Lying on a hot water bottle, wrapped in a blanket, Angel is too groggy from her surgery to do more than lift her head and blink.
She’s had a rough life. The pregnant mom was discovered at the landfill – she was either dumpster diving and picked up by a garbage truck or dumped nearby by her family. She was carrying four kittens but her pregnancy was humanely terminated and she was spayed last week.
But three-year-old Angel’s luck will turn around now. Being friendly instead of feral, the beautiful dappled cat will be taken to a foster home where she will be adopted out.
The cat colony at the landfill is one of Pamela Sears’ charges. She feeds and looks after five cat colonies around HRM, some as big as 30. But she does more than that. Sears works with Cat Rescue Maritimes (ca-r-ma), a small cat rescue organization with branches throughout the Maritimes.
Ca-r-ma identifies cat colonies, establishes a caregiver (feeder) if there isn’t one already, then trap, neuter or spay each cat, and releases them back home.
She’s worked on 10 to 15 of these colonies in the past six years.
“It’s often someone who’s an elderly person – man or woman – who see their suffering and they take it upon themselves to look after them or at least feed them. Especially when you see kittens it’s really hard. I don’t know how people do nothing, frankly,” she said.
One day last week, Sears took Metro to a cat colony in a rural community in HRM. The exact location can’t be disclosed as Sears feels it might encourage people to dump their cats there.
The interview was conducted in a car covered by bed sheets. From the car, hungry cats could be seen steadily approaching a trap laid enticingly with KFC chicken (Sears said “cats love the smell”) and wet cat food.
“‘Free kittens to a good home’ makes shivers run down my spine. What value does that confer on that animal? That’s why they’re garbage. They’re live toys to entertain children or whatever then when they get to be older or they’re in heat or spraying then out they go, disposed of,” Sears said, outrage coming through, even in her whispered tones.
“And of course they don’t want to look at their little faces out the window so they drive down the road to where the elderly woman lives or the farm house, or whatever myth they subscribe to, thinking this is the thing to do.”
This particular colony was cared for by an elderly woman before she died recently. Other volunteers stepped in to continue feeding the cats.
Abandoned friendly cats breed generations of feral cats quickly. “Like rabbits,” Sears said. But it’s a short and brutal life.
She said feral cats, victims of their reproduction, have a lifespan of about a year. It’s a year spent fighting each other, fighting disease, and fighting for food.
About 15 metres away from the car, a young skinny black cat decides hunger beats out caution. It slips in the trap, Sears pulls the rope and the trap snaps shut.
As Sears prepares the scared feline for transport to a transition house and eventually a veterinarian, she says she names them all so when they die they at least have a name.
“Just that one little thing.”
Half-way house a haven for wild cats
Across from Maggie O’Liari’s washer and dryer is a big black cage. It might not look like a half-way house, but it offers wild cats a temporary refuge.
“Ideally there’s always a vet appointment lined up, but that’s not always the case. They need to go somewhere for a night or two and then after (the surgery) they need to rest,” O’Liari said.
The scared animals hunker down and are left alone in the quiet basement until it’s time for the vet.
O’Liari once offered foster care for cats, but found the emotional attachments too hard to break. She has three cats herself. One was a rescued ca-r-ma cat, and another was a stray she found in her backyard.
She said offering the temporary shelter is rewarding.
“Especially with the ferals you know you’re making their lives better.”