Cat Sanctuary

KCs At Work

Visitors who come to the Sanctuary at the weekend are often astonished and delighted by the number of cats who come to greet them.  What they will not see are the cats who are hidden away – either by their own choice as ferals, or because they are caged. Cages are not what the Sanctuary is about – but they are occasionally a tool to lead to something better for the cats. Most of our felines are here either because they are feral or because they have been surrendered. If they are immediately adoptable, then they will go to the Adoption Centre – but many of them are not ready for that when they come to us.

When Creampuff came to us, she spent most of her time hiding behind a drape (BC)

Marianne & friends – by Selena Marchetti

Because a new cat needs to be assessed, and have all its vaccinations current before it is released into the general population, it will often spend 4-6 weeks in a cage. There is always a drape or a carrier or somewhere that they can hide.  Some cats are happy to be hidden away in a quiet dark place – but that doesn’t help them when they finally emerge. So there is a team of volunteers who will happily spend time sitting quietly in a cage, allowing the cats to learn that humans are not always scary.

The team of Kitty Comforters was the creation of the late Marianne Moore, a longtime Sanctuary volunteer, who passed in 2018. Six years before that, she established a group of “cat-whisperers”, volunteers who had proved themselves to be calm and patient and occasionally willing to be scratched or bitten by a scared cat. The team is still operating under the leadership of Anne Marchetti, and they appear faithfully each afternoon to spend time with cats who are receiving medical care, cats who are new to the Sanctuary, and some of our shyer inhabitants.

Food bribery (LBF)

Shy Tibby hid in her cage for weeks; now she’s out, and much more confident (AA)

Sometimes kitty-comforting time involves food bribery, or gentle grooming; sometimes it may be no more than a quiet voice. We learn which are the cats that are aggressive in their fear, and which are the ones who will only hide. Most of our time is spent with caged cats, but we also look for the shyer cats who live in the open pens, and connect with them as much as we can. Kitty Comforting is about much more than just having fun with your favourite cats; it’s about searching out the ones who need us, and establishing trust by whatever means we can.  Most of the KC’s have done their share of cleaning and feeding, and are known by Anne to be really patient and persistent in reaching out to scared cats.

My recent KC session began with a visit to the Adoption Centre, where Benjamin and Olivia are still awaiting someone to offer them a home. Benjamin came out for a visit and some cuddling; Olivia has a bit of a cold, and stayed in her bed. From there, I paid a visit to the SingleWide offices, which are much quieter than usual, with a lot of the admin transferred to the Adoption Centre. Mojo and Licorice like the quiet, but they also need some stimulation and love. They have been joined recently by pretty Tibby, surrendered for inappropriate urination, and, like Oscar and Winston, on a diet to see if there is a physical basis to her problem. Licorice believes firmly that all visitors come to see him, and took exception to my paying attention to Tibby by backing up and peeing on my leg – sometimes a penalty of being around our cats!

Li’l Bit outside the DW deck (KN)

A quick visit with Oscar and Winston and a check in to compare notes with fellow KC Catherine, on her own rounds, and then I moved to the back pens for a bit, checking in there with Lisa who is one of the “magic people” with ferals. She has been working with shy Raisin in Pen 4, who still hides away from everyone else.  We are watching for a gradual relocation of some of the Castlegar College cats who base themselves on the high shelves on the DoubleWide deck, but who have also discovered the cat-door and the potential for visits to the back pens. We will occasionally see Li’l Bit and Foster exploring in Pen 3 – though their explorations tend to be around sunrise or sunset, when there are fewer humans around.

Sweet Audi is beginning to be curious about us (BC)

There are more caged cats in the DW because it’s closest to the med-staff. Some of the cages still bear “Staff Access Only” signs; in a few of those cases, Anne may let us know that the KCs do have access to start the familiarization process. Sometimes we’ll barely see the cats in question, who have places to hide and prefer to use them with strangers – sometimes the offer of a treat will be met with a well-placed claw, or with warning hisses. With these cats, little and often is the key; they need to discover that humans may feel scary, but don’t intend them any harm.

Sylar enjoying petting (BC)

From visiting with shy Audi, I move next door to visit with an old friend. Sylar has been my sponsor cat for years. He’s a very wary feral who loves his chicken, and has progressed to occasionally accepting it from the hand, though he prefers to have it tossed to him. Currently he’s in for observation; he’s lost some weight and has become pretty matted, so I hope blood tests will show the problem. As always, there is fierce hissing as I enter his cage. Because I know that he knows me, I loop his drape back so that he has nowhere to hide; I offer his favourite chicken and he accepts it without biting my fingers. Very carefully I hold tidbits in my right hand and pet him with my left; he allows it without protest, and the bum comes up as I pet down his body. By the time I leave him, he’s allowing petting (but not grooming) without hissing. I suspect, though, that once he’s out, he’ll be back to not permitting touch!

Sometimes the best Kitty Comforter is another cat – Denzel is being visited by his buddy Luke (BC)

I visit with sweet Denzel, who’s had dental surgery and is caged so that he only eats wet catfood for a while, and with Mortimer, who’s just out of a cage; Mortimer came to us as an unneutered tomcat and was a little reactive while he waited for release. Now the hormones are under control and he has his freedom, he’s become one of the cuddle-bugs on the DW couch.

Espoir is listening, but doesn’t want to interact (BC)

One more scared cat to visit, and I return to the front courtyard to be with Espoir in the Hill House. She pretends I’m not there and hides behind her cat-tree; it’s too soon to push her for contact, so I just sit and talk with her for a bit. There’s a series of interested visitors at the door; many of the Hill House cats enjoy company, both human and feline, and Espoir will not be a total stranger to them by the time she’s finally allowed out.

My shift is finally over as the evening feeders-and-scoopers start to appear – I stretch my time with a short visit to my buddies in the Val Jones pen. The porch chair is vacant, and as soon as I sit down, Magnus and Jim occupy my lap. These guys don’t need the work we put into the more scared cats, but they do need us to spend some time with them because the Val Jones is closed off as an FIV pen – they just need to know they’re not forgotten, and most of the regular volunteers will happily spend time with them as well.

Blog by Brigid Coult
Featured photo: “Raisin – a pen 4 feral girl” by Karen Nicholson
Photos by Graham Akira, Alicia Almeida, Brigid Coult, Karen Nicholson