South West Wales

Ty Nant Cat Sanctuary saw the 'best and worst' of humanity

Teresa Ahmad and volunteer Nicky Morgan
Image caption Sanctuary owner Teresa Ahmad and volunteer Nicky Morgan have upped security after the burglary

A cat rescue centre tucked away in the hills of Neath Port Talbot became the most famous in Wales last summer - but for all the wrong reasons.

Ty Nant Cat Sanctuary in Cymmer was broken into on 30 July by two teenagers who stole 10 cats.

Three were found mauled to death, four were found caged and alive in a field behind the sanctuary, while three others are still missing but presumed dead.

Frank Lewis, 18, from Croeserw, near Port Talbot, admitted burglary and killing the cats and was sent to a young offenders' institute for 30 months.

Swansea Crown Court heard he used the cats as "live bait" for his dogs and slit one of the cat's legs to prevent escape.

The other teenager, a 15-year-old boy, was found not to have taken part in the killings and was given a nine-month curfew order.

Image copyright South Wales Police
Image caption Frank Lewis had a previous conviction for torturing a sheep

The incident left sanctuary owner Teresa Ahmad and her volunteers heartbroken.

"The ones they took were old cats," said volunteer Nicky Morgan.

"They didn't even have teeth, so they couldn't have defended themselves against what was happening."

But the sanctuary was consoled by the "overwhelming amount of public support" and the response to a GoFundMe page which collected almost £20,000.

"I've seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity all in a short space," said Ms Ahmad.

Six months on she said: "I don't feel that we have won.

"I attended court on Monday and I'm relieved he's in custody and that he was handed quite a lengthy sentence.

"But I just feel so sad because the cats aren't here and we can't bring them back.

"Everyday we think of how they suffered and what they must have gone through."

Image caption The surviving cats were found in a cage in a field behind the sanctuary
Image caption The cat on the right was a survivor. His two siblings were not so lucky

Ms Morgan recalls finding three cats alive in the cage.

"I can still remember their faces from that day," she said.

"Because we found the dead ones, we didn't think we would find them alive.

"We just couldn't believe it. They were very lucky."

Ms Morgan explained it took those cats a few weeks to settle back down as they had to be relocated while their room was repaired, which was "upsetting for them."

One of the surviving cats has since been adopted.

Ms Morgan said since the sanctuary became well known, they have seen a lot more cats come and go.

"Adoptions have increased, but then the other side of the coin we've had more in," she said.

"It's swings and roundabouts."

Image caption The sanctuary currently has about 50 cats, some of which are looking for new homes

After the incident an online fundraising campaign was started with more than £17,000 raised in just four days.

That figure is now just shy of £20,000 thanks to the donations of 1,418 people.

"We were absolutely overwhelmed at the public response," said Ms Ahmad.

"I can't thanks everybody enough. They've really helped us and our volunteers."

Some of the money has already been spent repairing the pens that were broken into, with the old mesh replaced by galvanised fencing bolted down to the floor.

"There's no way anyone can cut through it," said Ms Ahmad.

Security around the sanctuary has also been improved with CCTV cameras, alarms and sensor lighting.

All the pens have also been renewed in the cattery, which Ms Ahmad said "provides the cats and future cats with a "higher standard of living".

A large amount of the money has and will continue to go towards the sanctuary's veterinary bills, which is a "huge outgoing."

Image caption Galvanised fencing has been put around the pens for added security

The sanctuary is now campaigning for a change in the law to get harsher sentences for people convicted of animal offences.

Ms Morgan said: "At the moment judges' hands are tied by their sentencing guidelines.

"We were told we were lucky he was sentenced to 12 months as he could have got a suspended sentence."

A petition "demanding justice for the cats of Ty Nant Cat Sanctuary" has been set up and has so far collected more than 223,000 signatures.

It proposes a register be introduced which anyone convicted of animal abuse, neglect or cruelty will have to sign.

The petition said: "This will ensure that perpetrators are monitored and details of their crimes can be found."

Image caption One of the cats cared for at the sanctuary

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