When the former Richmond Homeless Cats became Richmond Animal Protection Society, and then the Regional Animal Protection Society, we moved from being a very locally-focused organization to one that has links with rescues all over the place. Our work is particularly valuable to small rescues dealing with multiple feral cats; if the cats that come into their care cannot be tamed, very few of these places are able to offer long-term safe housing to the animals – they just don’t have the facilities. With the financial support of cat-lovers all over the place, we have been able to offer sanctuary to cats from the length of Vancouver Island, from Kamloops and Prince George and the Okanagan, and most recently, from the Kootenays.
Sadly, there are still too many people who are careless with their cats, who allow them to wander, and who don’t ensure that they are spayed and neutered. And the result is colonies of cats who are born in the wild and who fear human contact. Ideally, TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) can turn a growing colony into one that is stable and eventually disappears by natural attrition. But it takes patience, and it also takes local education so that the colony isn’t continually enlarged by dumped cats. For more than ten years there has been a managed colony of feral cats living on the campus of the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook. Their volunteer caretaker took all the responsibility for their feeding, vaccinations, spay/neuter, and the College had agreed to provide access to some space for their housing.
This past spring, the College authorities announced that the colony housing would be dismantled and the colony dispersed – though there was no understanding of what might happen to the cats. There was some local outcry; petitions flew around, the media got involved; eventually everyone was satisfied with the decision to relocate the colony into RAPS’ care. That’s not as simple as it sounds; we were talking about taking on up to 14 cats with consequent bills for food and medical care, but generous donors stepped up, donations arrived, and the cats came to us in two separate groups.
As with all newcomers, they were initially caged so that they could have all their medical checks and become used to some aspects of Sanctuary life. Because they were used to each others’ company, we put the first five cats in adjacent cages in the Double-Wide, and cut a hole in the mesh between them, so that they could move between the cages. They could choose whether to be up on a shelf or on the floor, hiding behind a drape or in the open. It rapidly became clear that though they had had contact with humans, they were very fearful and preferred to hide, huddling together for comfort. There was much hissing, which is less about aggression and more a fear reaction, and contact with them initially tended to be in the hands of the med-staff and the most experienced of the Kitty Comforters.
The first group of cats had their cage-stay and were released, choosing quickly to relocate to the adjacent DW Deck. This is an area well-suited to ferals, with lots of high shelving around the perimeter, and many places to hide. Ringo, Hamlet and many others have had their shy-time on the deck and moved on to other territory, or to comfortable interaction with humans. The College cats are still in the wary stage, preferring to stay right out of reach, but tolerating the regular advances of Lisa, who usually has tidbits for them. Li’l Bit (or Bitty) is not so little, but once you get past the hissing, she is a tidbit fan; Smudge, on the other hand, resolutely hides in the corner nobody can reach. Toffee made his way out via the cat-door in the corner, but must have had underlying health issues, because sadly, his body was found unexpectedly in the back pens.
The second batch of cats remained caged a little longer, but by their own choice. It turned out that Buddy was FIV+, and he is now living in New Aids. S’mores and Twiglet are most often found sharing a bed, and have proved amenable to a little petting; both seemed to enjoy scritches and they’re relaxed enough to accept food from the hand. Currently their cage is open, but they feel safest there, and are still allowing visitors to come in gently and offer pets; when they’re ready, they’ll probably make the move to the DW Deck with their fellow-Collegiates. Foster (who we think is Li’l Bit’s mother, has moved out to join her daughter; Purrl and Tabitha, both short-haired tabbies, prefer to remain in the now-familiar cage, with a drape behind which they can hide. Currently there are vacant cages, so we don’t need to evict them too quickly, and they still have access from one cage to another and can visit happily.
We’ll look forward to following the Cranbrook cats, and watching as they take their time assimilating into the Sanctuary way of life.