The great Cranbrook cat rescue of 2012

Neighbours join together to bring half-wild felines in from the cold.

The great cat rescue of 2012 is underway. Veterinarians Bob Clark (left) and Suzanne Thiessen (right) are pictured with Veterinarian Technician Anne Coulter and one of the half-wild cats who populate a Cranbrook neighbourhood. Nearby residents have been catching the cats

For the past couple of years, the neighbourhood near the creek behind Save-On Foods has been home to a large population of half-wild cats, living the hard life but with enough interaction with humans — the wrong kind of interaction — to ensure that population kept growing.

But recently, a group of neighbourhood residents joined forces with the East Kootenay SPCA to bring those cats in from the cold.

“When you don’t spay or neuter your pets, this is what happens,” said Hugh Laurie, who was one of those involved in the rescue. “Over the course of about two and a half years, we got one giant clan of cats — cousins and cousins and cousins.”

Laurie estimated that there were well over 50 cats that were living “half-wild,” in the neighbourhood bounded by 17th Avenue North, 4th and 6th Avenues North, and Joseph Creek. It’s great territory for cats. There is a large vacant lot off 6th Avenue and the riparian zone of the creek. There is lots of food and water for them, Laurie said. Humans live in a trailer court off 17th Street and the adjacent Wilshire Apartments.

B.J. Howe of the SPCA described the cats as “loosely owned,” as opposed to feral, or fully wild. In other words, cats that are not part of a household, that are living outdoors, but who have some interaction with humans — in particular, with food that humans leave out for them. Howe said a feral population of cats will, because of the strictures of the environment, regulate itself population-wise. As soon as you start feeding them, however, there can be a population explosion.

“If you don’t feed a ‘loosely owned’ female cat, she will still be able to survive the winter,” Howe said. “But because it’s such a hard life, that cat won’t go into heat.”

When well-meaning humans start feeding cats that are living outdoors, however, that changes.

“What people don’t understand is that you’re not doing any kindness by feeding them,” Howe said. “You may be being kind to that one cat, but that cat will start having kittens, and then you’re creating more misery.”

However, as more and more litters of kittens were discovered, with many of them in dire straits, several residents of both the trailer park and Wilshire Apartments stepped in. Cat traps were acquired from the SPCA and Cranbrook veterinarian Bob Clark, and the great rescue attempt began.

Laurie mentioned Janet John, Kim Lutz, Judie Blakley and Melanie Caron, and neighbours Linda and Phil, who got the impetus going. “We decided we needed to catch them,” Laurie said. “But we had no place to put them.” So Laurie’s son Spencer agreed to dedicate space in his trailer porch, and  built a “cat condo.”

Upon capture, the cats were taken down to Cranbrook Veterinary Hospital last Wednesday, where Dr. Bob Clark, Dr. Suzanne Thiessen and Veterinary Technician Anne Coulter performed spaying and neutering. The cats are now comfortably ensconced in Spencer Laurie’s cat condo. “We’re going to find homes for them all,” Hugh Laurie said.

He said there are now seven four-month-old kittens and three adult cats ready for a home. There is also a mother with five three-week-old kittens, who will be ready for adoption in about a month. Howe added that these cats are ideal for farm and barn residence.

Laurie said there are still about a dozen cats to be caught, domesticated and fixed for good home placement.

At present, the SPCA’s space for cats is completely full, and is unable to accept any cats until further space is created. “We’re packed solid,” Howe said.

She said that the SPCA is running a new program. “We’re taking fewer cats, and giving them a better quality of life, rather than packing them in.” The adoption process also seems to move along quicker this way.

Howe added that the SPCA never euthanizes cats because of lack of space, contrary to what some people might believe.

If anyone is interested in adopting cats or kittens from the great cat rescue of 2012, or a cat from the SPCA, call the SPCA at 250-426-6751, or email ohgood@telus.net (as in “Oh good, we caught another kitty!”).