Crusaders for Feral Cats
Kitty Cat PAL volunteers go to great lengths to ‘prevent a litter’
Larissa Whitby moved from North Vancouver to the Comox Valley in 2006. She had lived here less than a week when a newspaper article changed her life.
“The newspaper was delivered to my doorstep,” recalls Whitby. “I picked it up and noticed a photograph of kittens on the cover. Being a lifelong animal lover, it naturally caught my attention. The story explained how the Comox Valley branch of the BCSPCA was in crisis. They had far too many cats and kittens in the shelter and were in desperate need of foster homes. ‘I could help!’ I thought to myself. I went to the SPCA to sign up to be a foster parent to what I thought would be surplus kittens from irresponsible cat owners. I was wrong.”
At the SPCA, Whitby met Claudia Naaykens, who was volunteering to help establish a feline foster care program for the Comox branch of the BC SPCA. Naaykens explained to Whitby that, while some of the cats and kittens were owner surrendered, many more were outdoor living strays or from feral cat colonies. The kittens were the progeny of once-owned and then abandoned (or lost) cats, or those that had been born feral.
“Claudia explained to me that without human intervention, most feral born kittens don’t live past a few weeks,” says Whitby. “Those that do survive to adulthood only live about three to five years. I wasn’t aware of feral cats, and I was compelled to do something. Claudia explained that a non-profit society called Cat Advocates used to help, but they had recently shut down, and that feral cats were officially not part of the SPCA’s mandate.”
Coincidentally, it turned out that the two women lived within one block of each other. In addition to both becoming foster cat parents, they soon became friends. It wasn’t long before many hours of conversation and planning resulted in the formation of a feral cat rescue program called Kitty Cat PAL (Prevent-a-Litter) Society.
In late 2006, a board of directors was established and, after a few months, status as a non-profit society was granted. A year later, the Society became a registered charity. Today, Kitty Cat PAL Society’s primary purpose remains to improve the well being of cats in the Comox Valley Regional District, with a special focus on feral cat colonies. The organization has spayed or neutered more than 2,000 cats, almost all of which were found living outdoors. Of these, 1,400 were adopted into forever homes.
“The initial seed money came from our own pockets,” adds Naaykens. “We personally funded all spays and neuters for at least the first year, and lots of vet bills after that. Things got a little better financially, once we started charging for adoptions in an effort to help cover costs. All of the veterinary clinics in the Comox Valley have been just amazing with their support, but it was still an expensive undertaking for Claudia and me in the beginning.”
According to Kitty Cat PALS president, Peter Williams, today the cat-loving co-founders have the support of a dedicated and hard working board of directors that has nine volunteers. (Whitby is vice president and Naaykens is 2nd vice president.)
“We also have a network of about 70 foster homes and a small but enthusiastic membership of about 50,” explains Williams. “We have a private intake area that houses about 30 cats and kittens and an isolation ward for another dozen or so cats. Both areas are almost always at full capacity.”
As is standard practice with similar feral cat rescue programs across North America, the exact location of the intake facility is kept confidential. This helps the Society avoid having to deal with surprise owner surrenders and/or having cats abandoned on their doorstep. Owned cats are outside of Kitty Cat PALS’ primary mandate. Owners needing to surrender their pet should contact a shelter facility like the SPCA.
“We have several programs that all work in unison,” adds Williams. “TNR (trap, neuter, return) is for feral adult cats wherein the property owners are willing to continue to provide food and shelter. It is mainly through our TNR work that we rescue kittens born outdoors. We catch the cats with humane traps and transport them to the intake facility. I must point out that we do not trap to euthanize cats or kittens, except in the rare circumstance where it is to end suffering due to advanced disease or severe injury.”
In cases where life-saving veterinary care is possible, costs are covered through The Ruby Fund. This special fund was established in 2010, when a tiny kitten needed expensive surgery to remove her damaged eye. Thanks to the generosity of the public, through the exposure provided to Kitty Cat PALS by the local media, funds slowly mounted for her operation. The Board saw fit to continue with this special fund for urgent medical needs for other cats, such as amputation surgery, removal of an infected eye, soft tissue repair and IV fluids for recovery from serious illness, so that urgent needs can immediately be met.
“We know from experience that feral adult cats can’t be tamed, so they are vet-checked, spayed or neutered, and then returned to their colony to continue their rodent control tasks,” says Williams. “TNR Colony Caretakers commit to providing them with food and monitor their overall health, to ensure they will live longer, healthier lives and do not starve or suffer. Most importantly, they cannot produce kittens, so the over population cycle is broken.”
Kittens are cared for in foster homes until they reach a minimum of eight-weeks of age, at which time they receive their first vaccinations, and are usually ready for adoption. All adoptable cats and kittens are vet checked, treated for parasites, vaccinated, tested and cleared for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and come with a spay/neuter certificate. The kittens must have the sterilization surgery before they reach six months of age. This can be performed at the veterinary clinic of the adopter’s choice. The adoption fee for all of this is a bargain at just $150.
Sometimes, Kitty Cat PALS gets older kittens that can’t be tamed or there are existing colonies of feral adults that must be moved. These cats need homes where they can be cared for as outdoor/barn cats. As a result, Kitty Cat PALS introduced the Semi-Social Barn Cat Re-Homing Program. There is no adoption fee for these healthy, spayed and neutered cats.
“Right now, we are desperately seeking rural homes for more than 30 semi-social and feral adult outdoor cats,” Williams says. “One of our first TNR Colony Caretakers had to move due to illness and the cats she had been caring need to be relocated. We are counting on rural property owners to apply to accept them as barn cats.”
In addition to volunteer power, the Society also acknowledges that they couldn’t continue to operate without a number of corporate and community sponsors. They are grateful for recent funding that includes a 2014 Community Cat Grant from the BC SPCA, providing $4,640 that was specifically targeted to help cover the costs of spaying and neutering feral cats in the MacAulay Road area of Black Creek. They have also received funding support from gaming grants, the Kensington Foundation,the Comox Valley Regional District, the Comox Valley Community Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Province of British Columbia, to name a few.
Veterinarians have also been generous in their support, especially the doctors at the Comox Valley Animal Hospital. From the very beginning, Dr. Elmer Philipson always went above and beyond to support the organization’s efforts. When he retired and sold his practice last year, new clinic owners Dr. Dave MacDonald and Dr. Sasha Edgell and their associate Dr. Faye Briggs continued to support the crusade. The vast majority of cats and kittens that go through the Kitty Cat PALS system receive veterinary care from the team at Comox Valley Animal Hospital.
“I just love handling feral cats… once they are anesthetized,” says Dr. MacDonald with a wide grin. “In all seriousness, despite the fact that sometimes working with ferals can be like a cat rodeo, we all get great satisfaction helping Kitty Cat PALS. As veterinarians and human beings, it is our nature to want to help.”
So, exactly how do a handful of volunteers find homes for 2,000 cats and kittens? As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village.’ In addition to being featured on the Kitty Cat PALS website and on PetFinder.com, kittens are showcased at various community venues throughout the year. On a day-to-day basis, two local pet food stores graciously provide retail space for the public access Adopt-A-PAL program.
Virginia Shaw from Woofy’s Pet Foods in Comox is proud of the fact that the company has donated the floor space for a Kitty Cat PALS adoption display. To ensure the felines are well fed and comfortable, Royal Canin donates the cat food and Natural Cat donates kitty litter.
“We have had the Adopt-a-PAL display for over a year and have facilitated the adoption of more than 150 kittens through this location,” says Shaw. “The customers love to come and see the kittens and we enjoying talking about them. We explain how adoption works and help prospective adopters fill out the applications. After that, a volunteer from Kitty Cat PALS completes the adoption process. Sure, we get attached to the kittens but it is really rewarding to see them go to new homes. We can’t lose sight of the fact that adoption is our primary goal.”
Bosley’s Pet Foods in Comox has sponsored a remote adoption centre since 2012, and has enabled the adoption of more than 300 kittens. Store manager Kari-Ann Brears believes that this is one way that Bosley’s can give back to the community.
“Having the kitten adoption display here is a very positive thing,” explains Brears. “Our customers love it… and so do we! Having kittens in the store enhances the shopping experience and we have never had any negative feedback. We also donate the supplies—Performmatrin cat food and Fresh for Life kitty litter. We even had the cat enclosure specially built with kitten comforts in mind.”
“I will be the first to admit that anger was the driving force behind my commitment for the first few years after we started Kitty Cat PALS,” says Whitby. “Today, I am happy to say that I am motivated by the satisfaction of knowing that through our efforts, and with the generous support of the community, fewer cats and kittens are suffering. I am proud of what we have accomplished at Kitty Cat PALS, and I feel at more peace with the idea of helping cats than I used to. There is still massive urgency but, thankfully, there are more people helping.”
Want to make it a merrier Christmas for fostered and feral cats? Remember that pets are for life, not just for Christmas! Please do not buy animals as surprise Christmas gifts. Instead, make a tax-deductible cash donation to an animal-related charity or buy the gift of a Kitty Cat PALS membership for yourself, a friend or a family member. Members receive an e-newsletter and invitations to special events, and have the satisfaction of knowing they are playing an integral role in helping improve and save the lives of outdoor kitties in our community.
Kitty Cat PALS welcomes donations of supplies, which are used at the intake facility and supplied to foster families. Their wish list includes any brand of canned or dry kitten food, kitten milk replacement powder, Royal Canin Baby Cat food (smallest kibbles) and non-clay cat litter. Drop off your product donations at Woofy’s or Bosley’s. Be sure to label the bag with ‘Kitty Cat PALS’. For pick-up, or more information, email KittyCatPALS@gmail.com.
Interested in adopting or fostering a cat or kittens? Want to make a donation, become a member or volunteer? Call 250-218-7223 or visit Kitty Cat PAL Society online at www.kittycatpals.com