the most beautiful big green captivating eyes staring at the strangers approaching.

From the moment we went closer to her we knew she was The One. That moment was enchanting, as she couldn’t take her eyes off my husband, and within minutes she started purring in my arms. This was Hope’s first purr since her arrival at The Cat Shack. Something happened right in that moment after hearing what she’d been through and seeing the love she wanted to give. We decided right then and there that we had to home her.

One could say that Hope adopted us and chose us to be her family.

Beginning blues

The first night home we couldn’t sleep a wink, as Hope would cry, walk around, lie down and repeat… almost every 20 minutes. Every small sound terrified her and she’d flee underneath the bed.

But over the course of the following two weeks, she became loving, affectionate, playful and a truly amazing baby. Although we thought it was remarkable to see the change so soon, we still noticed the continuous effects of the trauma. Hope wasn’t able to eat without taking caution of her surroundings and would also be startled and fearful if we made any sudden noises or approached her too fast.

We also learned that she’s unable to manage in small spaces such as a carrier and has few social skills with other animals. Her safe space was underneath our bed, and we learned to be patient and reciprocate the love she showed to gain her trust

Better all the time

Despite all the effects of previous trauma, Hope has grown considerably in a short period of time and has shown us how incredibly smart she is. Every morning we wake to a slight nose-to-nose touch which she does just to remind us it’s time to feed her.

She’s gone from a fearful cat who doesn’t know when she’s called, to immediately running with her tail high when we call her name. She now eats with confidence, less scared of sudden noises, and has developed a streak of curiosity. She’s also a very playful cat who loves to play with foil balls, her favourite toy mousey, and to chase a laser.

We are very pleased with her progress and are confident she will continue to improve as time goes on.

Walking on leash

The most remarkable surprise of all is Hope’s ability and willingness to walk on a leash. Shortly after becoming aware of her fear for small confined spaces and carriers, we knew we had to find alternative ways to take her to her vet appointments.

It was at this point we began putting a leash on her and carrying her. The second time she was on the leash in the vet’s rooms she casually walked into the consultation room on her own with confidence. We could then start to take her for regular walks outside where she enjoys rolling in the warm sun, smelling freshly cut grass and exploring new smells. Although still easily startled in new environments, we try to reassure her that everything’s alright until she becomes more comfortable. More recently she’s become so comfortable and confident that she’ll lie down and wait patiently in the vet’s office for her appointment.

Hope is a fully indoor cat and we intend to keep her as such, although she enjoys her regular outings. We know that she’s still learning and we try our best to be patient with her and accommodating of her progress. In fact, our fighter has gone from a tiny 2.2kgs to 3.1kgs in just three months. She’s captivating and extremely strong-willed, which is probably why she’s very comfortable on the leash.

Hope is a smart, confident girl with a lot of love to give, who continuously seeks love and is such a blessing in our lives.