Why we Walk for the Kitties

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BeamerThis adorable guy is Beamer and he’s blind. He was born on a farm and most certainly wouldn’t have survived on his own.

The reality is only 25% of kittens survive without human care and, being blind, little Beamer wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Today Beamer’s in a loving foster home where he’s getting all the care and attention he deserves. He’s visited an eye specialist and his health is constantly being monitored.

Beamer is one of the thousands of reason why we Walk for the Kitties.

Each year, VOKRA rescues more than 1,800 homeless cats in the Lower Mainland. Unlike many other animal rescue groups, VOKRA is a volunteer-driven, no-kill organization. Our work is made possible through the generous support of volunteers, adopters and people like you. Walk for the Kitties is our largest fundraising event of the year and we rely on the funds raised to pay for the expensive care kitties like Beamer need. Learn more here.

Beamer2Please help us help kitties like Beamer this September 18 by joining us for our 7th Annual Walk for the Kitties. 

Eventbrite - VOKRA's 7th Annual Walk for the Kitties

Be sure to register before the early bird deadline of September 13! After that the registration fee will increase to $40.

Can’t make it on September 18? You can still donate today!

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.

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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.

TNR Works!

Mr pochadie trap

It’s hard to keep track of all the acronyms that exist these days, but in the cat rescue world TNR is a big one. TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return and describes the process of trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to the location they came from. According to VOKRA co-founder Maria Soroski, it’s the most effective and humane way to help control the feral cat population.

When VOKRA formed back in 2000, Maria had no idea what a feral cat was, which is hard to believe for someone who is such a strong advocate for Vancouver street cats. She, along with fellow co-founder Karen Duncan, began by bottle feeding kittens that had been brought into the SPCA before branching off on their own to create VOKRA.

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Maria with a bottle baby.

“I had no idea where the kittens were coming from,” says Maria, who wondered what happened to the kittens’ moms. “I assumed they were from owned cats or that they’d been orphaned.” However, as kittens kept arriving from the same addresses, Maria and Karen started to do a little sleuthing. They soon discovered a whole world of feral cats. The mother cats hadn’t been brought in because they were wild – no one could touch them, let alone pick them up and transport them into care.

Maria discovered entire colonies, some with upwards of 50 cats. They were all the moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins of all the bottle-fed kittens that had come in. Thanks to the guidance of local rescuers and the resources of Alley Cat Allies, Maria quickly learned to trap and hasn’t looked back since.

VOKRA’s volunteer trappers, spearheaded by Maria, spent eight years trapping seven days a week in Vancouver and Burnaby. It’s estimated there were more than 8000 – 9000 free roaming cats in Vancouver before VOKRA came along. The number of feral cats is now down to less than 300 with the remaining colonies under control. Some of the colonies now consist solely of senior citizen cats, who pass on humanely after living a life on their own terms.

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It’s estimated there were more than 8000 – 9000 free roaming cats in Vancouver before VOKRA came along, but now that number is down to less than 300 with the remaining colonies under control.

For cats that we can’t return to their original site, we try and find them another home – specifically a barn or hobby farm. Janet, who coordinates the barn cat placement program, says “It’s an alternative option for feral cats that are unable to be returned to their original location for various reasons.” The barns are located throughout the Lower Mainland, from Abbotsford to Squamish, and Janet often drives the cats to their new homes herself. Potential placements are interviewed in advance and the cats are guaranteed fresh food and water daily, along with a safe shelter area. In their new “jobs” as rodent control technicians they have a better life than they would out on the streets.

If the cats are young enough or semi-tame, then we’ll try to socialize them so we can adopt them to forever homes.  “We’re not scared of hissy babies,” says Maria. Armed with gloves, towels, treats, and a whole lot of patient love, VOKRA volunteers socialize kittens in their homes.  VOKRA runs workshops and provides coaching to these special families.  Fosters tell us this is an immensely rewarding part of being with VOKRA.  To watch a kitten or adult cat transform from an untrusting and extremely frightened creature to one that seeks out your affection with headbutts to your hand, and who purrs at the very sound of your voice, is a truly amazing experience.

tuffy goodbye

We respond to as many calls we can and trap feral cats, tame moms protecting their kittens and tame adults that are too afraid to trust humans just yet. Sometimes this involves all-night efforts and sometimes it involves walking into an abandoned house in protective gear so as not to be eaten alive by the swarms of fleas. Whatever it takes – the fate of all cats is important to us and those who were never given the chance to live a safe, indoor life deserve the best that we can give them.

Join us in celebrating National Feral Cat Day October 16.

As a non-profit association we rely on the contributions of people like you. If you’d like to support our TNR program click here.

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Post written by Ellen R.

2015 AGM set for August 27

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VOKRA will be holding its 2015 Annual General Meeting on August 27, our second since we officially became a society last year. Anyone can attend our AGM, however in order to vote you need to become a society member. Membership is only $10 and is a great way to show your support for VOKRA.

2015 VOKRA AGM
Thursday, August 27
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
VOKRA Operations Centre at 2028 Wall Street, Vancouver
RSVP & BECOME A SOCIETY MEMBER 

At the AGM we will be electing a new board of directors to serve an annual term until August 2016. Board membership is a leadership position within VOKRA that guides the organization to achieve its mission. Directors act in a position of trust for the community and are responsible for the effective governance of our organization.

We’re looking for board members with a desire to dedicate time to the development of VOKRA, and we could especially use people with financial and fundraising skills. Here’s what it takes to be a board member:

  • MEMBERSHIP IN THE VOKRA SOCIETY! You must be a member to be a board member
  • Commitment to the work of the organization
  • Knowledge and skills in one or more areas of board governance: policy, finance, programs, personnel, fundraising and advocacy
  • Willingness to serve on committees and attend committee meetings
  • Attendance at monthly board meetings + preparation time to review materials
  • Attendance at meetings of assigned committees
  • Attendance at Annual General Meetings
  • Attendance at membership meetings
  • Support of special events
  • Support of and participation in fundraising events

Board positions include:

President Emeritus – Provides VOKRA historical perspective to the board members; keeps the board’s activities focused on the organization’s mission and makes sure the board adheres to its bylaws and constitution. Required to attend monthly VOKRA Board meetings, including preparation time to review materials.

Chair – Provides leadership to the board; makes sure the board adheres to its bylaws and constitution; prepares the agenda for board meetings; chairs meetings of the board; keeps the board’s discussion on topic by summarizing issues; keeps the board’s activities focused on the organization’s mission; orients board members to the board; serves as ex officio member of committees and attends their meetings when possible; promotes the organization’s purpose in the community and to the media; prepares a report for the Annual General Meeting; and orients the new board chair. Required to attend monthly VOKRA board meeting, including preparation time to review materials, and attendance at board committee meetings on an ad-hoc basis.

Vice Chair – Acts in the absence of the chairperson; works closely as consultant and advisor to the chairperson; and orients the new vice chair. Required to attend monthly VOKRA board meeting, including preparation time to review materials.

Secretary – Keeps copies of the organization’s bylaws and the board’s policy statements; keeps lists of officers, board members, committees and general membership; notifies board members of meetings; brings official minute book to meetings; keeps record of board attendance; makes sure that there is a quorum at board meetings; keeps accurate minutes of meetings; records all motions and decisions of meetings; keeps copies of minutes of both board and committee meetings; distributes copies of minutes to board members promptly after meetings; files the annual return, amendments to the bylaws and other incorporating documents; makes sure members are notified of general meetings; and in the absence of the chairperson and vice chairperson, chairs board meetings until the election of an alternate chairperson. Required to attend monthly VOKRA board meeting, including preparation time to review materials.

Treasurer – Gives regular reports to the Board on the financial state of the organization; keeps financial reports on file; undertakes special projects to reduce costs; chairs the finance committee; acts as signing officer, with another officer or executive director for cheques and other documents; and orients the new treasurer. Required to attend monthly VOKRA Board meeting, including preparation time to review materials and monthly finance committee meeting to prepare up to date financial statements.

Directors at Large – A director is fully informed on organizational matters and participates in the Board’s deliberations and decisions in matters of policy, finance, programs, personnel and advocacy. They also review the bylaws and policy manual and recommend bylaw changes to the membership; participate in the development of VOKRA’s organizational plan and annual review; and assist in developing and maintaining positive relations among the board, committees, OMT, volunteers and community to enhance VOKRA’s mission. Require to attend monthly VOKRA board meeting, including preparation time to review materials.

If you’ve got what it takes and want to learn more email communications@vokra.ca

Representing Canada, VOKRA, & Crazy Cat People: Spotlight on Natasha Wodak

The last couple of years have treated Natasha Wodak very well.  She’s set the Canadian Women’s 10 km record (with an outstanding time of 31 minutes and 14 seconds!), qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and started volunteering once a week with VOKRA. Of all of her amazing accomplishments, Wodak states that she’s the most excited about spending a couple of hours tending to the kitties at VOKRA – okay, this part may entirely be conjecture on the part of the writer. It is true, however, that Natasha has become an amazing part of the VOKRA family, and a volunteer force to be reckoned with.

Photo by David McColm

Photo by David McColm

On Sunday June 28th, Wodak will be leading Team VOKRA in the Scotiabank Half Marathon and 5km Charity Challenge. Despite her record breaking year, Natasha has still found the time to run for fun (something that most people have yet to figure out how to do), and to help out a good cause while she’s at it! She’s expected to place in one of the top positions at this year’s Scotiabank Half-Marathon, but Wodak says she’ll be “having fun, and wearing kitty ears!” 

Yep, Natasha truly has hit her stride, and she cites that her personal success is due to a key aspect she integrates into her life – balance. For Natasha, volunteering at VOKRA allows her to indulge in her self-proclaimed “crazy cat lady” interests, but it also allows her to contribute to her community, and creates an equilibrium with the other, more stressful aspects of her life (like qualifying for the Olympics!). Her system works, and Natasha’s passions shine through in every aspect of her life. She is a “crazy cat lady,” as well as a “crazy runner lady,” and both titles suit her just fine.

Natasha first took the opportunity to combine these interests in a very public way during the 2015 Sun Run. “I was getting weird looks from the other athletes in the elite starting tent for writing VOKRA down my leg with a sharpie” Wodak laughs, “but I hope that it made some people go home and Google VOKRA so they could learn a little about the organization.” Wodak achieved an amazing time of 32 minutes, 28 seconds in the 2015 Sun Run, placing second in the Elite Women’s category.

Photo by Rita Ivanauskas

Photo by Rita Ivanauskas

Natasha says the most distinct aspect of VOKRA is “the people working behind the scenes.” When asked about her favourite VOKRA experience, Wodak cites a time around the holidays when she came in for one of her regular volunteer shifts. The Operations Centre was overflowing with kitties waiting to be fostered or adopted. The next week when Natasha returned, most of the kitties had been relocated – being placed in the homes of devoted fosters or adopted to fur-ever homes. “VOKRA is 100% volunteer run,” Natasha says, “and the difference that volunteers made in just one week was amazing.”

Speaking of devoted foster homes…during her tenure at VOKRA, Natasha encountered a special kitty named Feeona, who had been placed unsuccessfully in 3 different foster homes. Feeona is a nervous kitty, and her litter box habits reflect this fact. After seeingFeeona bounce from home to home, Natasha took her in as one of her own – spreading litter boxes far and wide around her house to try and help the high strung, but lovely little foster.

Natasha and her foster cat Feeona

Natasha and her VOKRA foster cat Feeona

VOKRA would like to salute Wodak for her amazing leadership skills as Captain of Team VOKRA in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge, for everything she does for VOKRA, and for all of her outstanding accomplishments. We are so proud of Natasha and all the other amazing runners/fundraisers for their hard-work and efforts. We’re glad to have you on our team.

VOKRA is a Vancouver based, 100% volunteer-run, no-kill cat rescue. To learn more about the work we do, check out our website. To make a donation to our amazing Scotiabank Charity Challenge contingent, Team VOKRA, please visit our team fundraising page.

See you at the finish line!

Written by Rachael Lipetz

Volunteer of the Month, June 2015!

Have you ever wondered how all the beautiful photos of our VOKRA fosters get on our online adoption gallery? As good as the answer “magic” is, all the recognition must go to Tracey Smith! She uploads all of the photos our fosters submit for potential adoptees to view. For her hard work and efforts, she is our volunteer of the month!

Tracy & her Family getting a rare holiday from all her dedicated VOKRA work!

Tracey & her Family getting a rare holiday from all her dedicated VOKRA work!

Tracey started her volunteering with VOKRA in 2013, but previously volunteered at Pet Smart, caring for VOKRA kitties when we had our adoption centre there. What she loves about volunteering with kitties is being able to spend time with them, to make small and large differences in their lives. Tracey loves how the kitties are appreciative with her presence, and she adores sharing her love, trust, and laughs with each and every adorable kitty. She has encountered countless kitties, but cannot choose a favourite – who can?!

She adopted her own VOKRA kitty, Bandit, in April 2005, and fell in love with her straight away. When Bandit’s feline companion died, Tracey went on the hunt to adopt another to keep Bandit company in 2010, which prompted her to volunteer with Pet Smart and VOKRA. 

Baby Bandit

Baby Bandit

Bandit All Grown Up

Bandit All Grown Up

Our volunteers are also appreciative of Tracey and all her hard work. After all, it is only from her gallery uploads that our deserving kitties and cats can be viewed and adopted into loving arms! VOKRA Board member Valerie says: 

Tracey is a behind the scenes VOKRA volunteer who uploads all our kitty pictures, and there are many to do especially in kitten season! She is polite, friendly, involved and helps fosters with their photos and other questions that they ask her. Tracey is a very important and valued part of VOKRA, quietly doing a lot of work and helping to get our kitties adopted. A really lovely person.

Once again, we’d like to give our thanks to Tracey. As a behind-the-scenes volunteer, she does not deserve any less recognition than any of our other volunteers. She plays such an important role our organization and the way things are run, so a huge thanks to you, Tracey! Keep up the outstanding work!

If you would like to get involved with our wonderful VOKRA team, please visit our website for more information, and apply to volunteer today!

Post written by Aurora C

Volunteer of the Month, May 2015!

It is the beginning of May, flowers are blooming and sunny, happy days are slowly outnumbering the gloomy, rainy days. And as it is a new month, we would like to give our thanks to our radiant volunteer of the month – Marion Sampson!

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Marion is a key player with our Surrey team and part of the backbone of VOKRA. She first expressed her love for animals and her helping nature by volunteering with the SPCA in Surrey, until it closed in 2005. She has since then picked up as a volunteer with VOKRA for three years and counting, beginning in 2012. When VOKRA Surrey lost its TNR Centre (Trap-Neuter-Return program centre) in 2013 – but was then later offered a building – Marion, at her cost, put the building on her property. It was fixed, re-floored, and newly painted. The renovated space was reborn as The Cottage.

Like a smaller version of VOKRA’s Vancouver Operations Centre, cats that are trapped by Mona, Marlene, Anne, or Marion, are provided a cage in The Cottage with the necessities – food, water, flea treatment, de-worming, vaccinations, trips to the vet for neutering or spaying, attention, assessments on their adoptability and lots of volunteer love before they go to foster. The Cottage has grown immensely within the past year. VOKRA Surrey, prior to the establishment of The Cottage, fostered 75 kitties in 2013, but with the introduction of The Cottage, that number grew to a total of 240 cats in 2014 and an additional 105 cats from the beginning of this year until now. 

The Cottage – comfortably fits up to eight cages.

The Cottage – comfortably fits up to eight cages.

 

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Lucky foster kitty Maybeline gets an accommodation that includes the beautiful view of sunny days through the door.

Of course, the success of The Cottage is not only possible by the effort of one, but of a family. Paul, Marion’s partner, helps with cat care – washing, sanitizing, cat socialization, and assessments – and Marc, Paul’s friend, aids in driving to and from the vet. Go team!

Marion & Paul

Speaking of team, there is no shortage of people willing to sing the praises of Marion. VOKRA Board member and key Surrey team member, Mona, tells us:

Marion fearlessly handles flying ferals and fragile newborn kittens. In her spare time she also picks up, hauls, handles and arranges the sale of donated dog food and cat litter with proceeds going directly to VOKRA. Being on the front line of rescue is not easy and can sometimes be heartbreaking, but Marion never gives in or gives up. Late at night, when I trap a kitty, it is not uncommon for Marion to meet me halfway to pickup the cat wearing only a robe (which really should have a superhero emblem on the back).

Marion in her superhero robe

Marion in her superhero robe

VOKRA Surrey Foster Coordinator, Christine also gushes about Marion:

Marion helps out in every area and, thanks to her, so many cats and kittens have found a new life and a new home. She can always be relied upon to assist with feral cats and kittens and will travel to the hinterlands of the Fraser Valley to save a cat or kitten from its current not-good life to make sure that better will be had at the Cottage. No space left at the Cottage? Marion’s house is open to the most feral of kittens and the workshops which she has given are a testament to how much she cares about the cats and kittens in her care. Seeing her give a bath to a little kitten and the look on his/ her face which says, “What just happened?” is priceless, just like Marion herself.

As with any other cat lover, Marion struggles to pick a favourite kitty as each is enjoyable in different and unique ways. It is no doubt that upholding The Cottage is hard work; Marion is often overwhelmed and stressed due to the number of kitties that need help, but she reminds herself of the difference to the kitties’ lives she has the power to make, with the poem below.

Starfish Story

Marion demonstrates a fierce and admirable will to better cats’ lives, and inspires all of us to continue what we do best at VOKRA. Thank you, Marion, for all that you contribute to this organization. Not one ounce of your effort goes unnoticed. Stay awesome! Kitties, VOKRA, and starfish alike, all say thank you for their bettered lives.

If you would like to get involved with our wonderful VOKRA team, please visit our website for more information, and apply to volunteer today!

Post written by Aurora C