The cats of Syros are set to star in a documentary produced by Netflix, scheduled for release early 2021.
The celebrity cats first made global news in 2018 after Joan and Richard Bowell’s job advertisement for a live-in cat caretaker for the 55 plus kittens sheltered at their Syros based ‘God’s Little People’ cat rescue centre went viral.
The job ad received over 40,000 applications before the Bowell’s narrowed the list down to offer the position to Jeffyne Telson, a 62 year old from California.
For the past 21 years, Jeffyne had been running ‘ResQcats’, a non-profit sanctuary dedicated to the care and welfare of stray and abandoned cats and kittens in Santa Barbara.
Therefore, it was only natural for the couple to feel an instant connection with Jeffne, united over their shared passion for cats.
The population of Syros is estimated at 25,000 people and the number of stray cats around 3,000.
When Joan, an artist, and her British husband Richard, peace activist and author of the book An Urgent Plea From the Future, first came to Syros on holiday 20 years ago they were appalled at the living conditions of the cats of the island and how distressed they appeared.
Cats and kittens were being poisoned, burned, drowned, thrown off mountains and left in the rubbish to die.
Others were missing legs or ears, blinded by eye infections, or being eaten alive by fleas.
“We spent our holidays feeding them, rushing them to the vet and giving them medication. Leaving them behind was terrible. We talked about how wonderful it would be to build our own house and help the cats,” said Richard in an interview with The Guardian.
In 2011, the couple sold their house in Denmark and moved to Syros, turning an acre of island idyll into a cat sanctuary that they called ‘God’s Little People’.
Within the first year Joan and Richard had rescued 30 distressed cats.
“It was overwhelmingly sad how many lived around trash bins scouring the garbage and fighting over scraps. I started feeding a colony by the local dumpsters,” said Joan, who soon became known by the locals at the Cat Lady of Syros.
Word spread about what Joan was doing and locals soon began discarding litters of newborn kittens by the trash.
Not long after they started the sanctuary, Richard recalls a veterinarian on the island asking him why they would bother to bury an injured cat that was being euthanized.
‘Well, it’s to remind ourselves of our humanity,” he said.
“When you think you can just discard things when you’re finished with them, then you do it with everything.”
Initially funding the shelter was a struggle and it was done by selling Joan’s illustrations and through small donations.
The loans that the Bowell’s had expected from the banks were not approved as they had arrived right in the middle of the Greek financial crisis.
Richard and Joan soon found themselves broke, with not even enough money to buy themselves a coffee.
They had to ask local vets to work and to provide food for the cats on the promise that they would be repaid when money became available.
Things hit rock bottom when the Bowell’s financial difficulty culminated in the electricity being cut off for weeks.
One day a €10 note blew onto the property, just enough for Joan and Richard to finally buy themselves some coffee and a croissant.
After that, as if luck had been blown in by the same gust of wind, the island slowly began to change and things started to become easier.
Richard admits that cat rescue is not an easy business and has taken the couple to the edge of exhaustion.
“But while we’re here on earth we’re going to do whatever we can to contribute in a meaningful way to a new, more humane world.”
‘God’s Little People’ Cat Rescue has made such a positive difference in the that a distressed cat on Syros in now an extremely rare sight.
“We want to show the world that animals count and that the way we treat them reflects something of our own humanity,” says Richard, explaining the philosophy behind his work with his wife.
Netflix is not the first to want to develop the story into a TV series with Endemol Shine Studios, the creators of TV hits ‘MasterChef’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’, previously showing interest in doing the same.
Richard says simply; “They think there’s a special kind of magic about it.”
The Netflix series is scheduled to air at the beginning of next year.
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