Bottle Babies – A Full-Time Job

Once upon a time, VOKRA founders Karen Duncan and Maria Soroski were volunteers at the SPCA and they’d see litters of tiny kittens arrive without moms. Karen and Maria quickly became expert bottle feeders and found their services in high demand during kitten season. Eventually, they branched off on their own and VOKRA was born.

It was then that Karen and Maria realized the reason for all the motherless kittens was that no one had figured out how to trap the feral moms. Once they began trapping them, the need for bottle feeding was greatly reduced.

Abu before & after

Keeping kittens with their mom is always ideal, but at times its necessary to bottle feed them. Some kittens may only be fed temporarily until their mom is located or while she’s recovering from illness or injury. And sometimes there will be extra-large litters so we’ll help out the mama cat by topping up the kittens with a bottle. We always try our best to ensure mom is trapped, deploying an arsenal of tricks, such as using the scent of her kittens’ urine or fur to lure her in. But there are times when mom is never found or she has passed away, making it essential the kittens are bottle fed until they can graduate to solid food.

Being responsible for a litter of newborn kittens may involve loads of cuteness, but it’s a full-time job requiring a lot of work!

“Newborn kittens need to be fed every two hours, which means you don’t get a lot of sleep when they’re tiny,” explains foster mom Lea Tkatch. “You need to make sure they’re always warm and, just like human babies, they need to be burped and bathed. And you can’t forget to stimulate their poop and pee just like their feline mom would do.”

Aladdin before & after

Each year VOKRA receives an average of 10 litters that require full-time bottle feeding so we have a small group of volunteers who are dedicated to keeping these kittens alive. Lea has taken on the responsibility of bottle feeding three litters so far and is about to see her latest bunch head off to their forever homes.

“My latest litter of three kittens arrived at VOKRA when they were only a week old,” said Lea. “They’d been found all alone and were taken to a local vet clinic who then called us. They were all very hungry and had bad colds, so their eyes were full of goop. One of the kittens was clearly the runt of the litter and, at first, we weren’t sure he was going to make it.”

Even with round-the-clock care and attention, bottle fed kittens have a lower survival rate than their counterparts with moms. Just like the kittens in Lea’s litter, they’re susceptible to illness which their tiny bodies have a hard time fighting.

Happily, with lots of TLC all of Lea’s kittens pulled through and they’re thriving today.

Jasmine

“We ended up naming the two bigger kittens Aladdin and Jasmine, and the tiny runt Abu,” said Lea. “Abu has almost caught up in size to his siblings and now it’s hard to imagine he was so small when he arrived. All three of them are so sweet it’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”

Because bottle babies receive so much human attention at a young age, they’re almost always very social and adore cuddles. This is certainly the case with her three says Lea, “They constantly want to be with people and run to greet me and my husband when we walk in the door. Aladdin can’t seem to get close enough so often I end up wearing him like a scarf!”

Fostering saves lives and we have more than 350 foster parents to thank for that! In addition to taking care of bottle feeders, Lea also fosters older kittens, moms with kittens and the occasional adult cat.

At VOKRA we’re always looking for new foster parents to help save more lives. We provide all the food, supplies and other equipment necessary to our foster homes, as well as ongoing support and advice. You simply provide the care, attention and love.

We have a variety of fostering situations as we take in orphaned kittens, feral kittens, pregnant mothers, mothers with kittens and adult cats. Each year we need temporary homes for more than 1,400 kittens and cats! If you’re interested in learning more about fostering, please visit our website at vokra.ca/fostering.

Cyrus and Mika’s Happy Tail Ending

It’s Happy Tails for Ben and Elaine too, as these two cat-parents think it’s they, not their kitties, who’re the lucky ones!  

“We feel so fortunate to have Cyrus and Mika in our lives,” said Elaine. “They’re always around us—always, wherever we are, ensuring we’ll never be lonely again!”  

Loneliness was indeed what Ben and Elaine were feeling, after the deaths of their two beloved 18 year old Siamese brothers last year. Happily, VOKRA had the solution, two more Siamese cats! Both of which are playful and “a delight,” according to Ben. He and Elaine credit VOKRA’s foster parent system with, in Ben’s words, the “loving character of these two sweet cats.”  

“We only know they came from a difficult situation,” Elaine said, “but somehow through that, and with the love of the foster parents, they’re the most gentle, social little creatures.”  

And Ben thinks Cyrus and Mika are a lot of fun too. “Cyrus is a real clown with his antics!” he said. “He loves sitting on your lap or chest when you’re lying in bed, but that wonderful moment is on his terms, short-lived.”  

“Mika was shyer when we first brought her home, but she’s out of her shell now,” continues Ben. “She loves to be petted and enjoys waking you up by walking on your pillow to remind you that it’s mealtime.”  

“Both cats love their new home,” adds Elaine. Their “all-time” favourite pastime is mealtime, with the cats “often waiting very sadly by their empty food bowls an hour or so before mealtime. They love playtime, with Cyrus our gymnast jumping three or four feet to catch his favourite toy. Mika loves to open every cupboard door, too, so we now have childproof locks!”  

“What has struck us the most is the cats’ relaxed acceptance of not only the chance in their living space but also of their caregivers,” said Ben. “They embraced us from the first day.”

The two kitties, “in summary, have saved us more than we have them,” said Ben. “Thank you VOKRA, and of course Cyrus and Mika.”

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

Sushi and Kimchi’s Happy Tail Ending

Would-be cat parents Ella and Mario de Torres were scanning the VOKRA blog when they came across an Adopt Me article featuring two cute kitties in search of a forever home.  After a quick read, Ella and Mario realized they’d found their cats!  Soon Trixie (now Sushi) and her son Mike (now Kimchi) were on their way to a new place.

There was no doubt in Ella and Mario’s minds they’d made the right choice. In their foster home the two cats were coming out of their respective shells, with the small mom meowing chattily and her son showing a marked fondness for pats and playtime with strings and sticks.

But now after eight months with Ella and Mario, Sushi and Kimchi are showing their true and adorable colours. Ella has many “meow-versations” with chatty Sushi. “She sounds like a trilling pigeon!” said Ella.

At first, though, Sushi needed a bit of time to get used to her new home. Ella describes the first few months as being “like a cha-cha – we’d feel like we were making progress, but then something would spook her and she’d be back to hiding again.”  One such spook happened early on when Sushi’s small paw stepped on a remote control that operated Ella and Mario’s bedroom ceiling fan. “Sushi was so frightened she wouldn’t walk past the open bedroom door!” said Ella. Fortunately, Sushi’s now settled in and has become much more confident and cuddly. In Ella’s words, “She’s a serious lap cat. There are times when I have literally just made contact with the couch and her paw is already on my thigh, demanding a lap to sit on!”

Kimchi too has gotten braver and braver the more time he spends living with Ella and Mario. In fact, the (human!) couple have nicknamed their boy “Explorer Cat” and he continues to lives up to that name, always climbing up to a high vantage point to survey his domain. When Kimchi’s down on the ground, he’ll spend time “zooming,” as Ella put it, running around like a “crazy cat”.  In true cat fashion, the zoomies often come in the early morning when Ella and her husband are happily snoozing!  As you might expect from all that activity, Kimchi likes his food. In the mornings he’ll “meeeeeoooooow pitifully as if he’s starving and will continue to meow until someone opens the bedroom door,” said Ella.

All in all, Ella and Mario are delighted with their new snuggle bugs. And we couldn’t be happier to report yet another happy tail!

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

Why We Believe in TNR

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.

Maria with one of her (almost) daily catches.

“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.

Maria stops at nothing to get cats off the streets

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.

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.

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.

 

Louie’s Happy Tail Ending

Rachel and her partner Chris already had three cats and were not looking to adopt another when they sat down to read the VOKRA newsletter together earlier this year. Living with Type 1 diabetes herself, the article on Timmy, an older male Maine Coon with diabetes, really resonated with Rachel. In fact, one of her previous cats also had diabetes so she was familiar with how to care for a diabetic cat. However, they were already short on space and were confident Timmy would find a forever home soon.

Several months later another VOKRA email arrived in Rachel’s inbox featuring Timmy front and centre. Once again Timmy’s story was used to highlight how your donations to VOKRA are used to care for special kitties in need. Rachel’s heart went out to Timmy and, after convincing Chris, she contacted VOKRA to arrange a meeting.

Visiting Timmy at his foster home (only five blocks from her own!), Rachel was able to review his lengthy medical files. It turns out Timmy had been a struggling diabetic without a permanent home for nearly seven years. Furthering her bond with him, Rachel learned Timmy was on the same insulin and required the same glucose checks as she did. Despite her concerns that adopting Timmy into their happy three cat home could potentially disrupt the other cats’ lives, Rachel knew the value of giving Timmy the opportunity for a happy, stable home overshadowed the risks. Rachel and Chris decided to take the plunge and take Timmy home.

The first thing Rachel and Chris did when they adopted Timmy was to change his name to Louie. Shortly prior to his adoption, it was discovered that Louie needed emergency surgery to remove his teeth. The recovery was difficult for an older diabetic cat like Louie and developed pancreatitis. After a few close calls and attentive care from Rachel and Chris, Louie pulled through.

It took a month for all three cats to come around but Louie has now been accepted as part of the clowder. Louie’s a lover of all people food but is kept on a strict diet and schedule to manage his diabetes (even though Chris sneaks him a tiny taste here and there!). In fact, Louie’s diabetes has improved since his adoption and he now requires less daily units of insulin to manage his glucose levels.

Since Rachel treats her own diabetes she quickly accepted Louie’s needs as part of her routine. “I think, if anything, taking care of him has left me feeling like I’m not alone,” said Rachel. “It never felt to me like I was taking on too much more, but rather I was gaining someone who was helping me deal with my depression around diabetes. A support buddy!”

Thank you so much to Rachel and Chris for giving Louie the loving home he’s been waiting for. We wish you all many happy years together!

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


Wet Food is the Best Food

Little Nugget enjoying a snack

At VOKRA, we do our best to ensure all kitties who pass through our doors live the best lives they can. That’s why when we come across issues we always look for a pattern and try to find a solution.

Unfortunately, from time-to-time cats are returned to us due to behavioural issues, and the most common of these issues is peeing outside of the litter box. More times than not, the root cause is diet and stems from the fact the cat is fed primarily dry food.

Cats who eat mostly dry food also tend to have more urinary tract infections. And cats that are free fed, which is when food is left out for the cat to self-monitor their own diet, have it even worse as they’re often fat so they can’t clean themselves properly.

So, why is dry food the culprit?

Little Nugget with his mom Bonnie

Cats are designed by nature to be carnivores and their digestive tract, despite thousands of years of domestication, is not intended to assimilate dry food. Not only so, contrary to popular belief, dry food causes plaque to form on teeth. It’s also highly processed, making the body work anywhere from 12-18 hours to break it down. This means the cat is always half full and in a constant state of digestion. On the other hand, raw food moves through the body within four hours, while wet food takes 8-12 hours for the body to metabolize it.

Karen Duncan, co-founder of VOKRA, has fed a raw diet to all of her animals for more than 20 years and fully recommends a wet or raw diet for all kitties. At VOKRA, FirstMate is our first choice for the cats in our care and Karen explains why:

“We got involved with FirstMate a few years ago. They’re a local company, which beats buying masses of food shipped from the US. Every product is cruelty free as the protein is sourced ethically – all wild salmon and tuna, never farmed. There’s never any guar gum or thickeners. Instead, potatoes or peas are used. Their packaging is also epoxy free and the label is foil laminate, making everything recyclable. VOKRA’s very confident of the quality of FirstMate food and are able to get answers quickly from them if any arise.”

All of these reasons are why we feel so strongly about feeding cats a diet that primarily consists of wet or raw food.

So if your kitty is peeing outside of the box, has frequent urinary infections or stinky breath it will most likely be worthwhile for you to switch their diet away from dry. It will help save their health and will cost you less trips to the vet.

If you’d like to learn more about why wet is best click here.

Walk for the KITTENS!

Kittens, kittens and more kittens.

Kitten season may be the cutest time of the year, but it means a lot of extra costs and work for us here at VOKRA. Each year during kitten season we care for more than 600 kittens, and this year’s no exception.

As a volunteer-driven non-profit, we count on your support to be able to rescue so many kittens.

Kittens in our care have a chance at a happy, safe and healthy life. Kittens like these cuties who were found living at an industrial site out in Abbotsford. These little guys were lucky enough to be trapped by our dedicated volunteers and will now spend the rest of their lives in loving homes.

And, by taking these kittens off the streets and ensuring they’re spayed and neutered, we’re also breaking the cycle preventing more unwanted kittens from being born. It doesn’t take very long for five kittens to become 35, and for 35 kittens to become 105 and so on.

Kittens like these are just five of the thousands of reasons why we Walk for the Kitties.

Each year, VOKRA rescues more than 1,400 homeless cats and kittens from around the Lower Mainland. 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. This 5k fun walk takes place at Jericho Beach on September 16 and all funds raised go directly towards supporting our rescue efforts. Learn more here.

Without your support we wouldn’t be able to afford to rescue all these cats and kittens.

Please help this September 16 by joining us for Walk for the Kitties, presented by FirstMate.

Eventbrite - VOKRA Walk for the Kitties 2018

Can’t make it on September 16? You can still donate today!