As a little girl, Rachel Kabue wanted the cows that her parents owned to be treated with care and dignity. As tiny as she was, Rachel called for them to be well-fed and cleaned to ensure their happiness. No one knew that she had a fire in her belly that would one day make her an animal rights’ activist.
Today, aged 50, Rachel is the founder of the Nairobi Feline Sanctuary (NFS). Located in Nairobi's Utawala, it is a haven where “all cats are welcome” just as their mantra reads.
I knew I had arrived at the sanctuary upon spotting a brownish white cat with a bushy tail. Ivy was taking in some sun on a wall by the gate.
She winked at me twice. Being a cat lover, I imagined she was telling me, “I’m relaxed and comfortable.” At Rachel's sanctuary, there are over 300 cats housed in small homes.
“The NFS is a no-kill shelter that provides forever homes for rescued cats, whether healthy, sick, or old. “No-kill” means we offer each cat a chance at life,” Rachel said cuddling Marina, the black and white cat.
Founding the organisation in 2020, she’s ‘mum’ to cats rescued from all manner of places. These cats have access to food, medical care, sleeping quarters, and love.
Cats began to feature prominently in her life in 2013 after learning about the ‘no-cruelty’ concept while studying in India.
“When I came back to Kenya, my eyes were open to the depth of animal cruelty, cats in particular, experienced. We value cows, treating them as prized possessions. But cats, not at all,” she said.
“This thing kept me up at night, and I decided to do something about it.”
Their family home became the first cat rescue centre. Together with her five children, they began hosting cats they had rescued themselves, gaining popularity among the community as the ‘Cat Family’. Eventually, people started bringing them rescued cats and adopting some. At one point she had 23 cats living with her.
“Eventually, we moved to this larger space, and the number grows daily,” explained Rachel who is the Africa and Country Liaison Manager, Animal Save Movement.
Rescuing cats is taken seriously at NFS. Updated records are kept and standard operating procedures followed when taking in, caring for and adopting out cats. All cats are fully vaccinated and neutered upon arrival, and when sick, nursed to health through proper medication which at times involves surgeries. Upon dying, a proper celebration of life ceremony is held.
Potential adopters undergo an interview to determine placement, and follow-up is done for two months. “We ensure the cats are going to a safe place,” the mother-of-five said. “We’ve actually recalled some back.” A fee of Sh3,000 is paid because what is given free is not valued, and many cats have found forever homes.
The cats have toys for playtime, soft cushions and warm blankets for basking and resting time, shelves to ensure a wonderful night’s rest, a diet consisting of minced meat, chicken and fish and fully balanced all-natural cat food, and a dedicated workforce that includes veterinarians, caretakers and volunteers, who ensure their health and wellbeing.
“I enjoy cats. When I’m around them I feel peaceful and excited because the cats are very friendly,"said 18-year-old Irene Aruka, a volunteer.
As endearing as this is, running the space requires deep pockets. Building and furnishing the sanctuary cost over Sh1 million, which was supplemented by a $2000 grant. Such grants and donations – food, blankets, cleaning detergents and antiseptics - go a long way.
“Most of the food is donated by Petstore Kenya, which saves NFS almost Sh70,000 monthly. We also have virtual adoptions, where someone adopts a cat and pays $10 per month for its upkeep plus donations from our wonderful supporters,” the cat lover noted, adding that she supplements this with her resources.
But this is not 'it' for Racheal. She has a grander vision.“My goal is to have cats in a place where they can roam free and still get the standard of care I’m giving them. I also want to build an animal hospital.”