A question frequently asked by Sunday visitors is “Where do these cats all come from?”
In our early days, they were entirely local cats – we were Richmond Homeless Cats, created to meet the challenges of a feral cat problem in the municipality. Our spay/neuter programs, our focus on TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) and our ability to give shelter to colonies displaced by commercial development meant that all our resources needed to be reserved for Richmond felines. Sanctuary numbers peaked at around 900 animals at one stage, but since then we have living with an aging population – and feral cats, who may have come in with early-life malnutrition, or environmental exposure to toxins, do not always have a long life -expectancy.
As our resident numbers decreased, we became more able to work with other organisations outside our immediate area. Shelters all over BC are doing outstanding work to rescue and give help to the animals for which they care, but it only takes a few “dumped” families of cats, and a feral cat explosion can occur. And many of those shelters simply don’t have the facilities to deal with large numbers of ferals.
Some cats can be tamed – especially if brought in young enough – but it’s a long process, requiring a lot of patience, when it comes to older cats. In many areas, feral colonies are being TNR’d and assigned as barn cats or some other situation, where they will receive basic oversight and care, but continue to prey upon mice and rats. But sadly, there are other areas where there is no shelter able to undertake this work, and dealing with feral cats is a matter of exterminating them.
The cats living at the back of Pen 3 are part of a group that came from that sort of situation some eight years ago – feral cats were being trapped, but without ongoing care available, their survival was moot. Several shelters, RAPS among them, stepped up and took groups of ferals. The colony that came to us initially lived in the Prince of Wales pen, at the back of the New Aids pen. The smaller pen was the outcome of a generous gift from a group at Prince of Wales school, and the restricted size meant that we hoped to have a better chance of connecting with this feral group. No such luck – they were firmly stuck in their belief that humans were not to be trusted, and the majority of our staff and volunteers were treated with great suspicion. Even the best cat-whisperers were not able to convince any individuals to make the big jump – though occasional touch was reported
As they aged and the colony became smaller, we were also faced with a growing population of FIV cats. So the decision was made to take our ferals and relocate them to one of the other feral pens – and then reassign Prince of Wales to the FIV cats who needed a quieter life. The two feral cat pens – 3 and 4 – are both sufficiently large spaces that the staff felt the colony could choose to live separately from the residents, or assimilate.
In the end, the cats chose the former option. They decided to live entirely in the back section of the pen, sleeping in a collection of kennels and other shelters, most of which are lined with straw rather than fabric bedding. They obviously enjoy each others’ company, and will often be seen out, all together, or all be hidden away at the same time. Four of the five are long-haired, and well-suited to outside life; short-haired Desmond probably uses his buddies as insulation on cold nights! On really cold days, black Michonne just looks like an enormous ball of fluff.
The most venturesome of the group is grey Napoleon, who will allow just a little human contact from time to time. Michonne, Beethoven and Garth prefer to keep themselves away from humans; Desmond has apparently been showing some interest in people.
Members of our wonderful Kitty Comforter team continue to visit with them – never to force contact, but just to sit and talk with them, and to allow them to know that humans have their interests at heart, and that we can be there if and when they decide to approach.