'Moggie matron' needs help

RICHARD BATSON They say cats have nine lives. And so does a cat lover who is battling on with her sanctuary after a series of setbacks. Former operatic soprano and teacher Gay Rees has overcome being widowed, attacked and suffering a broken neck, partial paralysis and cancer over the years.

RICHARD BATSON

They say cats have nine lives. And so does a cat lover who is battling on with her sanctuary after a series of setbacks.

Former operatic soprano and teacher Gay Rees has overcome being widowed, attacked and suffering a broken neck, partial paralysis and cancer over the years.

But every day she is out in the grounds of her north Norfolk home tending to the miaowing inmates of her cat care complex.

Helped by two walking sticks she wanders through the pens, calling to, fussing and feeding the animals - a kind of "moggie matron" on her ward rounds.

Now her independent charity is seeking more help to carry on the work she has championed near Sheringham for the past 16 years.

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Top priority is to find a way of weather-proofing a caravan which doubles as a storeroom and home to the longer stay residents.

They are seeking either need a kind of shelter to go over the top, or a new sectional building, because getting a replacement caravan down the narrow unmade roads to her sanctuary at South Hollow, in Sheringwood, would be a logistical nightmare.

Typically, Mrs Rees is more concerned about the cats than herself. She has been a cat lover since dragging home a stray at the age of three, and sees them as "second class citizens" in the pet world - victims of neglect and cruelty.

Yet she too has not had an easy life. Her early career as a soprano saw her working in the West End and entertaining the troops. While stationed in Egypt with her soldier husband she rescued a cat she saw thrown from a hotel fifth floor window - a sign of things to come.

But her husband was killed in action during post war riots, literally leaving her holding the baby - necessitating a switch of careers, so Mrs Rees became a teacher. Her workplaces included Sheringham High School where she was head of the remedial department and drama.

The North Norfolk Cats Lifeline Trust relies on voluntary help and donations to cover the £12,500 annual running costs.

Two years she was attacked by an unseen assailant from behind with some kind of "stun gun" which blasted her to the ground in her garden early one morning.

"As soon as I hit the ground I knew I had broken my neck. I was paralysed down one side and could not move. I had to lie on the ground for two hours waiting for one of the helpers to arrive and call for the ambulance," she recalled.

Mrs Rees was airlifted to hospital where she spent six months.

"I had metal plates and a halo screwed into my head. When it came off it took my hair with it, leaving me bald. After I came out of hospital I had a fall in the cattery and needed a pin in my leg. And last Christmas I was diagnosed with cancer and had had t have a hysterectomy," she explained.

She has limited movement in her head, arm and leg, and has had to wind down operations at the sanctuary to half speed, meaning it now cares for about 30 cats. Mrs Rees also has 17 of her own to look after.

But it means there is a need to double the eight helpers currently volunteering at the trust. And she would love to hear from any experts with a solution to her leaking caravan problem. Contact the North Norfolk Cats Lifeline Trust on 01263 822560.