Elle Maruska was just another cat lover living in the U.S. Until they moved to Spain. Then everything changed. One cat litter after another poured into their life via local vets and neighbors, and now, Maruska’s on a mission to rescue felines across the pond with the help of their family, friends, neighbors, and the world. Read on to learn more about their work and how you can help.
This article is a part of Catzio’s Community Feature series, highlighting the heroes and enthusiasts of the global cat community.
Stumbling into Cat Rescue
Elle Maruska is an American living in Spain with their husband and daughter. When their husband’s job required them to move out of their country, they had quite a lot to adjust to, from a new culture and language to an unfamiliar social scene.
As they searched for ways to connect with their Spanish neighbors, they learned that Facebook groups were some of the best vessels for meeting new friends. It just so happens that these groups were always looking for people to foster cats. That’s when it all began.
Maruska and their family were open to fostering cats. After all, they enjoyed feline company. After caring for a few cats, they met a local vet and were asked to take in a litter. It didn’t sound like too much trouble, especially since the family loves animals, especially Elle’s daughter. But then came another litter. And another. And another. As the word of the Maruska family’s generosity toward needy cats spread, so did the locals’ desire to send litters their way.
Pretty soon, “people just started showing up at my house with cats,” Maruska recalled. At times, it got pretty dark. “The first house that we rented was right across the street from a dumpster, and people would bring cats there and dump them. We would see them doing it!”
Maruska knew they had to do something. Ultimately, they determined that a bigger house and roomy outdoor enclosure were critical to accommodating the many cats they were now committed to caring for. From there, the rest is history.
How a Catio Became a Critical “Turning Point” in the Maruska Rescue
Maruska was careful about prioritizing the household’s health and safety, even as they selflessly took numerous cats in for brief care like TNR or long-term housing through foster care. And it’s good they did. Cats are known to carry zoonotic illnesses, such as toxoplasmosis, the virus responsible for the “crazy cat lady” syndrome.
To sustain the family’s health and offer the cats space to stretch their legs (without harming wildlife), Maruska set their sights on catios. “We… want to live here as people and maybe have friends over sometimes,” they explained. “So, we looked into building something outside to keep them safe.”
The Maruska family reached out to a friend who happened to be a construction worker. Even better, he had recently adopted a cat from them, so he was eager to help out and build a space for cats in the family’s care.
“He and my husband worked together and built it outside…. We’ve just been kind of playing around with different setups inside, you know, what’s easiest to keep clean but also gives them the most interaction and enrichment. Recently, we built a smaller area for sick ones to be quarantined…. It’s been a huge turning point in what we’re able to do because obviously keeping a lot of cats in the house takes a lot of work.”
The decision to build a catio for their rescue cats was a lifesaver for the Maruska family. It provided a much-needed “balance” in maintaining enough room for the cats while also giving the family the space needed for a comfy home life.
But that’s not all. Time and again, Maruska has been quite vocal about their stance on free-roaming outdoor cats. While they don’t believe that it’s a black-and-white issue, they do everything they can to mitigate environmental damage caused by domestic cats. Sometimes, that requires TNR and adoptions.
Knowing When a Cat is Suited for Indoor vs. Outdoor Life
To many, it seems that the issue of outdoor cats is black-and-white. You’re either saving the planet by keeping them inside or you’re responsible for millions of wildlife deaths by letting them roam free. But it’s not always that simple. Not only is this extreme dichotomy not reflective of real life, but it’s also nearly impossible to comply to, for both humans and cats alike.
“There are some cats that can’t be in a house,” Maruska says, referring to feral cats as their primary example. “Feral cats that have been feral their entire lives—having a house, it’s stressful to them, being around people all the time. And we had a few cats like that, and we realized we needed to figure out a way where we could keep them safe as best we could. So, we started looking into trap-neuter-release, but we wanted to do it in a way that also wouldn’t really impact the environment. Because that’s a huge issue with feral cat colonies.”
Maruska used their locale as an example of an area that would be highly sensitive to free-roaming cats’ wildlife impacts. It’s one of the few areas in Europe where chameleons thrive—slow-moving creatures that are easy prey for adept feline hunters. To mitigate their endangerment, Maruska chose to restrict their TNR to somewhere that wasn’t “necessarily just out in the wild.” A nearby municipal lot was just the spot.
The lot is already home to a cat colony. To earn their keep, the cats help to control the rodent population around the storage area. Similarly, a local chicken farm needs help to manage vermin. Before Maruska stepped in, those barn cats weren’t being fixed, leading to a growing breeding problem. Now, Maruska helps spay and neuter the cats before returning them to do their jobs. They did the same with a local restaurant that was struggling with mice, and their daughter’s school, which faced similar challenges.
Maruska understands that TNR is not always the answer. But when a feral cat comes along and can’t be introduced into a Forever Home, they try to locate the best possible areas where the cat’s talents can be put to use “without seriously impacting the environment any more than it already is.”
Still, they want people to know that TNR “in and of itself isn’t enough.” They say, “The point is to try and take as many cats out of the environment as possible. And that means some that can be adopted, because there are definitely plenty of feral or stray cats that can be adopted.”
A Long-Term Commitment
TNR isn’t just a one-and-done deal. Instead, it’s an ongoing commitment that requires dedication, resources, networking, and knowledge of the local environment. “If you want to, I guess, really do it in an ethical way, the colony has to be maintained. If a cat’s sick, you have to be able to have the resources to take it to a vet. And you have to be able to kind of watch the colony to make sure no one else is coming in.”
This is one of the major advantages of TNR, Maruska notes: keeping other cats out of a specific area. “One of the benefits of TNR is that it will keep other cats from wandering [in]. Because if you remove a colony, other cats will just come in and make another colony. And then you have to TNR them. So, you have to kind of balance out, like: ‘Okay, it’s probably a good thing to keep some cats here because they’ll chase away the interlopers. But at the same time, you have to make sure that you’re maintaining those cats that you keep there.’”
Maruska likens the efforts to the maintenance of a garden. ”You have to plant and water and take care of it and keep maintaining it, or else it’s just gonna get all overgrown again.”
A Mission to Save Spain’s Cats
Maruska has taken their love of cats across the world… literally. This has given them a unique perspective on how different communities worldwide perceive domestic cats. Although most people still cherish these favored felines, some don’t view them quite like Americans.
“I’m not going to speak for the entire country of Spain,” Maruska began, when describing the differences between how their new neighbors perceived and treated cats relative to those in the States. They live in a “very rural area,” where cats are “almost considered like wild animals.”
Still, this is not universal. And Maruska made sure to note that many locals are happy to contribute whatever they can to support local cats’ safety. “Most people… either don’t know [how] or they just don’t have the access to resources. Part of what I’m trying to do [is] kind of facilitate that between people who want to help and people who can help.”
In their efforts to ensure the safety and security of local cats, Maruska also wants to help educate the public on how they can support such work, and even participate themselves. “There are cats who—if you give them the space and the time—can be house pets,” they explain. “[T]hey may come off as mean but they’re just scared…. You need a lot of patience to really… understand the individual cat, to really take time and look at the cat and figure out what might be best for this cat…. My biggest thing is just trying to really get people to see cats as individuals.”
Maruska’s wish is that people can begin to appreciate cats’ unique personalities and needs to the same extent as that granted to dogs. Instead of a contentious talking point or research subject, cats should be afforded endless compassion to help house adoptable individuals and mitigate the damage caused by feral cats that are yet to be invited indoors.
What You Can Do
Be a part of positive change. Help house cats in need by supporting Elle Maruska on Patreon and contributing items to the rescue via their Amazon Wishlist. See a full list of links to visit for support here.
About the Author
My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.