A refuge for stray and abandoned cats in Hoi An

Since 2012, UK National and Hoi An Animal Welfare advocate Emma Bolton Nguyen has worked to create a better world for the city’s cats both through the animal shelter she operates alongside her husband and through educational work with local residents.

Emma said one of the common misconceptions she has to address is a feeling that animals are objects and don’t register emotions the same way people do. “They don’t understand animal feelings,” she said. “We try to explain to them animals need compassion.”

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Emma and her organization, Vietnam Cat Welfare (vietnamcatwelfare.org), not only houses and treats the city’s population of neglected and sick cats, they work with pet-owners who seek guidance on how to care for their pets, be that a cat or a dog. Owners who show an interest in their pet’s welfare aren’t far from understanding that the pet has  emotional needs like their owners. Emma said usually that point doesn’t need to be pushed very hard. “They usually get it.”

Other times, Vietnam Cat Welfare (VCW) has been called to assist owners who deeply understand the importance of their pets and have had it foregrounded in a horrifying, though not uncommon, situation—the abduction of their pet. Sale and trade of dog meat is still more common, Emma said, but the abduction and ransom of the city’s cats is still a risk that area cat owners face. She disclosed that a criminal enterprise of cat trafficking centers around a holding center in Danang. This center feeds a supply of cats for consumption in Vietnam’s northern region. Sometimes cats will be taken by traps set up around the city. Other times, they will simply be seized. Vietnam Cat Welfare does not list its address and monitors its facilities with a security camera in part for this reason, Emma said.

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Owners whose cats have disappeared sometimes call on VCW to check Danang’s cat detention center and see if their pet has ended up in the trafficking center. “A Vietnamese has to (go and check), not a foreigner,” she said. If a cat belonging to an owner has been caught, Emma said owners may be asked to a pay a fee of around VND500,000, more if the ransomers learn the cat owner is a foreigner.

VCW is organizationally wedded to a feline friendly vegetarian restaurant, Jack’s Cat Café (www.facebook.com/jackscatcafe) in a Hoi An garden. The café is named after Jack, the first cat Emma house and cared for. The cat gave birth to a litter of kittens as she and her husband were developing a reputation for working with felines in need, and Vietnam Cat Welfare was born. The organization started from the most basic knowledge of cat care; Emma gave the first cat the name “Jack” because she thought it was male and didn’t think to check the gender.

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Today, VCW works with a network of trained veterinarians to rehabilitate Hoi An’s cats. Their success stories regularly appear on the group’s Facebook page, like the cat named Pongo who was born with no eyes and has been trained to navigate by sound and smell (to find the litter box). Another cat named Creeper was found badly emaciated and biting his own legs. A tailored medicine and therapy regimen brought him to a thriving state.

One post recalls the story a cat formerly cared for at Vietnam Cat Welfare resting on a windowsill in a bucolic countryside. The regal looking, long-haired white cat is named Princess. Emma’s group found the cat tied up and beaten, likely unable to evade them due to her being deaf. Today, she lives with new owners in France.

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Currently, VCW cares for about 70 cats. The group takes in about 100 cats annually, Emma estimated, half of which are placed with new owners. Vietnam Cat Welfare is a charity organization that relies on a combination of donations and volunteers to conducts its work. It is in the process of becoming a registered Vietnam charity. It currently holds a charity license from the UK.

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Images Provided by Vietnam Cat Welfare