The ZIL catching team, fearless and not averse to some climbing and digging

At ZIL we do some serious (eye)catching. Did you know that we have a team of two volunteers, Ilse and An, who are assisted by other volunteers when needed?

Purrrrre Cat ladies

Ilse and An are cat ladies in heart and soul. They have mastered the art of catching cats and have been a well-oiled tandem for a year and a half now, supporting each other when necessary. Not an unimportant fact. Because when you come into contact with (wild) animals, death and life are often very close. And emotions are never far away.
The catching team always tries to do its best to save an animal in need and does not shy away from climbing and digging. Moving stacks of wood, digging out rabbit pipes from under manure piles, braving roof edges, high walls along the Dijle, hollow spaces under terraces. You name it and they did it. Even in summer purgatory temperatures or Siberian cold winter conditions. The better Cirque du Soleil acrobatics are not entirely unfamiliar to them. They describe themselves with some irony: “The ZIL catching team. For all your garden works”. To which they immediately add a little nuance: “you don’t need to call us to dig out a swimming pool”. All kidding aside, our ZIL ladies will go quite far for a cat in Leuven in need.
These “acrobatic” ZIL catch ladies: who are they? What do they do?
Volunteer An was raised with cats. She has 9 cats at home and has been volunteering since the age of 18. For many years for the Red Cross, also for the Children’s Cancer Fund. But since January 2020 for Zwerfkat in Leuven. An says about this herself: “Seeing animals blossom is beautiful. Seeing kittens grow up. Finding a warm home for them. It gives so much satisfaction. Even though it is often very emotional. Early last year I was invited by Ilse to do a catching operation together and I was immediately sold. That was, and still is, my thing.” Meanwhile, An also fosters cats and has a cat feed pass from the City of Leuven.
Volunteer Ilse has been catching cats for 5 years for Zwerfkat in Leuven. Ilse explains how she came to ZIL: “Five years ago, after the death of my cat, I had some medication and food leftover and I wanted to donate it to Zwerfkat in Leuven. So I contacted them and ZIL suggested I become a volunteer. I discussed this at home and then the ZIL ball started rolling for me. First I became a foster family, then I helped with fundraisers and now I have been doing catching missions for three years. I also monitor the ZIL emergency phone for emergency alerts and the mails for reports, together with An. The emergency phone has become a part of my being. My third arm. I like to have the phone with me and I know that if I can’t respond to an urgent alert, An is ready. And vice versa.” Ilse also has a cat feed pass from the City of Leuven.
The ZIL emergency phone? Huh? What’s that?
Ilse explains: “An and I provide telephone permanency between 7 am and 10 pm for reports via ZIL’s emergency phone for Leuven cats in need. If there is an emergency report, we jump in the car and go look. Luckily, we don’t live far from each other. That does help and we don’t have to contact the City or the police first to get permission to intervene. Afterwards, we do report to Animal Welfare Leuven. If the emergency report concerns an animal on private property we first ask permission from the owner. If we find an animal in serious distress and the residents are not at home, we take the animal for treatment and leave a note in the mailbox with our details. But this is a rare occurrence. In fact, most of the time the alert comes from the residents themselves.”
Is the emergency phone the only way to contact ZIL?
Ilse clarifies: “No. The emergency phone is especially important for emergencies. Cats in distress that are clearly not in good shape. A pregnant mother or a litter of kittens that are scattered about or in a damp, cold place in a grass verge or something. But if you find a litter of kittens snug and warm together in a garden shed or barn, that’s not an urgency. You should definitely report it, but don’t take them away from the mom. Even if they are alone, the mama may just be away for a while after feeding to find food on her own. Call us anyway, so we can assess the situation with the kittens.

The question you should ask yourself is: is the cat safe or not?

If (s)he is safe and in good health there is no urgency and it is best to report it to us via You include all your contact information and give a good description of the animal in question. Photos are always an added value. If a stray cat looks healthy, it is not an urgency. And then the animal can be picked up later. Also, a tame cat is best first brought to safety, take a picture and report it to us. For a non-urgent report, you can also choose to fill out the report form on the website. We monitor that as well.”

So there are a total of 3 possible ways to reach the ZIL catching team :

  • Only urgencies via the emergency phone on 0499/754111 (please leave a message)
  • For non-urgent reports send an email to or fill out the report form on the ZIL website.

And how does that actually work such a catch action?

“That depends on whether it is urgent or not,” Ilse explains. “On public property, some locations in the Leuven area are known to have a higher concentration of stray cats. These stray cat populations are monitored by the feeders of the City of Leuven and by ZIL. Occasionally we organize larger catching operations with several volunteers. Depending on the weather, the availability of our veterinarians, and the urgency. These actions are not urgent. Urgent reports always take precedence.”
An continues: “In case of an urgent report, we go on-site with one or more trapping cages. The cages are set up and the reporters receive the necessary explanation about the mechanism of the cage because we do need their help. At night the cage must be closed, in the morning it may be put up again with a little treat in it. Cages may only be set up from Sunday to Thursday. Because sterilizations are not done during the waiting times of the veterinarians. And then the animal has to sit in the cage too long. Sick animals are also treated during the weekend and if necessary taken to a veterinarian on duty. When the animal is in the trapping cage, the resident must call us quickly, and then we will come to the scene to pick up the animal in the cage. This can be done by calling on the emergency phone until 10 pm. We then take the animal to the veterinarian for examination, spaying/neutering, defleaing, deworming, and cutting the ear if it is a stray cat. Then the animal is released back into its own habitat where it was found.”
What happens to a tame, trapped cat?
An says: “With a tame trapped cat that has been brought to safety, we immediately start looking for the owner. Via the chip (which we hope is present) or via groups on social media. The “lost animal” groups are of great importance. We will always carefully consult the reports there and match them to the animals in our shelter.”
Does ZIL also have “regular customers”?
“Yes definitely,” says Ilse. “There are a few habitués in Leuven for whom we do get calls more often. These are mainly super-social cats that sometimes walk with walkers or joggers until they are so far from home that they can’t find their way back. We know these cats very well and the owners as well. Usually, a phone call to the owner follows quickly so that he himself can go and pick up his roommate from the reporter in question.”
And then some useful tips & tricks from Ilse and An for anyone concerned with stray cats:
  • Keep your eyes open! Also when it comes to stray animals. Are they in good health? If not, report it to us. Even if you have doubts.
  • Reporting them costs you nothing!
  • If you find kittens, don’t just take them away! If they are snug and warm together in a safe place, mom is taking good care of them. She may have left for a while to look for food herself. We have already seen tragedies of kittens being abruptly taken away from the mom by people. That is heartbreaking. Don’t do that! Don’t chase the mama away either. Kittens are better off getting mother’s milk for as long as possible. Report it to us. Take pictures if you can without touching or disturbing the litter, so that the kittens can be picked up in time to socialize them and so that we can take care of the mother so that she does not have to have another litter but can continue her life without any further litters.
  • Do not give kittens milk yourself, but call a shelter so people with knowledge can feed them. Do not give them coffee cream, cow’s milk, and the like. Kittens die every year from improper milk feeding or poor drinking habits.
  • If you have found a litter of kittens in your yard yourself, report it immediately to the City of Leuven or a shelter such as ZIL.
  • Kittens MUST stay together for 12 weeks to socialize. With or without the mom. Best to do so, of course. Unless the mom is too wild.
  • If you file a report, first get the animal to safety already by itself until ZIL arrives on the scene. Unless the animal is really too wild. Then you are causing unnecessary stress.
  • If you find a tame cat, first go ask your neighbors if anyone knows the cat, after you have brought it to safety. Only then call ZIL.
  • Put your information publicly in your pet’s CatID. It can save us a lot of time in locating the owners.