We Love Feral Cats

Venus

Venus is a current resident in our barn shelter

As we told you recently, VOKRA’s TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program is a large part of what we do.  Some might say it’s at the very heart of what we do as VOKRA was founded because of unspayed feral moms and kittens who faced harsh conditions on Vancouver’s streets.  Due to our efforts, the number of feral cats in Vancouver has significantly decreased and those left will live out their lives peacefully without having to reproduce litter after litter of kittens.

At VOKRA we love feral cats.  Whether they be semi-feral or full fledged, we recognize they deserve our love and attention despite not having had the good fortune of being born indoors.  We’ve been lunged at, hissed at and bitten, but we know these cats are only doing their best to look out for themselves the only way they know how.  When feral kittens come in spitting and swiping we tame them and they are eventually adopted out.  We’re often able to tame semi-feral adults too, though it takes a little more time and effort.

For the truly feral cats, the most humane thing we can do for them is spay and neuter them and return them back to their location. Sometimes though, that space isn’t safe or is no longer available and that’s when our barn program comes in handy.  In 2006, thanks to the help of a generous donor, we were able to set up a barn shelter for feral cats who couldn’t be returned.  This shelter has become a sanctuary for some of our ferals who are able to live out their lives peacefully with a warm shelter and enclosed outdoor access, along with the care and dedication of our volunteers.

Karona

Karona was a beautiful, wonderful cat with a temperamental heart of gold. She swatted and yelped at us before learning to love us back.

It’s not always easy working at our barn location as volunteers have to trudge through months of heavy rain.  We currently have 17 volunteers, each of whom monitors the health and wellbeing of the cats in addition to chores and socialization time.  Some cats have even been tamed enough over the years to be placed in foster homes and adopted.  VOKRA barn manager, Mairi Graves, describes the cats as her “18 surrogates” and feels lucky to have met them all, including Mr Washington, Pharoah and especially Karona, who we lost too soon last year.

While we’re fortunate to have that space available for some cats, it can’t house all of them.  Thankfully we have our barn placement program, where we find barn owners who are dedicated animal lovers looking for cats they can employ as rodent population control technicians. In return, they agree to provide food, water and shelter.  This program began about six years ago and we have since placed many feral cats in barns across the Lower Mainland.

Orangies

A group of feral siblings, some of whom have now been tamed and adopted.

Janet Cox, who coordinates the barn program, looks for barns that don’t use pesticides and have a low incidence of coyotes.  Like adopters, potential barn sponsors are interviewed and VOKRA volunteers drive cats to their new homes as far away as Squamish and Mission.  There’s a dedicated “imprint” time of four weeks, during which cats must live inside a large shelter.  This allows them to become used to their new area and mark it as their own.  After this time, the cats are released and Janet follows up with the barn owners.

Feral cats don’t have it easy by any means – they’ve missed out on the happy lives of many a spoiled house cat.  Most feral cats live a short life on the streets and face a death that’s as harsh as their life.  Our barn program helps alleviate such burdens because, as Mairi says, “they’re wonderful and often misunderstood creatures who yearn for the same things humans do: shelter, sustenance and love.”  As much as we help them, they help us too.

If you’d like to support our feral and barn cat program you can donate here.

Written by Ellen R.

Way back in 2008 a story about our barn cat program appeared on Global TV. Unfortunately the challenges we faced back then are still the same challenges we face today. One of the only things that has changed is we now adopt out more than 1,400 cats per year. Click here to watch the story.

Meet Crystal & Gabby

_MG_8184Crystal and Gabby are a unique mother and daughter duo.

A kind stranger noticed a very pregnant cat in her yard one day so she took her into the house. That night the cat, now named Crystal, had a litter of kittens and in that litter was little Gabrielle, or Gabby for short. The kind stranger wasn’t able to keep the new family because she already had two cats of her own, so she called VOKRA.

Crystal

Crystal

When Crystal and the kittens arrived we began to notice that Gabby was different than her brother and sister. Her back legs were crooked and she walked with a funny wobble that made her fall down a lot. After consulting with a vet she was diagnosed as having something called feline cerebellar hypoplasia (CH). Gabby was born with CH as her cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills and coordination, was underdeveloped at birth. There could be a number of reasons why a kitten can be born with CH, but most commonly it happens when the mother contracts a virus while pregnant or if there was some sort of trauma to the kitten while in the womb. The good news is CH is non-progressive and with some extra care cats with the condition can live a normal, healthy life.

Crystal knows Gabby is special so she spends a lot of time watching over her and she doesn’t like it one bit when they’re separated. In addition to loving Gabby, Crystal loves attention! She’s very affectionate and gives plenty of purrs and kisses. Sometimes she’ll even stand on her back legs so you can reach her head more easily and give her a pet. Despite being a mom, Crystal’s only two and a half years old so she still has the spring of a kitten. This is evident when she and Gabby are playing with the cat dancer, laser pointer and other toys.

Gabby

Gabby

Despite Gabby’s challenges she’s never stopped exploring and playing enthusiastically. And she’s never met a cat tree she couldn’t tackle! For the past several months Gabby’s been undergoing regular physiotherapy with her foster mom and each day her back legs have been getting stronger which has improved her balance and coordination. She’ll never be able to run around the house like her mom Crystal, but no matter how many times she falls over she always picks herself back up again and keeps heading forward.

Crystal and Gabby are looking for a forever home with people who understand and appreciate how special Gabby is. She may need a bit of extra care, but she’ll reward you everyday with love. If you’d like to meet these two and learn more about Gabby’s special needs, please contact your adoption counsellor or fill out an adoption application here.

Written with assistance from Katherine Drabek

We’re raising money to help get Gabby back on her feet. We estimate it’ll cost $2,000 to pay for her specialized diet, a harness to help her get around, acupuncture treatments and all her medical expenses. You can help us reach our goal by donating today.

Cali’s Happy Tail Ending

Cali & Robert

Cali adores Robert

It was early 2015 when Roxanne and Robert felt something was missing in their lives. Having had pets in the past, they sensed the time was right to welcome a new member into the family and they knew they wanted to adopt an older kitty.

Cali came to VOKRA as a 10-year old senior cat after her owner passed away. At their first meeting, Roxanne remembers Cali “was very shy. The visit consisted of her giving me stink-eye from underneath a chair and hissing at me. She did allow me to give her a chicken treat. I could see beyond the hissy facade there was a loving sweet girl.”

Cali, now known as Lady Calloway (but still referred to as Cali), now spends her days hanging out at home, lounging on the catio, listening to CBC Radio One and even watching Netflix! A feline sibling, another senior kitty named Ginger, recently joined her.

Cali & Ginger

Cali and Ginger lounging on the catio

Now an adoption counselor with VOKRA, Roxanne cannot say enough about the joy Cali has brought to her and Robert’s lives. “Cali has served as a very important ambassador to the life I have now,” said Roxanne. “She’s the reason I am involved with VOKRA and, through my involvement with VOKRA, I became a cat nanny with The Cat Nanny. It’s a job I absolutely love.”

And sometimes cats can be the best medicine. “Cali and my partner Robert have developed a special bond,” adds Roxanne. “She completely adores him and is so happy to see him when he comes home from work. Robert had open heart surgery nearly four years ago and he’s convinced Cali is the very best de-stressor and heart balm he could ever have!”

After a series of personal hardships and family illness, Roxanne says Cali, “filled a barrenness, an empty void. She gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. So, I’d say she rescued me.”

Would you like to share your Happy Tail? Email us at communications@vokra.ca.

Written by Kim C.

Wanted: Vaccination Team Members

Zarah_Love_Bunch_Cat_Mom_Kitten_0047_jelger_tanja_WebHave you ever dreamt of working directly with cats and kittens? Well dreams do come true because right now we’re recruiting volunteers for our Vaccination Team! We’re looking for experienced vet techs and cat lovers with a healthcare background (such as nurses) to aid in vaccinating our adorable kittens and cats.

As a volunteer on our Vaccination Team, you’ll be provided training, supplies of vaccine and follow-up homeopathic treatments. Nervous? Fear not! You’re able to buddy up with an experienced vaccinator and practice with guidance on one or two foster trips.

Here’s how the process works – When a foster family signs up to have their fosters vaccinated  you’ll receive an email from the Vaccination Team coordinator. You’re given all the information on the kitties and their foster family (such as where they live) and then together with the foster you’ll organize a suitable time for an appointment. Vaccinating at home, as opposed to making a trip to the vet, can save lots of time since most vaccinations for a litter of kittens take about 30 minutes. Each injection only takes about 10 seconds! After vaccinations, you’ll follow up with a homeopathic treatment to help the kitties feel fantastic. And there you go – the cats are protected, the foster family is happy and you’ve saved the cats a (potentially) scary trip to the vet!

Becky, who’s been on the Vaccination Team for more than a year, explains why she volunteers:

“Volunteering on the Vaccination Team has been a fantastic way for me to help kitties in need. This position is great in the way that I can organize vaccination appointments around my busy schedule. Knowing that I’m ensuring the kitties are protected against some horrible illnesses makes me love being on the team. However, helping maintain VOKRA’s high standard of care for all their cats is not the only great thing about being a vaccinator. Getting kitten time every week is most likely what heaven is like. Who wouldn’t want to go and play with a bunch of 10-week old fluffy butts while protecting their health?! To me, it’s totally a win-win.”

Kitten time every week! Now that’s a dream come true! So if you’re a vet tech or cat lover with a healthcare background and you can accommodate one vaccination appointment per week we want to hear from you.

To apply, email volunteervokra@gmail.com and be sure to include your experience and why you believe you’d be an excellent addition to our Vaccination Team. Don’t hold back, this is your moment  – just remember, fluffy butts and happy kitties. Go on meow!

Thanks to Aurora C. for this post.

Ask Dr. Waffles

DrWaffles

Dr. Waffles is VOKRA’s senior feline health advice columnist. He has had more than four years of experience as a cat with health, and is thus fully qualified to advise other cats in their health.

Dear Dr. Waffles,

Now that I’m not a kitten anymore and am all grown up something weird has started to happen. I get this funny feeling that makes me gag and retch.  Then I start hacking which seems to upset my humans, especially when I end up upchucking a gross clump of matted fur on the white carpet. What’s happening to me? Am I sick?

One concerned kitty,

Peanut

Dear Peanut,

It sounds to me like you’ve got hairballs. But don’t worry because this is quite normal. When you were a kitten you were still leaning to groom, but now that you’re older you’ve become more adept at grooming which means more fur will be removed from your coat with your tongue. Some of the hairs from your coat end up getting swallowed and when they stay in your stomach they form a hairball. And what goes in must come out!

It’s not a pretty sight but it’s nothing for you and your humans to worry about. They should keep an eye on you though to make sure you don’t end up with a blockage which can be dangerous. Symptoms of a blockage may include ongoing vomiting, gagging, retching or hacking without producing a hairball; lack of appetite; lethargy; constipation or diarrhea. If they notice these symptoms they should contact your vet right away.

Your humans can also help you out by regularly brushing you. By combing or brushing you everyday they’ll be removing a lot of loose fur that otherwise may end up in your stomach. And you can also do your humans a big favour too by staying off the white carpet when you feel a hairball coming up!

Sincerely,

Dr. Waffles

Help special needs cats like Gabby

Gabby’s a girl with a wobble. The official term for her condition is Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia, or CH for short, and it’s a neurological condition that results in walking and balance problems. This condition doesn’t get worse, it’s just something she was born with, and despite being unable to walk normally she’s healthy and can climb any cat tree out there!

To help strengthen Gabby’s back legs, her foster mom Becky does physiotherapy with her daily and has seen a vast improvement in her mobility. Due to her intensive regime, Gabby’s now able to support herself and walk a few steps without being aided. Yah Gabby!

We estimate it will cost $2,000 to provide Gabby with the best possible chance at a normal life. This will pay for a specialized diet, a harness to help her get around, acupuncture treatments and all her medical expenses. Special needs cats like Gabby have increased medical costs and, as a volunteer-driven non-profit, it’s a real challenge to find extra funds.

Will you help Gabby walk by donating today?

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Medical costs account for approximately 50% of VOKRA’s budget. All extra funds raised will go directly towards helping other special needs cats like Gabby.

Gabby and her mom Crystal are available for adoption together. You can see Gabby’s bio here and Crystal’s bio here.

Volunteer of the Month – January 2016

ClaudiawithShandy

Claudia with former foster Shandy

We wish everyone a very Happy New Year and look forward to another 12 months of bringing happiness to all our little furry friends! Of course that happiness doesn’t come about without the help of our many volunteers. Kicking off the new year, we’d like to give an appreciative shout out to our January Volunteer of the Month Claudia O’Hearn!

Growing up, Claudia was taught to love nature but was never allowed any pets other than spiders and frogs. As she became and adult having a pet didn’t find into her lifestyle until she moved to Vancouver with her husband Tim. An encounter with a neighbourhood cat helped her decide the time was right so she told Tim they were getting a cat – it was finally time to get a kitten. They adopted a four-month old tabby that was “free to a good home” and so Claudia’s love of cats began.

After moving to Burnaby, one spring evening a white cat peeked into their dining room window. Claudia was unsure of what to do so she posted on Facebook and was lead to Janet Cox and VOKRA. Janet taught Claudia how to trap and together they were able to capture the white cat which they named Snowy. Snowy turned out to be very feral so, after getting him fixed, Claudia let him outside and tried to feed him until he hopefully moved on. Thereafter, more and more strays began showing up at their house and Claudia was able to trap a few. And, of course, how could you trap all these kitties without falling in love? White Paws, one of the cats Claudia trapped, was just too peculiar she couldn’t give him up so she became what we call a “foster fail”!

“Claudia was extremely eager and motivated to learn how to trap and easily learned the dynamics of trapping,” said Janet Cox. “It was apparent she was a huge animal lover. I’m very impressed with the fact she ordered an insulated cat enclosure for Snowy to use after he was trapped. A few months later I found out Claudia had decided to volunteer with VOKRA. She helps VOKRA in any way she can and has helped trap other cats, as well as foster them. She also helps out by picking up and dropping off supplies for other fosters that aren’t able to pick up from our Operation Centre.”

Not long after Claudia began trapping, she and Tim volunteered to foster a mom and her two kittens over the summer holidays. They’ve been fostering on and off ever since. Although Claudia and Tim find the kittens insanely cute, it’s the older cats that are the ones that capture their hearts the most. According to Claudia, they’re a lot easier than kittens and it’s extremely rewarding to see a cat that behaved feral when stressed out become a cuddly purr monster once it’s settled in foster care.

“Over the past couple of years my fellow volunteers have become friends and now I consider VOKRA as family to us,” said Claudia. “One of the best things is all the support we get when it’s needed. Tim and I joke that we have Maria Soroski (VOKRA co-founder) on speed dial! But I can’t tell you how many times she’s helped us with advice and by being there for our foster cats, whether it’s at our house, at the Operations Centre or at the vet.”

TimwithMuffin

Claudia’s husband Tim with Muffin

Claudia also credits Tim with being a big part of her volunteer work. Not only does he support her volunteering, he also does the occasional driving and helps with fostering on a daily basis. He loves all their foster cats but it seems his heart is the fondest when it comes to their senior fosters like Shandy, Shyane and Muffin. Shandy’s story is one of Claudia’s favourites. He was critically ill a year ago and they thought they might have to give up on him. But today he’s thriving and Claudia will always treasure the experience they had caring for him together with Maria and the vet.

Claudia’s been trapping, fostering, driving and doing regular litter runs for the past few years. She loves that she’s able to be involved in various ways to make the lives of kittens and cats better. And she always has a laugh when friends and family come to visit – it never takes too long before someone asks “How many cats do you have now?!”

VOKRA would like to give the biggest thanks to Claudia and Tim for being amazing fosters to our kittens and cats. VOKRA would not be the same without you – thank you and may this year bring more fluffy cats and joy!

post written by Aurora C.

If you’re interested in volunteering visit our website at vokra.ca/volunteer.