Moscow’s stray cats need basements to survive the winter and cat lovers ensure access

NEWS AND COMMENT: There appears to be an army of cat loving, kind and decent women living in Moscow and the suburbs who are concerned about the welfare of the city’s large stray cat population. During winter the temperature in Moscow hovers around or below freezing. It’s tough conditions for a street cat. An important way to survive is to have access to basements in large buildings built during the Soviet-era.

Man cuts hole in vetilation grill to apartment block leading to the basement
Man cuts hole in vetilation grill to apartment block leading to the basement. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr for The Telegraph.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

When they built them they constructed vents to the basements. Grills normally cover these ventilation holes which prevented stray cats access to protective basements. It is reported that the deputy mayor of Moscow has secured a law which orders all apartment buildings to provide free access to basements through these vents for “small pets”. We have to conclude that the description includes stray animals despite not being ‘pets’. Non-compliance can lead to sanctions.

The basements are a lifeline for stray cats but utility companies tend to cover them which leads to a quiet revolution, out of sight of the authorities, in which they cut holes in the vents. One of the guys who does this is a man who wishes to keep his name confidential but who is described as Ramil by The Telegraph newspaper.

The Telegraph reporter,Nataliya Vasilyeva, said that he’d been called out by a group of cat loving women to modify the grill over a ventilation hole in a building. He carries with him several crow bars, a wire cutter, and a circular saw. The group went around several buildings in the area checking the vents. Ramil went to work when necessary.

Although the law relates to Moscow, cat loving people have extended it to surrounding areas such as satellite towns, one of which is Zheleznodorozhy, where utility companies frequently put bars over the ventilation areas preventing stray cats vital entrance to protective basements. The cat loving activists who know the stray cats in the area undo the work of the utility companies by opening up holes in the bars. They avoid the attention of the police.

Moscow’s stray cats can thank the head of a non-governmental organisation called Kotospas which translates as Save-a-Cat. The head is Anna Feldman. She is a former human resources professional who has for many years fought utility companies who believe that stray cats are a health hazard.

She said that, “Putin would not have been able to stay in power that long if he had said something bad about cats.”

Animal cruelty is frowned upon and seen as something worse than many other crimes against people. There is no doubt that Russia is a nation of cat lovers. They also have some extraordinary cat breeders and some of the most remarkable Maine Coon cats emanate from that country.

A retired nurse who cares for six stray cats living in the basement of her apartment building said, “We, Russians, love the cats out of compassion. It’s impossible not to feel for someone who suffers”. A few months ago she had to leap into action when the utility companies put bars over the vents in her building. In doing so they trap the cats inside.

There something very noticeable about the story: the middle-aged and elderly women of Moscow who silently fight for the rights and welfare of the city’s street cats. They are the hardy ones, the admirable ones, who deserve all the praise in the world for what they do. They do it without fanfare. It’s a day-to-day burden they carry and they do it because they can’t let the cats suffer.

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