THE NORTHERN Animal Rescue Alliance has partnered with the Kitselas First Nation in an effort to humanely manage the high number of free-roaming and feral cats in Kitselas’ Gitaus Village.
Since May 2, the rescue alliance has taken in 28 cats from the Gitaus Village.
The non-profit organization has been getting the cats veterinary care and also spaying and neutering them so that many can safely reintegrate into the community.
Where possible, many of the cats are being put up for adoption as well.
“We can help create a much more humane form of population control,” said chairman Pip Crosby of the rescue alliance.
“Not just a chance for survival, but a way of surviving. A better quality of life.”
Crosby said at least two of the cats had to be hospitalized when they were brought in, while some cats came pregnant, overly thin or displaying aggression.
“When a colony becomes too big for the area the cats become a nuisance, and it’s not their fault,” Crosby said.
“The colonies formed because people haven’t spayed or neutered their cats – they go out, they have kittens, those kittens have kittens, have kittens, have kittens… and suddenly you have a population explosion.”
She added: “You have hormonal tom cats spraying all over the place, fighting, yowling, screaming. You have kittens appearing. As the colony keeps growing, the food gets smaller – you see skinny, sick cats wandering around. And the compassionate people out there wanted help.”
Feral cats – or free-roaming cats, which Crosby said is the more appropriate term – are not unique to the Kitselas First Nation.
Last year, however, the nation launched a program designed to educate the community about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.
Members of the nation eventually made contact with the animal rescue alliance to get their support in humanely reducing and managing their population of free-roaming cats.
Last year, Crosby said, the rescue alliance applied for money from the BC SPCA as part of that organization’s campaign to manage the overpopulation of pets across the province.
Now that the BC SPCA has given the rescue alliance $6,570 for the project, an amount which the rescue alliance agreed to match through its own fundraising, Crosby and her organization’s 36 other volunteers have been busy helping to manage the situation.
“If you spay and neuter the cats and they don’t have the kittens you’re not going to have that huge knock-on effect to the environment. It’s really a community service as well because when you have 60 cats roaming around a small area, it’s pretty smelly,” Crosby said.
The money from the BC SPCA is specifically intended for the humane removal of up to 60 feral and free-roaming cats in the Gitaus Village.
Crosby said that Geneva Erickson and Erica Austin, who both work for the Kitselas First Nation government, had been instrumental in working to educate the community about pet overpopulation and are now engrossed in dealing with the free-roaming cats in a hands-on way.
“They catch the cats and bring the cats in to Terrace where I can then have a look at them and decide where they’re going to go,” said Crosby.
The humane way they are captured, Crosby said, includes luring the cats using leftover salmon and then trapping them in wooden crates for transportation to Terrace.
Once Crosby has the cats in her care she works on assessing their needs. So far, some of the cats have required veterinary care for such maladies as diarrhea or paw infections, and this is where the bulk of the project’s expenses come from, Crosby said.
The rescue alliance has received treatment for the cats from Kermodei Veterinary Clinic and Kitimat Veterinary Hospital.
The aim of the project isn’t to permanently remove the cats from their community, but spay and neuter them in order to end the constant cycle of breeding and over-population.
Crosby said spaying and neutering the cats is ultimately much better for their well-being.
“The majority of the adult cats will go back to free-roaming because they have been outside most of their lives and they won’t necessarily be suitable as house cats,” Crosby said.
“Would I trust them around small children or other pets? Probably not. These guys have only ever known the outside life and being on the Gitaus [Reservation] and they’re probably going to be much happier going back to their familiar territory.”
However, Crosby said many of the kittens they have so far rescued will be put up for adoption to find new homes, either in Terrace or even in the Lower Mainland.
Donna Rabinovitch is a Northern Animal Rescue Alliance volunteer who’s been providing a foster home for the rescued cats while they’re in the process of being assessed and treated. On the bottom floor of her house lay spacious cages where the cats, many of them kittens who were born there in care, receive food and always have proper shelter.
Rabinovitch, who has been volunteering with the rescue alliance for almost three years, said when she joined the organization she was unaware of how many feral and free-roaming colonies of cats there were in the region. Now, she said, caring for cats is an obsession of hers.
“It’s the only thing that makes me happy,” Rabinovitch said.
Crosby and Rabinovitch pointed out that through the alliance’s partnership with organizations like Rezcue or Action for Animals in Distress Society in Burnaby, B.C., they’ll be able to put many of the kittens they’ve acquired into good homes.
The Northern Animal Rescue Alliance has not undertaken a feral and free-roaming cat rescue project of this scale before, but looking forward Crosby said the partnership with Kitselas First Nation is part of a bigger plan to rescue colonies of cats elsewhere in the region, such as in Hazelton and New Aiyansh.
“We’re hoping there’s no longer a need for us in the community,” Rabinovitch said.