Kaien Island is riddled with feral cats that shack up under old buildings, prowl the streets and offer uncouth glares at strangers who take notice of their presence. One woman in the city seeks to serve and protect these creatures while also trying to stem the risk of feline overpopulation.
An un-spayed female cat can produce more than 450,000 kittens in seven years. Animal lover Kim St. Pierre does everything in her power to improve the situation as a volunteer with the SPCA’s Trap, Neuter and Release program.
“Whoever I trap is getting done (fixed). There’s this one male downtown that I’ve been trying to trap for years because he likes to travel and see all the girls,” St. Pierre said with fervour. “He’s the only pure white male in the downtown core. There’s litters of white kittens showing up in the downtown core. I know who the daddy is. If I catch him, he’s getting done.”
Her fondness for animals began in Russell, Ontario, a small-town on the outskirts of Ottawa, where her family had acres of land and horses. She was already riding at age three and at nine years she was trick riding without a saddle.
In 1984, in her last year of high school, her father was transferred to Prince Rupert to be the chief of police for the RCMP. There are no horses allowed on the island so her attention went from large animals to small.
A couple years later, as St. Pierre settled into her new life, she met her husband. He drove his old Firebird sans muffler into the Dairy Queen drive-thru where she was working. The other employees fought over who would serve him and St. Pierre went for it. Kim and Rick were married in 1995 on a rare sunny day in Prince Rupert.
The inspiration to care for Kaien Island’s cats came when the couple lived in a trailer in Hays Vale. St. Pierre found two sickly kittens. She built an outdoor pen where she treated the kittens and baited the mother to join them. When she caught the mother she had her fixed and released her back into the trailer park. Once the kittens were healthy she adopted them out — and so it began.
St. Pierre listed off reasons Prince Rupert has an infestation of feral cats. “There’s quite a few people that believe that they don’t need to spay or neuter because their cats are indoor, outdoor, and they’ll be fine. People getting kicked out because of renovictions, things like that, and they’ve got no where to take their cats and it’s so expensive,” she said. There are also only two veterinarians in town.
For years, St. Pierre was the kennel manager and front reception at a veterinarian’s clinic, which only fed her desire to help abandoned kittens. Despite her work, she is not the stereotypical cat lady. There is a wing in her house on the ground floor dedicated to treating cats. She has them fixed, brings them back to health and finds a home for them.
As for her own personal stock of pets she only has one to three cats at a time. Once, a woman arrived at her door at 11 p.m. and pulled a wee kitten out of her pocket, half frozen. It was touch and go but she survived. St. Pierre named her Lucky. “She was my right hand.”
The couple have one child, Krista, who turns eight this year. The petite five-foot-one St. Pierre said the pregnancy went well even though it looked like she had swallowed a beach ball. The birth itself was a nightmare. St. Pierre suffered from internal tears and almost bled to death. Lucky was 18 years at the time and suffered from kidney issues.
“She held on until I got clearance from the doctor that everything was okay and that was the day we had to put her down,” St. Pierre said.
The family’s resident cat these days is Gadget. He plays fetch and spins counter clockwise when he gets a hold of his feather wand. St. Pierre filmed Gadget in action and the video went viral with almost 48,000 views.
All the work that St. Pierre does for the cats on the island is out of her own pocket. She has sent a few unanswered letters to the mayor on the city’s cat issue. A couple weeks ago she was messaged on Facebook that a woman had two kittens for her, and she ended up dropping off eight.
“They’re running around like banshees,” St. Pierre said. She named them all after Batman characters, Bruce, Wayne, Selena, Kyle, Joker, Lexi, Harley and Quinn.
The litter was flown to Actions for Animals in Burnaby. “I can basically guarantee within two weeks all of these guys are going to be adopted down there.”
St. Pierre has lost count of how many cats she has adopted out. One year, with her husband, the couple filled their van with 29 cats and drove around the province taking them to pet stores and shelters until every one was adopted out.
For a woman who surrounds herself with felines, she is allergic to the creatures. That doesn’t matter to her, more reason to keep them bathed.
With Batman busy in Gotham, and the crew off to Burnaby, she will wait for the next call and continue her duties as the city of Prince Rupert’s version of Catwoman.