ADVICE/INFO ABOUT VOLUNTEERING AT CAT BEACH SANCTUARY
We often get inquiries from volunteers about what they need to bring or prepare before coming to stay and what they can do to help the cats at Cat Beach, so here’s our suggestions.
You won’t need much as life is pretty relaxed and tropically warm here…and almost anything you need is available locally and is cheaper here than elsewhere.
Of course, you are welcome to bring anything that a cat can eat or play with– always appreciated by the cats!
LOCATION Cat Beach Sanctuary is located in a small fishing village known as “Teluk Bahang,” in the northwest corner of Penang island (also known as “Pulau Pinang” — Pulau meaning island and Pinang as the Malay language spelling of Penang). We are 10 minutes walk from the Penang National Park where there is good hiking thru the jungle.
It is about 10 minutes by bus to the bustling tourist beach resort town of Batu Ferringhi; it is about 1 hour to George Town by bus but there are good shopping malls including an immense Tesco within 30 minutes bus ride. Teluk Bahang has all the basics available in little grocery stores and street hawker stalls — and usually much cheaper than elsewhere. Plus the food is great – morning markets every day and a Monday night market which is an experience in itself.
Cat Beach details — You can have letters or packages sent here from elsewhere but please know mail can travel very slowly (3 weeks from USA).
Address:Your Name Cat Beach Sanctuary, In care of c/o Mr Nana 715 Jalan Teluk Bahang, MK 2Teluk Bahang, Pulau Pinang 11050Malaysia
Phone numbers — landline 6 04 88 11 015 / Teviot’s mobile 5 017 585 3419 / 6 0112 644 7856
A DAY AT THE BEACH Volunteers also want to know what kind of work they will be doing and how they can be of help to the cats, so here’s a description of what we do daily at Cat Beach (with of course breaks for swims, coffee / tea, chats, and kitty hugs and playtimes…).
There is actually an endless amount of work to do to help the cats — plus throughout the year we host holiday season festivities and (fingers crossed) the beachside Cat Cafe, 2nd Chances Charity Store, and the Seacats Art Gallery and educational projects help to bring visitors and support to the Sanctuary. Your help on the many cat care tasks, and/or renovations, gardening, administration, photo & video documentation, etc. can really make a difference. Many hands make light work!
ACCOMMODATIONS Again, there is the proviso that we are not able to offer really comfortable, cat-free accommodations at this time. Hoping to rent a house nearby but nothing confirmed yet. We do have some beds in the house and outbuildings – but always with kitty companions expected. Some stay in tents (we have one) or even in the large covered enclosures (with animals). Recently, we had 3 women who decided to stay at the dorm at Ali’s Guesthouse which is a 5-minute walk from Cat Beach. They each paid rm 20 per nite (discount). There are a number of inexpensive choices nearby in town or in nearby Batu Ferringhi. So a homestay or guesthouse nearby is an alternative to the mattresses, couches and hammocks here.
DAILY WORK As to work expectations — we ask for about 4 – 5 hours daily commitment and are very grateful for any more that people can devote. We do understand that part of the enjoyment of the stay is to get to see more of fascinating Penang! People come and go — and of course, if you need time off, you are a volunteer so you just say so — but then just try to give some more time another day, that would be kind.
Best case for us is when volunteers commit to certain hours and let us know when they will go out and come back. Schedules are flexible – we normally work in 3 to 4 hour shifts – morning, afternoon, evenings, late nights.
Most people recently seem to be giving about 5 – 6 hours per day — including time to play with the cats and help with grooming and petting them (socialization is so important!)…
The work is divided between the Daily Routine and Projects. The daily stuff just has to be done every day to keep the place decent and the cats cared for as best we can; the projects are varied and go on as we have people, time, and money to do them..
DAILY ROUTINE Normally our regular team starts feeding the Cats’ Breakfast at 8 am, followed by a lot of cleanup – washing dishes, cleaning up overnite messes, wiping down surfaces, sweep, mop, do laundry, etc. Then we move on to replenishing water and food, cleaning cages, bottlefeeding kittens, cleaning kittens and cats and giving medications, etc. Helping to get the cages and the caged cats clean and comfortable in the morning is top priority.
By 10:30 am or so, most of that work is usually complete as long as there are enough people pitching in. There is a Morning Market up the street open from 7 am to 11 am, so often about 10:30, volunteers head over to the market to get breakfast or to pick up fresh fruit, veggies, etc. Really cheap and really fresh — fruit comes from the Tropical Fruit Farm on the hillside above the town – doesnt get any fresher than that!
After shopping and breakfasting, we do double checks of cages and feeding stations, cats’ health, and any more cleanup needed.
The rest of the day is flexible schedule-wise. Some people stay and start project work — could be bathing cats, deflea / deworming, cleaning out refrigerators, creating cat art or painting walls or signs, doing repairs, prepping beds for volunteers, putting up decorations, cleaning the grounds, gardening, doing computer work or admin paperwork, etc, etc. Some people have made photo documentation of the cats or photo essays, others have made really useful promotional videos to post on YouTube and Facebook.
Some people work on the accounts or donor database, others work on projects for outreach to the schools or community to get cats adopted or donors to help fund. One wonderful German guy installed 50 meters of electrical cable and switchboxes and lights — made a huge difference. Another American / Polish builder pulled down two old roofs and rebuilt a floor. Recently, a Finn couple built a cage divider and added shelves for cats to rest on; they also installed a new light in the bathroom.
So — the projects really are down to the skills and interests of the volunteers and the current needs of the cats and the buildings.
Between 4 and 5 pm, we do Cats’ Dinner. The routine is pretty much the same as the morning, although it usually goes a bit faster. If we have enough volunteers, we split up the day so some do morning feeding, others do afternoon.
Projects can continue at night. Sometimes we have meals together if someone feels like cooking (pasta is my specialty); most of the time people go out to explore (world famous, top 10 best places to eat) Penang food from local vendors, or take the bus to the beach resort of Batu Ferringhi with countless restaurants, or head into George Town — the city — for the evening.
Late in the evening — usually 10 pm on — we start the evening feeding and do medications for any sick cats that have to have meds 2 times each day. Kitten care is a priority. Then closing up normally takes about an hour — rice and extra food out to get cats thru the night, fresh water and fresh dry kibble for overnite, washing last dishes, wiping down everything, last minute sweep / mop, checks of cages and sick ones, putting kittens to bed with extra bottlefeeding and feeding the foster moms, dropping tarps for rain protection, overnite laundry load, lights turned off, doors closed, etc. It can be a real help to have 1 or 2 people to help on the late night closing, especially if we have a lot of deflea / deworm or meds to do.
That’s pretty much it for the work — which can seem endless!
CAT CARE (AND COMPASSION FATIGUE) To give the best possible care to the animals (and yes, sometimes we have visiting puppies too) really can be a challenge. It is often an emotional experience — we laugh and play and fall in love with cats and then they may get sick or injured, and especially the youngest motherless ones, may even die. Injured and sick ones periodically just appear from nowhere (or are dumped here) and we do our best to make them comfortable but that may not be enough. Please do prepare yourself a bit. It can be heartbreaking sometimes. But also heart–fulfilling!
Please understand that this whole project is premised on the idea that it is better for the strays and homeless to be rescued and brought in from the streets to a place where they receive regular healthy food, dry warm shelter, and the comfort of loving care. Note that Penang state has declared a “Zero Strays Policy” meaning that at any time strays can be picked up off the street by the authorities. Unfortunately, this often means they will be destroyed. Cat Beach gives a ‘no kill’ sanctuary to cats that come from truly desperate situations.
Given that we are based in an old wood house and aging concrete buildings on the beach, please understand that it can never be perfectly sanitary despite our daily efforts. What it can be is a place of sanctuary for cats coming from desperate situations that have nowhere else to go. As one volunteer said, “If we don’t help them, no one will…”
Almost all the cats have been rescued by kind-hearted people from drains, garbage dumps, behind restaurants and shops. They cannot care for them in their homes but they don’t want them to be “pts” e.g. killed.
We are a ‘no kill’ shelter and only allow a veterinarian to decide if an animal is suffering and no hope. In all cases, we do our best within limited resources to give the cats a happy life. If you believe – as some do – that strays would be better off left to die on the streets, then please, this is not for you.
Lastly, please do think carefully before allowing negative thoughts and comments color your experience. We understand it is not for everyone — some volunteers stay for months or even years; a few have come and feel overwhelmed and leave within hours. Travelers often experience culture shocks, travel exhaustion, and a sense of dislocation. Volunteers for many causes can reach a burnout state; animal care in particular can be highly stressful. We all experience “compassion fatigue” at times – so please do give yourself good self-care, rest or take a break when fatigue hits, and then come back refreshed and calm to help the cats!
Please help to spread the good word and positive energy as it will help to improve our care for the cats. Negativity just undermines the courage and abilities of the committed volunteers to help these rescued cats the very best we can. Your attitude of positive caring really affects the cats as well — they are very intuitive. Please help to maintain an atmosphere of calm, affection,trust and safety — and have fun with the cats!
CAT BEACH PRIORITIES The comfort of the cats is #1! This includes good regular nutrition as top priority with fresh clean water and dry kibble 24/7 plus 2 wet meals per day, as clean an environment as we can make it but especially for caged animals (cages are only used for new animals to allow adjustment time or for sick or injured, then set free when ready), veterinary care as needed for illness and injuries, vaccination, sterilization (yes, we do desex as many as we can, depends on the availability of vets and donors to support), adoption or fostering or providing a home at Cat Beach for the lifetime of the cat.
VOLUNTEERS CHECKLIST — What should you bring for yourself?
Clothing You will want to have lightweight clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty — we do have a washing machine and there is a laundry shop nearby so not to worry. Around Cat Beach, super casual dressing is ok but please be respectful of Malay / Malaysian society when you go out and cover up a bit, especially women.You’ll also want a sweater or jacket for the bus or other transport as they crank up the aircon.
You may want flipflop sandals. We ask that you change shoes to flipflops when you come in the house (we have some but you might want your own) so as not to track in outside dirt. Please do wear the flipflops indoors and in the toilet, don’t go barefoot as you might pick up a fungus (like athlete’s foot in a gym).– If you swim, bring along a swimsuit and other swim gear.
Protection — Sun protection — sunscreen, dark glasses, hats, etc– Mosquito and insect protection — (we usually do have some in stock)– Rain protection (umbrella, poncho — again we have some you can borrow)
Essentials — Passport (from most countries, you get 90 days free entry on arrival – check the embassy websites)– Money (things are cheaper here in the fishing village than elsewhere on the island so you don’t need a lot of cash in hand — maybe RM 100 to start, but no banks in this town so you have to go to the tourist town of Batu Ferringhi – abt 15 minutes on the bus — to get cash)
Meds — Meds and Cosmetics — any special meds, cosmetics, creams, shampoos, etc that you use– Suggested: antihistamines — allergy pills can be useful – some people have been surprised at finding themselves allergic to mosquito or spider bites, or even cats. Useful to calm down your body reaction to bites and stings (yes occasionally there are jellyfish in the sea)–
Food Any special kinds of food you have to have- * Please do let us know ahead if you are vegan, vegetarian or have allergies or other special issues with food. You will be expected to look out for your own needs and preferences, please.
Electronics – Electronics of various kinds – we do have wifi in house – so smartphones, laptops, etc can get online ok most of the time– Cameras (cats, the sea, and the landscape all pretty photogenic and photos and videos can be of real help to promote the cats). – Electrical adapters for your electronics and appliances– Phone with a local SIM can be very useful, especially with GPS.
Bedding — Other optional items: tent if you want to camp, sleeping bag (lightweight it is usually hot here! we have lots of bedding so not to worry), hammocks, etc-
Shots Get Your Shots. Not much to worry about in Malaysia. What we do suggest is to get a tetanus injection as there’s a lot of rusty stuff around. You might want to check out the current US Center for Disease Control recommendations– see http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.
Re: Rabies Shots. Unless you plan to go to a really remote place, it is not worth it to get a rabies shot in my opinion at least not for here in Penang. We had a horrific ‘rabies scare’ last fall and within 2 weeks — after “culling” (killing) some 3000 dogs — Penang has been declared ‘rabies-free.’ Apparently, there were actually NO cases of rabies here.
See http://www.missionrabies.com/ for full information on rabies control. You can take their free online course (as I did) to become a ‘Certified Rabies Educator.’ Cats are definitely NOT a rabies threat. Dogs may be, especially in rural places in Asia and Africa. Almost all rabies transmission to humans is via dog bites. And if you ever do get bitten by a dog, go straight to a hospital or clinic even if it is minor. You have several days before you must start anti-rabies injections. Rabies travels thru the nervous system, not the blood. Yes, in an average of 21 days, it can travel up to the brain and then it is fatal. But caught early, it is 100% curable.
The recommendation for pre-bite rabies shots is that professionals working with rabid animals should probably get the preventative course. However, it is not fully effective in all cases and if bitten, the regular series of after-bite injections needs to be given anyway.
Medical Services Nearby There is a government clinic walking distance from Cat Beach with very low cost services (free to Malaysian citizens). In George Town, there are a number of excellent world class hospitals — Penang is a medical tourism center. There’s even a vegetarian hospital, Penang Adventist, that vegans and vegetarians travel from around the world to visit and we recommend as offering the best services to Westerners. You would receive excellent and cheap health care here if ever needed.
There’s more to read about health and vaccinations on the WHO, CDC, and other sites like WebMD, but here’s some of what I found for Malaysia:
QUOTE:Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. Get travel vaccines and medicines because there is a risk of these diseases in the country you are visiting.
Hepatitis A – CDC recommends this vaccine because you can get hepatitis A through contaminated food or water in Malaysia, regardless of where you are eating or staying.
Typhoid = You can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Malaysia. CDC recommends this vaccine for most travelers, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater. END QUOTE
Also recommended elsewhere are Hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis and malaria possibly…> Please check with your doctor about recommended vaccines and meds for your travels.
Health Hazards Dengue fever is the one thing that people get in Penang carried by Aedes mosquitos. The authorities fog this small town about once a month and i do not know anyone who has contracted it in this area, although the symptoms can be so mild that people may not notice they have had it unless they get it a second or third time — supposedly worse in many cases, the more times you get it and there have been fatalities.
So if you get a fever of any kind, it is worth heading to a doctor. Tropical diseases differ from those in temperate climates and can be much more serious.
We have recently had a rabies scare — and it resulted in what was one of the most upsetting things I have ever experienced in working with animals – the “culling” of more than 3000 dogs in this state. It has now officially stopped and Penang has been declared “rabies-free” but dogs and reportedly cats too are still being captured and killed if someone complains. But there’s no worry about rabies…
One last thought — You will need to increase your intake of salt and sugar. We drink a lot of isotonic electrolyte drinks. Because the air and your body’s temperature are nearly the same. often you may not realize you are sweating out your salts. And even locals end up in the hospital with dehydration. If you get even a little dizzy, don’t just drink water, drink an isotonic drink or take in some sugar and salt plus water.
Please feel free to ask any questions you may have and we will try to answer!
Happy Travels! Thanks for your interest in volunteering to help the Cat Beach Cats!
Teviot & Cats