The Beginning

Two people with a big heart for animals, Sonja and Peter,were living happily with one little dog, two rabbits, one sheep, one pony and a few chickens. Although Peter insisted their little family lacked the presence of a cat, Sonja could not be persuaded. “If there is ONE animal I don’t want in my home anymore, it’s a cat!” she declared self-assured. Bad experiences in her youth had made her decline all felines.

One day however, Sonja was called to the rescue while at work. Everybody knew how much she cares for animals, so they called upon her when a little ginger kitten was found in a box at the loading dock. It’s tiny
eyes were closed with pus and his nose was blocked.

Cat or not, this was an animal in distress that needed urgent medical attention, so straight to the car and to the vet. Once there it became clear the poor little thing had an advanced case of cat flu and it would
face a difficult struggle to survive. But survive he did: “Lucky” was taken from the street into a warm home, cared for and caressed by two sets of loving arms.   

In just 2 weeks this little ball of misery developed into a playful, purring run-around. “Lucky” had joined the family.


Yes, that is how it all started. Unknown makes unloved, I admit. But still we didn’t have the slightest plans to start any form of refuge or shelter. If people had told us what our future would look like, we would have thought them crazy; no doubt about it!

We loved Lucky with all our hearts, but oh how naïve we were! Lucky always stayed close to us, but we should have known better. When our darling was merely 6 months old, he crossed the road just a single time, and it proved fatal. We were beyond consolation and didn’t know what to do.

But we knew we had to do something, Lucky’s death could not be in vain. So we called Canina, the animal refuge in Essen, who suggested we would collect an orphaned kitten of just six weeks old, currently cared for by one of their volunteers.

Off course “Tricks” could never take Lucky’s place, but he did make it easier because here was another little creature who needed us and for whom we had to care.

One week later we were surprised by a litter of kittens in the hay barn. Apparently a stray cat had given birth just before Peter entered. All he saw was a glimpse of the mother as she anxiously disappeared. Peter left them alone, hoping she would soon come back. We didn’t dare go for a second look, what if the mother had returned and we would scare her off again? No worries, surely she would return to her little ones. Or so we hoped! The next morning I carefully went back for a peak. And behold, 4 little, cold micelike creatures. They weren’t any bigger at the time. I immediately rapped them in a woollen scarf and used a
hair drier to try and get them warm. It took no less than four hours before they finally reached a somewhat normal body temperature. Next month saw us without a social life. Every two hours they required feeding (including at night), which meant heating milk, massaging their bellies and being relieved when their bowels worked. It was exhausting, but worst of all was the fear that they wouldn’t make it. But we did it en we found ourselves mother and father of purring furballs. 

In the mean time we were putting up a fence all around the garden to keep the cats inside, so we didn’t have to fear the road traffic anymore.

A few months later we heard about a litter of kittens that faced a terrible death by drowning. We went to talk to the owner en asked to keep them with their mother until they were 8 weeks old. Afterwards we would find adoptive families. Off course, they were only 6 weeks old when the owner came to drop them off, he found they were beginning to move around and getting his house dirty… After two days they all had names, but as for new families?
Well, now we know that part is always far from easy.

When one of those little ones died at a young age, we went to refuge Het Blauwe Kruis in Wommelgem to adopt another kitten. After all, we had room for one more… We ended up with two of their most desperate cases: a pair of black tomcats, about 7 years old, who had been in hiding for months and were rarely ever seen. We hadn’t even seen them ourselves. When they came out of the transport basket, we were dumbfounded for a moment. The biggest of the two was a walking skeleton and didn’t want to feed anymore. Apparently he had made the decision for himself he wouldn’t bother anymore. “Graco” taught us the language of cats en “Pavid”, the other one, showed us the true meaning of having patience. He stayed hidden behind the closet for no less then eleven months! So, no kitten, but two poor souls. You can find their elaborate stories in the section “permanent residents”.

After that, everything went very quickly. We realised how much grief is to be found in refuges and shelters because some animals cannot cope with such a life. They are left in the street without mercy, or at
best dropped off at a refuge and many of them suffer extremely from the stress and emotions.

After we had adopted a few more old and stressed animals, things were getting a bit out of our control. When one of the bunny's died and we looked for a new mate for the one left , we found a refuge and adopted what should have been a neutered male. We even paid in full for the neutering. A few weeks later it turned out to be a female… That did it for us. Surely we could do better than that!?

And so we started thinking. What do we want to do, how could we do it, and so on.

It took a lot of reflections before we came up with ”Het dierenthuisje”, a refuge for animals in need for whom a ‘normal’ refuge is no option because they are too old, have medical or psychological problems,
etc. Yes, that would be it!
We would also help people with animals where we could, naturally also after an adoption. Because we realised just what we had been through and had missed. We knew the mistakes we ourselves had made with our first and only cat and we realised the limited knowledge of the average owner. Our biggest asset lies in the fact that we literally live in the midst of our animals, so we know them thoroughly before they are adopted.

And so Het dierenthuisje officially started in October 2004.

As it goes, we had underestimated things and for sure we did think about quitting after about a year, but we knew too much of the problems. We are aware of the misery out there and how much those poor animals
need people like us. And take it from us, creatures that offer so much unconditional love… someone with a true heart for animals does not take that lightly.

Every animal that is adopted, takes with it a piece of ourselves but it is the only way we can keep on helping. Keeping them all here would be selfish and more so, it would mean not being able to help all those
other poor souls that are hoping for a chance.

Only those animals that are too old or have serious problems, stay with us permanently. Their stories can be found under “residents”. All of the others are waiting for a loving home!

“Welcome at Het dierenthuisje!”