The feral cats in this city are both populous and elusive. There are cat colonies across the island with visible trails leading into each one. Some colonies have as many as 35 residents, and the numbers would be higher if it weren’t for the unofficial Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) team in Prince Rupert.
These humble heroes for the North Coast felines feed and tend to the many colonies. They also pay to have the cats neutered and vaccinated, to stem their population and allow them to live more peacefully.
Fixed males won’t fight for female attention and the females aren’t forced to have litters twice a year, explained Linda Scott, the TNR coordinator for the Prince Rupert BC SPCA.
“The program is designed to spay and neuter the cats to get the growth of these colonies under control so they’re not continually growing and so there aren’t kittens born into these colonies every year. The colonies then, through attrition, basically fade out,” she said.
Scott started feeding a cat colony in 2014. She seems to know each of the cats by name or constitution. Back then, one of her colony’s cats was ill and she took it to the veterinarian and found it had hypothyroidism. This cat is what Scott calls a soft-stray, it had been abandoned and thrown out into the colony.
“They just left her. She had left that residential area and had actually wandered over to the colony. The colony hadn’t accepted her at that point and they were fighting her,” Scott said.
After nursing the soft-stray back to health, Scott took the cat to the BC SPCA and they found her a comfortable home in Vancouver. At the time, the BC SPCA manager asked Scott if she’d be interested in getting her colony on the TNR program, and if so, they’d apply for funding.
In 2015, they got funding to spay and neuter 52 cats, and in 2016 they had funding for 25. They’ve recently applied for 60 cats to be done in 2017. Although more than 60 cats need to be spayed or neutered, it will at least be enough to target the three big colonies.
The funding for 2017 came from Paws and Claws, the thrift store on Third Avenue. The program had only raised $150 through fundraisers, but the business donated $3,600 to the program. Now they have enough to ask the provincial office to match their funds.
Paws and Claws manager Gary Guenther, and owner, Eugene Calli, consider themselves part of the TNR team now. A couple years ago, they said they had gone through Cannery Row Animal Shelter in Port Edward before it shut down.
“The important thing with our store is that it’s there for spaying and neutering feral cats,” Guenther said. “We just got a lone bachelor under our shop. Only one cat. Every day he gets fed. That cat is part of the business. We barely see him, he’s a skitterish guy.”
Calli said his thrift shop budgets $300 a month and he is also planning to raise additional funds for the next year.
For many years, dozens of people in the city have volunteered to trap, neuter and release the Kaien Island feral cats.
Kim St. Pierre is one of them. She makes it her personal mission to trap cats, and she checks in on the many colonies in the city to feed, observe and attend to the cats.
“I can put X’s all over a map of this city,” St. Pierre said. However, the people involved in the cat colonies don’t want the exact location of the colonies to be public knowledge.
The bodies of stray cats have been found mutilated in such a way that only a human could be responsible. She has made feeding shelters for her cats, and one day she found a hatchet left nearby. Scott welled up when she recalled losing cats from her colony in this way.
Another dedicated TNR volunteer is Yvonne Snidel. She had been feeding a colony with a partner for four years. She saw four kittens without a mother and started to feed them.
“It turned out there were 22 cats not just four little kittens. I got involved with the SPCA TNR last year and to date I’ve had nine cats neutered and spayed through the program,” she said. Before the program, she paid for the veterinarian bills herself — $190 to have a cat fixed and vaccinated.
The colony, once 22, is now down to seven cats. Snidel and her partner have had some adopted out, and they lost some to wolves. All of the cats that remain are spayed and neutered save for one female who is trap-wise. “She’s seen her kittens get trapped and she won’t fall for it,” Snidel said.
The TNR team welcomes more people to get involved and for donations to keep tackling the feral cat population. To volunteer, call or visit the BC SPCA to get more information. Donations can also be taken to the veterinarian clinic through the SPCA 2017 TNR account.