A Critical Mass of Kittens


Thank you to the Capilano Courier for this publication:

In 2012, 1,800 cats flooded into the protection of the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) – a number that vastly exceeded anything the organization had seen before. The summer temperatures that stretched into autumn allowed un-spayed cats to undergo another heat, increasing the number of pregnancies and kittens that needed homes. Coupled with the abandonment of unwanted cats, the amount of street cats soared and vacant space within animal rescue associations dwindled.

It wasn’t just VOKRA that was filling up. It was everywhere.

“We’ve definitely seen greater numbers of kittens coming in. Homeless kittens are being either brought to us or we have to rescue them, those have really gone up and when we have more kittens, it means it’s harder to adopt adult cats,” says Lorie Chortyk, General Manager of Community Relations for the BC SPCA – which brought 9,461 cats and 9,570 kittens into its protection in 2012.

A report by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies on cat overpopulation in Canada noted that of 150,350 cats admitted to participating shelters, almost 60,000 were euthanized due to illness or lack of resources. Furthermore, the study estimates that more than 20 per cent of cats remain unneutered or unspayed – suggesting that over 2 million cats are contributing to the overpopulation crisis nationwide.

“I think it’s growing exponentially across the province because we’re seeing these larger numbers of sort of free-roaming, un-owned cats in our communities where people just don’t bother to get their cats spayed and neutered and those cats are roaming in the community, they’re multiplying – and because cats do multiply so quickly, that number each year just grows and grows and grows,” says Chortyk.

The SPCA has partnered with other organizations like VOKRA in an effort to curb the street cat and kitten overpopulation in British Columbia.

Formed in 2000 as a no-kill rescue organization, VOKRA initially focused on caring for young kittens, which generally don’t survive without the constant attention provided by a mother cat. Soon the organization expanded to care for cats of all ages. VOKRA does not operate from centralized shelters, like many other rescue organizations do. Instead, rescued kittens are placed in one of over 100 foster homes across the Lower Mainland, in which they are rehabilitated, trained and socialized until they are ready for adoption.

The diaspora of rescued animals to different homes allows protection from widespread disease and other transmissible health issues that could sweep through a large congregation of cats in a shelter or a similar environment. The Vancouver organizations cope with record numbers of abandoned cats format of VOKRA also allows the organization the opportunity to get to know the personality of each of the animals in their care, says the organization’s president, Karen Duncan.

“We get our foster homes to do really clear bios about what the cats are like, and what kind of home they would like. That’s one of our big things – matching the right cat for the right person,” Duncan says. “It’s not about how they look, it’s more about the temperament and what the cat likes and what the people like. A really busy, crazy cat isn’t good for an older person in a quiet apartment, but an older cat with a calm demeanour is – older cats aren’t necessarily good for kids.”

VOKRA examines the compatibility between cats and owners through the bios produced by those temporarily fostering VOKRA cats, and interviews conducted with prospective adopters. Duncan explains that adopters must agree to raise their cats indoors, citing coyotes and cars as potential threats to a cat’s safety. “It’s really important to us that they go to indoor homes. Occasionally we get a call and one of our cats has been found and it’s been outside – we usually get the call because the pound has picked up the body.”

Duncan cites the fostering process as crucial to ensuring that VOKRA’s kittens and cats remain in the homes that they are adopted to. The SPCA also reserves the right to turn down prospective adopters should they not be compatible with the animal they wish to adopt.

“We put pretty well all our cats in foster homes, so therefore we know what they’re like in a home. We know if they have any bad habits that we have to work on, we know what they’re like with people, if they’re night owls or if we need to turn something around, we do that,” says Duncan.

Cats have a reputation as being an “easy” pet, which often make them an attractive option for younger people and students, whose typically transitory lifestyles are not conducive to pet ownership. While rescue organizations are striving to find homes for their cats, the wellbeing of the animals is paramount and there are strict conditions regulating adoptions on a case-by-case basis.

“None of us like to adopt to very young people, it’s not a time to adopt a cat,” Duncan explains. “Cats are going to live, if they’re healthy and well cared for, they should live 14 to 16 years. Someone in their late teens or early 20′s is going to move a lot, they’re going to travel, they’re going to change who they’re with, lots of things are going to change and it’s just not the time to adopt an animal.”

Whether it’s moving to another city for school, entering a relationship with someone who has allergies, or being financially unprepared, there are a multitude of potential issues that can come with young people owning cats. Duncan says that VOKRA still has an option for them. “We encourage those people to foster if it’s an appropriate house, as we’re always looking for fosters. That’s a way to have an animal, we pay all the bills, they just have to look after it properly according to what we ask them to do.”

It’s this commitment to the wellbeing of the kittens and cats that leads to VOKRA being selective to whom they adopt. Finances, living arrangements and lifestyle can all lead to prospective adopters being turned down. While some call for the placement of cats into any home that will have them, Duncan rebukes the idea. “If they can’t afford that adoption fee, they can’t afford to feed them good food and keep them healthy if they get sick,” she says. “We’re not going to hand over the cats that we’ve worked so long [with], some of them raising from one-day old on bottles, we’re not handing them over to a life that’s going to be worse.”

While the SPCA does not have the ability to be as selective as VOKRA, their partnership with the organization still helps curb the overpopulation problem.

“We work with VOKRA all the time, we work with about 60 rescue groups across the province,” Chortyk explains. “If they have kittens, or they have animals that need taking care of and we have space, we’ll take them and vice versa. They’ll help us out when we have animals that we need looked after as well, if they have the resources. We all work together and try and deal with the issue.”

Through their efforts, VOKRA has managed to find homes for 1300 cats and kittens in the past year. Still, 130 VOKRA cats are currently being prepared for adoption, another 140 are currently available, and overpopulation continues.

The feral, lost and abandoned cats that populate the streets of the Lower Mainland and beyond are subjected to brutal, short lives – and it’s the duty of pet owners to ensure their animals aren’t contributing to the problem. “They multiply very rapidly, but they don’t live long,” says Chortyk. “It’s very frustrating because it’s a completely fixable problem and these animals can die just horrible deaths out in the community – through disease or predation, they’re eaten by coyotes. It’s a horrible life for them and they don’t need to suffer like that. It’s a lack of human responsibility that’s creating this problem.”

Comment from VOKRA President, Karen Duncan:

"I would like to add that the message from SPCA is not accurate. We never give our kittens or cats to the SPCA. We have, however, taken hundreds from them and are who they direct people to for trapping and for caring for kittens that need bottle feeding."

Posted by Grino on February 17, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

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