Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army of Cats Left Behind by Soldiers

WUENSDORF, Germany -- At empty army barracks where Soviet soldiers once awaited orders to invade the West, more than 150 hungry Red Army cats wait for their only friend left in the world.


The cats were abandoned by soldiers who have returned to Russia. The animals live in filthy deserted barracks and concrete bunkers scattered around the sprawling Wuensdorf compound, 25 kilometers south of Berlin.


Wilhelm Schrader, a frail man with wispy white hair, keeps the felines alive by driving from his home every day in a station wagon crammed with cans of "Happy Cat."


"No one wants them. I've always been partial to cats. Unlike many humans, they have a great deal of dignity," says the 65-year-old retired electrician.


Of about 380,000 Red Army troops stationed in East Germany during the Cold War, only 2,500 remain. They will be gone by the end of August under a 1990 treaty.


Much of the Wuensdorf base, where about 50,000 soldiers were once stationed, is now peopled only by animals.


The cats come running when they hear Schrader's Opel.


Schrader has lunch at a little table under a shady tree, one of his 45 daily stops throughout the base. Felines purr at his feet.


"Hey, guy. How are things?" Schrader asks his favorite, a gray male with a sleek body, tall ears and black stripes. A black cat stretches out in the dirt. A ginger one prances down a path to get its meal.


Schrader does what he can for a few dogs left behind by the troops, but it's difficult because some are becoming wild.


Some of the cats have died of malnutrition or disease.


"I buried two more today."


Wearing a tank-top undershirt and suspenders, Schrader lopes into a tin-roofed barrack to check on two litters of kittens.


Three kittens are basking in the sun on a windowsill. "Say thank you," says Schrader as he gives them food.