Heathfield woman honoured for rescuing cats

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A Sussex woman is to be recognised with a special award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at the House of Lords, honouring more than 40 years of dedication to rescuing and rehoming cats in need.

Animal lover Liz Varney from Dallington, Heathfield, has rescued thousands of cats over the years and offers refuge to 200 at any one time at Catastrophes Cat Rescue, which she runs from her home in the East Sussex countryside alongside partner Alan Knight, who also runs the charity International Animal Rescue, helping vulnerable animals around the world.

Many of the cats have been abandoned or ill-treated and some become homeless because of a change in people’s circumstances. The rescue’s aim is to help any cat regardless of age, temperament or behavioural problems, whether wild or tame. This brings in many desperate calls from around the UK and sometimes abroad, asking Liz to help elderly, feral and difficult to rehome cats that some larger organisations may turn away or put down. She also takes in cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), showing the disease is not a death sentence. Valuable data on these cats assists with research into the disease.

Liz has a ‘no kill’ policy and set up a sanctuary as well as rescue and rehoming organisation, so that cats which would be very difficult to rehome can live out the rest of their days in a peaceful home environment with the freedom of a spacious country garden that surrounds the sanctuary.

President and CEO of IFAW, Azzedine Downes, said: “Liz’s dedication has seen her rescue many thousands of cats over the years and she is a great role model and example of animal welfare in action. She is a very deserving winner of IFAW’s Cat Rescue Award.”

Liz, with help from volunteers, also visits colonies of feral cats. As with any cats they help, they spay and neuter and provide any necessary veterinary treatment. Feral cats are then returned to their site of capture if long-term food supply and shelter can be provided. If not, they are relocated to a suitable farm or alternatively they are given a home at her sanctuary.

Liz said: “The first cat I rehomed was in answer to a request from a vet friend who was upset at healthy animals being brought in to be put down. From that, more and more requests came and annually we now rescue hundreds of cats. I admire the independence of cats but I like to be able to do something positive for them and I have always liked taking on a challenge. I’m delighted to be receiving the IFAW award which I accept on behalf of the team and the vets who help us so much.”

Trips to Spain are also organised by Liz to help with sterilisation of stray cat populations. In the near future she hopes to raise funds to build a new treatment room to help minimise veterinary costs for minor treatments which could be given on site and for sick and post-operative cats to recuperate in.

Liz will receive her award at IFAW’s prestigious Animal Action Awards event, hosted by Baroness Gale and presented by TV wildlife presenter Bill Oddie at the House of Lords on October 21.