Just this morning two 7 week old kittens were found shivering in a bottle deposit bin just outside a house in Keremeos. Although the act of dumping kittens in the middle of winter in a bin instead of taking them to an animal shelter is cowardly, cruel and irresponsible, there was a reason this bin was chosen. It’s just outside the home of a compassionate and caring woman who runs an unofficial foster home for unwanted or feral cats. Her name is Betty and although she was disturbed by how callously the kittens were abandoned in the cold, she was glad they were dropped off in a place where they would have a chance of survival. Sadly not all unwanted cats or kittens are given that privilege. I’ll spare you the horrid details and instead remind you that we live in a heartless and cruel world.
Betty is single-handedly trying to address an ongoing and widespread problem in Keremeos, which is cat over-population, turning her modest home and small property into a safe haven for lost, unwanted and feral cats and kittens. Betty takes them in, cares for them and then uses whatever connections she can to find them vet care and eventually homes. She’s a person who gives until it hurts to a cause she deeply cares about. The result of all her generosity and compassion benefits a whole community. Yet much of her community is either unaware or doesn’t fully appreciate the problem so it doesn’t support her cause. Many in the community contribute to the problem by not neutering or spaying their cats and by irresponsibly abandoning them.
The Problem vs the Solution
There are no bylaws in Keremeos to encourage responsible cat ownership. The expense of enforcing such a bylaw is likely one of the reasons the village has opted to not have one. But I believe another part of the issue is the ideology of the farming culture. Keremeos is much like most small Canadian agricultural communities, where there’s a general attitude towards cats and their role on the farm. Mostly seen as nothing more than rodent killers, little regard is given to their quality of life or their volume of reproduction. Should their numbers become too large, relocating or destroying the animal as opposed to spaying or neutering is seen as an acceptable way to manage the problem in this culture.
Another contributing factor in the problem is that cats breed very quickly. According to The Humane Society, the average mature cat can have 3 litters with a total of 12 kittens per year. Even with a reported 15% feral kitten fatality rate, there are still a lot of homeless reproductive cats. And without any community accountability or local programs and facilities to approach and manage the issue such as the controversial Trap-Neuter-Return program, the cat population continues to grow exponentially.
“There are tens of thousands of cats and kittens living outdoors in B.C. who suffer from frostbite, starvation, illness, predator attacks, and injuries, and that number is only expected to increase,” says Suzanne Pugh, the Branch Manager for the Kelowna SPCA
Stepping up to the Plate
It’s an overwhelming task to take in and care for up to 25 cats and kittens at a time, especially for a retired person on a very limited and fixed income. She does this alone, using her own money to support the cats. Thankfully Betty does have some support in finding vet care and homes for the cats through Paw Prints Animal Rescue Foundation in Chase BC But caring for them until the charity can take the cats is an expensive and laborious endeavor. But it’s a labor of love for Betty and she’s happy to provide a secure and caring environment in kennels she built on her property. It’s important to note that Betty is not running a cat adoption facility. She does not sell cats to anyone but merely fosters them until they can go to a cat rescue facility.
Aside from the usual expense of cat care such as food, cat litter, beds, cat carriers, and medicine to be purchased, there are other expenses. In Betty’s case, there’s also a large amount of time involved in their retrieval, care, and attention. She even uses her own gas and vehicle to rescue the cats when she gets called by owners who don’t want them or by people who have found them and can’t take them in. She does what she can to nurse the cats to health and to provide refuge until they’re well enough to travel to Paw Prints in Chase. Quite often Betty drives them herself to Kelowna or Chase to meet with the vet and the rescue charity. And remarkably in spite of her often dire personal financial situation, she’s even paid for other people’s vet bills when a cat is in urgent need of care. As incredible as it seems, she does this because she can’t bear to see an animal suffering.
Betty supports the cats by selling the slippers she crochets with her often aching arthritic hands. Sometimes the wool is donated, but usually, she buys it herself with money she gets from collecting bottles. The slippers are sold for a modest amount wherever she can. To make things worse, Betty’s forced to sell them out of her van because she can’t afford the mandatory license the town is enforcing that would allow her to sell them from her home.
But it’s not enough. Tough times due to poor health have fallen on Betty and her family. Recently when asked if she was at a point where her services would be cut off Betty admitted that “…it won’t be long and we’ll have to choose between eating or heating”.
Who’s Rescuing Whom?
Some may wonder why under such difficult circumstances Betty doesn’t give up the cat fostering. One reason is that she believes that as individuals, “…we’re either a part of the solution or part of the problem of cat overpopulation”. It’s important to Betty to be part of the solution even though at times with lack of community support, she feels like she’s alone in the concept of getting the cats safely off the street.
Another reason is that she could no sooner say “no” to a cat in need than most people could to a homeless child on the street. Yes, she has a strong connection to cats but she also feels that rescuing the cats gives her a sense of purpose. She says there’s too much cruelty in the world and that facing its reality can sometimes bring her down. But Betty admits that spending her retirement years helping unwanted cats move towards a happy life, gives her joy. “In many ways, the cats rescue me”, admits Betty.
Be Part of the Solution
First of all, for those who are reading this and thinking, “Great! Now I know where to drop off my cat’s next litter of kittens!” – don’t drop them off on Betty’s doorstep. There’s simply no room left at the inn. In the winter, Betty doesn’t have enough kennels to accommodate as many as she can in warmer months. Some of the kennels are outside and used only to facilitate overflow in the summer. Furthermore, kittens need specialized care and after this morning, she now has five of them to look after. So if you have unwanted cats, either take them to the SPCA or contact a local animal rescue foundation such as Paw Prints in Chase, the Okanagan Cat Coalition or Critter Aid in Summerland to name a few.
Secondly, be a responsible pet owner and have your cat spayed or neutered. And for those who simply can’t afford the cost of the procedure, there may be an option for you. Check with the Humane Society who, upon approval of an application, will subsidize spaying and neutering fees.
Thirdly, you can help by becoming a temporary foster home for cats. If you’re interested, contact Betty through the below email or contact your local animal rescue foundation to find out how.
Helping Betty to Help the Cats
And last but not least we can help Betty. Unfortunately, Betty won’t exactly be having a bountiful Christmas this year. This incredibly kind woman needs our help with the cost of caring for the cats so she doesn’t have to tap into an already stressed household income.
So this year, instead of donating to large organizations, consider donating to a local cause that has a residual effect on a community. Let’s not only give Betty a nice Christmas but an even better New Year so she can continue to get these cats off the streets, neutered or spayed and eventually into people’s homes all year round.
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