Archives - March 2009


The Pencilneck guys are working very hard to sort through all the things we need in new site and data base to make things run smoothly..it will be wonderful to have a certain amount of auto letters going out to let people know where they are on our adoption list and what to do next. The foster people will also have loads more info and not get lost in the masses. i deal with up to 50 letters and tons of calls a day..as do many other volunteers with our group..so it has become really clear that in order to stay sane and deal with all the kitties we needed a way more thorough system.At this point we have over 100 cats and older kittens available…and pregnant or nursing moms coming in like mad , both feral and tame. As soon as the new system is up we will want to re enter our fosters and add any new ones on the data base. I am hoping this will be all a go by mid April. i have sent out letters today to all the people on one list that have applied and we haven’t been able to reach them after trying many times . After the 4th i will start taking names off the list that have not answered as to whether they still are wanting to adopt. If you have sent in an ap please let us know if you are still interested or if we can take you off our lists, it will make the change over so much easier. If you are NOT ready to adopt , do not send in an application yet.feel free to write me if you need answers re any of the above.thanks!! karen ( hey maybe it will be easier to space my entries sensibly in new blog!!)

the cat of the day on this site! http://catoftheday.com/ congrats Rain and her mom. Will try and find out if we have any pics of her when she was little.

Now how about the others at our Petsmart sites in North Van and on Grandview??Take a look at the gallery as well …some of these kitties have been waiting a longgggggggg time for a home of their own.. Take Tigger, he was surrendered by the family of an older lady who has gone into care. He was very depressed at first and wouldn’t eat. He had to go for care at our vet and is now coming around and getting used to meeting new people and is eating well. Tigger is a big marmalade orange cat..he gives a great head bunt and just needs a calm home to feel safe in.. If anyone is waiting on a call after sending in an application, please email as we are having a bit of trouble with contacting some people. thanks. karen

Zsa zsa would be ideal for an older person . She was found abandoned and a mess at an abandoned house.main.jpg Zsa Zsa is a grey-with-white domestic long-hair (probably some persian in her history) who is the fluffiest, most lazy, drooly, cuddly, lovey attention-meister that I’ve ever met! She started out very anxious, but although is not too sure of new people, sucks up all the attention she can get, all the time. She rarely jumps (by choice) and is scared of heights, and thus gets into no trouble, and lives for her daily brushings, baring her tummy for her favourite - tummy rubs!! ****( she has found a wonderful indoor home and is so happy to be inside and cared for…., lucky girl…)Brando at the Grandview Petsmart is very sad not to be with people.. he would likely be good as a pal to another cat….although he is being treated for a light cold right now.( Brando found a home as well, he has a super home now)if you are looking for a pair of sweetie pies we have Velcro and Casper who would love a home together..they are at Petsmart Grandview as well… oh go on in and see if you are a match!! Brando Casper and Velcro

Working to save city’s forgotten cats

Maverick Cat Coalition seeks to reduce number of feral felines
Lisa Smedman
Vancouver Courier

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Flashlight in hand, Maria Soroski picks her way through a backyard choked with blackberry bushes and moves

CREDIT: Photo-Dan Toulgoet

A dedicated band of volunteers helps control the feral cat population through vigilant spaying and neutering.

CREDIT: Photo-Lisa Smedman

Maria Soroski, a volunteer with the Maverick Cat Coalition, helps trap feral cats to get them spayed or neutered.

CREDIT: Photo-Lisa Smedman

Jamie Lawson, with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says sterilization is key to controlling the feral act population.

toward a blanket-draped metal cage-trap that’s tucked under a derelict car. Crouching beside the trap, she lifts the blanket.

Inside the trap, a fluffy black cat with bright yellow eyes takes one look at Soroski and immediately startles. It lunges against the walls of the trap, frantically trying to claw its way to freedom.

“Shh,” Soroski whispers. “It’s all right.”

It’s a young cat born last fall, about seven months old.

Another trap, under a different car, holds a grey tabby shorthair. The cat hunkers down, shaking. Soroski shines the flashlight on its ear and spots a tattoo. “He was somebody’s pet, once,” she says sadly, lowering the blanket.

A third trap holds a black shorthair. Adult, this time. And also feral, judging by the wild lunges it makes.

The cats are part of a colony of feral cats living in a backyard in southwest Burnaby. First there were one or two cats, then half a dozen, and suddenly there were at least 14. The homeowner was feeding them, but it was getting expensive.

“The homeowner here just didn’t know what to do about it,” says Soroski. “Most people don’t know what to do about it. When they’re feral cats, you can’t just put them in a carrier and take them to get fixed. A lot of people don’t have the money to do it, either.”

Soroski and other volunteers from the Maverick Cat Coalition set out 20 traps at the home, all primed with tuna. Over a recent weekend, they captured about two-thirds of the feral colony.

On Feb. 22, the cats were spayed and neutered at the Vancouver SPCA Hospital by a team of volunteer veterinarians and vet clinic staff. The day-long blitz saw 38 feral and abandoned cats spayed and neutered in a single day. Nine of those were trapped by Maverick volunteers at the home in southwest Burnaby. The rest came from other sites.

The goal is to reduce the exploding population of homeless cats in the Lower Mainland. But as people continue to abandon cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered, the problem won’t go away. With female cats capable of producing two to four litters per year, a single unspayed female stray can add 12 to 24 kittens annually to the population of unwanted cats. And each of her female kittens adds dozens more.

“[The spay and neuter clinic] is only one day, and the problem is out there every day of the year, 365 days a year,” said Jamie Lawson, chief animal health officer with the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “There are a lot more feral cats than people realize, because they’re secretive–you don’t see them.”

Maverick Cat Coalition was founded in 2002 by Cylia Wong and David Fowler. Wong had been volunteering at Meow Aid, a Vancouver-based cat shelter, and was trapping feral and abandoned cats for that organization. “We thought of doing sheltering, but didn’t want to do that, because that becomes your life,” said Wong. “We wanted to do something that would be different from everyone else.”

Maverick practises TNR–short for trap, neuter and release. They trap the cats, have them spayed or neutered, and release them back where they were found, providing the site is safe and there’s someone who will feed them. The organization provides the cat food, if required.

Wong is often asked if it isn’t cruel to return the cats to the spots where they were found. “We believe these cats… would prefer to live out their lives in their home location in relative freedom instead of being kept in a shelter where it can be stressful due to overcrowding,” Wong said. It’s also tough to find homes for feral cats. “Trying to tame these cats takes considerable time and effort.”

Last year, Maverick Cat Coalition helped 198 cats, mostly in Vancouver and Burnaby, but also trapping as far afield as New Westminster, Surrey, Coquitlam and Richmond. Each year, the number of feral cats they trap goes up.

“There are studies that say when you’ve reached 80 per cent [of the feral cat population spayed and neutered] then you’ve actually started to make a dent in the problem,” said Wong, a Fisheries and Oceans office manager. “Up to that point, you’re just running around trying to catch up. They say that the number [of homeless cats] matches the number of pet cats. That’s a lot.”

On the morning of the feral spay and neuter clinic, the Vancouver SPCA Hospital is a hive of activity. A half dozen volunteers from various cat organizations sit in the lobby, keeping watch over more than two dozen carriers and traps. Each container holds a cat–or in one case, two kittens just old enough to be spayed. The room smells strongly of cat and the air is filled with meows. SPCA volunteers come and go, taking one trap at a time into the back rooms, where a team of vets is hard at work.

Males go to a neutering station, set up in a spare room adjoining the surgery. Females go to the surgical room, where the volunteer vets perform the spayings.

Veterinarian Doug Casey, a consultant with Care Pet Wellness Group of North Vancouver, was volunteering at the clinic for the second year. “I think it’s only fair to pass it on, pass it forward, do the right thing by society,” said Casey, who lives in Vancouver. “I sleep a little better at night knowing I gave back to the community that has given to me through the years.”

Casey, originally from New York, says the homeless pet situation is even more critical there. He says an average 100,000 dogs and cats are euthanized each year in New York state, due to overpopulation.

“These things shouldn’t occur,” said Casey. “If I was in charge, I’d make every private [veterinary] practice in British Columbia do one or two [free spay or neuter surgeries] a month. That should be the way it’s done.”

Casey said he insisted that each of the 38 cats being spayed or neutered receive a pain block that would ease their post-operative pain for at least six to eight hours. Otherwise, he said, the cats would have received pain medication lasting just one hour. “Even though they’re ferals, they still deserve the same care as if they were an owned patient,” Casey said.

The volunteers from the animal rescue organizations deserve the most credit, added Casey. “These people are caring enough to do the right thing, and they don’t even get paid for it… It’s the volunteers who get the cats here. They’re the ones doing all the footwork.”

Veterinary assistant Char Voeltz, with Urban Animal Hospital, was volunteering at the annual clinic for the third year in a row.

“I understand, with the feral colonies, it’s probably best that they go back to where they are,” said Voeltz. “I know they’re all not going to find homes. They’re adults, they’re probably never going to adjust to indoor apartment living. If we can prevent all the kittens, make that quick health check over, make sure everybody’s pretty happy and healthy, they live quite well in the colonies out there.”

Together with more than a dozen other volunteers, Voeltz tends to cats that have just undergone surgeries. They rub their bodies to keep them warm and occasionally open a cat’s mouth to give a gentle tug on the tongue, making sure the unconscious cat doesn’t swallow it.

Elsewhere in the hospital’s surgery, a tattoo artist tattoos the ear of each cat that goes through the surgery. Each cat also receives medication for ear mites and fleas, if needed. After that, it’s put in a cat carrier for post-operative observation.

Ideally, the cat is back on its feet–albeit shaky–about an hour after surgery. Vet assistants watch for fever, or other signs of complications.

It isn’t always a happy ending. Following the weekend spay and neuter blitz, one male cat died. He came through the neutering and looked great during the recovery period, but later was found dead inside his cat carrier. But these deaths are rare. “We cried and cried,” said Soroski.

Despite heartbreaks like this, she’s determined to continue her work.

Many ferals begin as pet cats but are abandoned by their owners. Two of the cats sterilized at the clinic last weekend were rescued from an East Vancouver home.

“Everywhere I go there’s people telling me the neighbour left behind their cats,” said Soroski. “They can’t survive unless somebody feeds them. They’re domestic animals. Man has taken them in and given them shelter, given them food, made them dependent on us. It’s like throwing a child onto the streets homeless.”

Lawson concurs. “The worst thing people can do is feed feral cats, unless they’re actively having them trapped and spayed,” he said. “Because if you feed them and don’t sterilize them, all you do is make more cats. And most of those cats, when they come into the world, are going to lead very short, brutal lives and die. They’re going to get killed off, and a lot of them starve.”

Low-cost spaying and neutering is part of the answer to the cat crisis. Mandy Butcher, who operates the Meow Aid shelter out of the basement suite of a Vancouver house (a shelter that’s currently at capacity, with about 30 cats), said low-cost veterinary clinics have made a “huge difference” in reducing the number of unwanted cats.

“Making [spaying and neutering] cheap, really low cost, it made a huge dent,” said Butcher.

Soroski agrees. She has a map filled with push-pins indicating where cat colonies have been found. Vancouver’s East Side has most of the pins. “I find it’s in the lower-income [areas],” she said.

The Vancouver SPCA Hospital has a three-tier price system for spaying and neutering: full price, half price and free, depending on an individual’s financial status.

Soroski, a retired nurse, began to work with cats 15 years ago as a volunteer at the SPCA’s Vancouver shelter. She set up a foster program after noticing that mother cats and their kittens didn’t fare well in a shelter environment. That organization split off on its own in 2001 as Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association, co-founded by Karen Duncan.

Soroski and Duncan soon noticed that people were turning in abandoned kittens from the same locations, year after year. “And then we realized that, aha, people were bringing the kittens in to the SPCA and leaving the mom behind,” said Soroski. The two women purchased traps, set out to capture the mother cats, and soon realized there were whole colonies of feral cats out there.

They’re still trapping on a regular basis. “We need people to let us know where these stray cats are,” said Soroski.

Maverick and VOKRA are always looking for volunteers. They need people to help trap cats, drivers to transport cats, and people knowledgeable about bottle feeding kittens. They need blankets, towels, cat carriers, traps and cat food. (Some pet stores contribute bags of food that are torn and can’t be sold.) Cash donations help pay for the spaying, neutering and other veterinary care.

They also need people who have barns in need of a good mouser to provide either a temporary or permanent home for the feral cats–as long as those people are also willing to feed them. But most of all, said Soroski, “We need people to adopt the tame cats. That’s really important, to give them a home.”

The year VOKRA was founded, its volunteers helped rescue about 50 cats and kittens. Since then, the numbers have “steamrollered” into the hundreds, said Duncan. “About the last three years, we’ve done about 800 [per year].”

Of those, about 200 come from trapping. The rest came from people who have kittens and don’t know what to do with them. “When I see an ad, on Craigslist or something, saying ‘free kittens,’ I offer to take them and get them into good homes,” said Duncan. “And I will fix the momma cat for them, and whatever other cats they’ve got. I’m hoping eventually it will bring the numbers down, but so far it hasn’t.”

VOKRA utilizes a number of foster homes, and provides those who foster with all the supplies they need. “We’re always looking for people who will just take a [litter] for a few weeks,” said Duncan.

Part of the stray cat problem is that people sometimes feel they have no alternative but to abandon their cats. According to the B.C. SPCA, only nine per cent of rental suites or condos in B.C. accept cats. Each year, hundreds of people surrender their pets to the SPCA due to landlords’ “no pets” policies.

Last year, the Vancouver SPCA shelter took in 1,675 cats and kittens, said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations for the B.C. SPCA. Of that number, 515 were strays or lost cats, and 305 were surrendered by their owners.

Another 475 were transferred from SPCA shelters elsewhere in the province, and nine came from outside animal welfare organizations. Some 233 cats were brought in by ambulance after being found injured or sick, and 61 were seized during cruelty investigations. Another 77 cats were “dead on arrival” at the SPCA.

Of the 1,675 cats that passed through the Vancouver shelter last year, 922 were adopted. The shelter euthanized 154 cats–138 of them due to diseases or injuries that caused “critical distress,” and 16 because they were aggressive.

The remainder, said Chortyk, are either still in care, were claimed by their owners, or were transferred to other SPCA shelters or adoption centres throughout the Lower Mainland.

“The only reason that we would euthanize an animal is that they’re so sick that they can’t be helped, or if they’re just so feral that people can’t get near them and they’re so frightened of people,” said Chortyk. “We do everything we can to socialize them, but there are some cats, because of the way they’ve been treated up to that point, are just terrified of people. They live in this constant state of heart-pumping [terror]. It’s just a horrible way for them to live. And people, when they come in [to adopt] aren’t going to take a wild cat… We don’t euthanize for space.”

Currently, said Chortyk, the Vancouver shelter is caring for 185 cats and kittens–47 of which are in foster homes. Come summer, she said, the number of kittens is expected to spike as people who are ignorant of the cat overpopulation problem allow their cats to have kittens. “From summer to early fall we have so many kittens,” said Chortyk. “You adopt out five and 10 more come in the door the same hour.”

The B.C. SPCA spays and neuters all of the animals it adopts out.

Some people believe it’s better to turn the cat out on the street than to surrender it to a shelter. They think it will catch mice or birds, and survive.

They’re wrong.

“People think they can just leave their cats and they’ll be all right, but they won’t be,” said Duncan. “They can’t hunt. Unless they find somebody willing to put out water and food for them, they’re doomed.”

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