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.

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.

IMG_20131202_153001

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.

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!

Marion 1

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.

 

Cottage 1

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

Compassionate Kids–Kate and Jack

We had some special visitors to our Operations Centre last week. One of our great Cat Care Volunteers, Helen, brought her grandchildren Kate and Jack down to learn about what VOKRA does and, yes, pet some kitties.

Kate and Jack got to sit in the birthday chair!

Kate and Jack got to sit in the birthday chair!

Jack was making a donation to VOKRA. For his birthday this year, he collected from his guests in support of VOKRA.

Thumbs up indeed, Jack!

Thumbs up indeed, Jack!

Pretty great, right? Well, that’s just how these kids roll. Last year, Kate did the same at her birthday party and collected donations for VOKRA too!

Kate the Great on her birthday!

Kate the Great on her birthday!

On their recent visit, Jack and Kate got to see their donations at work. They had a tour of the facilities, heard about how volunteers like their awesome grandma devote time, energy and love to caring for our cats, and also got a lesson in trapping feral cats as our Trappers Maria and Janet were on hand. Hmmm…the next generation of trappers? We’ll look forward to your help when you’re a little older, guys!

Tiny trappers at work!

Tiny trappers at work!

Thanks for supporting VOKRA, Kate and Jack, and for being Compassionate Kids!

Maria’s CATch of the Day #1

I joined Maria, VOKRA’s head trapper, recently to visit an area she has been trapping ferals in for several years. She does her best to get them all and the neighbours help her out with information, access to their yards and even snacks when her hours get long. But sometimes cats get missed, someone dumps a new cat in the area or an owned, outdoor cat isn’t fixed. Then, despite her best efforts, new ferals are born.

Setting up

Getting ready

On Saturday, we caught six kittens, about eight weeks old. Can you spot them trying to hide from Maria in the grass?

Cat Grass

We see you!

They were speedy little muffins but Maria managed to nab two right away. The others found a clever hiding place where we almost missed them. Only Maria’s keen and experienced eye noticed this fuzzy butt under the fence!

fuzz butt

Kitten butt!

They were in a neighbour’s yard, hiding in a pile of wood. Thanks to the help of the homeowner and Maria’s leather gloves, we got them! Maria “freestyled it”, unable to use any kind of tools or traps because of the location. She was finally able to grab each hissy, bitey, scratchy kitten while I held open the carrier door just long enough to drop them inside and shut the door tightly again.

Wood pile Maria under lumber

 Caught kitten

Gotcha!

Then we set the traps to try and catch the mom. We’d seen her under an old boat that was being stored in a carport and figured this was her home base.

 Maria setting traps Judith under boat

Within a few hours, success! Mom was reunited with her babies at our Operations Centre. Maria named her Judith, in honour of her friend (and fellow cat rescuer) Judith’s birthday. The mom is tame and, with some socialization by one of our experienced fosters, the kittens will be tamed too.

Judith and kittens

Judith and her babies

Soon after that, another mama was caught, this one a mama-to-be. She is ready to give birth any day now so we got her just in time. The name Sonata was picked for her.

We were hoping to catch this guy, the obvious father of the kittens.

Studly Siamese

Big Daddy

Isn’t he a studly fellow? He was strutting around the alleys of South Van like he owned the joint and I’m pretty sure I heard the BeeGees song Stayin’ Alive playing. Unfortunately, we haven’t had any luck catching him yet.

Sunday we caught a beautiful young grey female, probably about seven or eight months old. The neighbours say they were born last winter and that some of the litter haven’t been seen for a while, undoubtedly coyote snacks. Maria named this girl Elsie after Elsa, the woman who called us about these cats. Elsie was very sweet and let me pet her head through the cage so she is likely a kitten of the tame mom. Hopefully she is tame enough that she can be adopted into a loving home.

Elsie

Elsie

Monday, we caught this beautiful guy who is likely Elsie’s brother.

Black Male in trap

We know he is a brother because Maria is an expert at reaching through the bottom of the trap to feel for…um…telltale signs.

Black Cat Fondle

Yup, that’s a boy

The Studly Siamese is undoubtedly wondering where his ladies are! Hopefully he will go in one of our traps soon so we can neuter him and prevent more kittens from being born. The neighbours all know to call Maria if they spot any more kittens but cats are very good at hiding their babies so we won’t always know about them. Fingers crossed there aren’t any more there.

Traps in the van Maria and homeowner

Maria’s trapping van and a victorious Maria with a helpful homeowner

Speaking of kittens, when we were heading home after this trapping adventure, Maria said to me, “I just want to drive by a house near here. I’ve trapped there before but I think I might have seen some kittens when I drove past today.” You’ll have to wait for another blog post to find out what we discovered but, let me just say, yes, there were kittens. Oh boy, were there kittens. Stay tuned!

Are you good at climbing over things and under things (including things that might contain a bunch of spiders)? Does the idea of sitting in a car for hours watching a trapping site on a kitty stakeout sound good to you? Can you recognize a fuzzy kitten butt under a fence from across an alley? Then volunteering as a VOKRA trapper might be for you! Maria is always looking for people who have strategic minds, who aren’t afraid to get dirty, and who have good people skills to join her trapping team. Check out this and other volunteer opportunities on our website and fill out an application.
We’d love to have you volunteer with us!

Sweet Dreams, Mr. Washington

Yesterday we lost a friend. Mr. Washington was a resident of VOKRA’s Southlands Barn Sanctuary which houses a number of feral and shy cats who are not adoptable. As a no-kill shelter, we find a place for our rescued cats, even if that place can’t be a traditional home. Mr. Washington called the Southlands Barn Sanctuary home for four years. He was quite elderly and, in the past two years, began to show his age and medical problems arose. On May 19th, he was accompanied by his volunteer medical caretaker Carley to Intercity Animal Emergency Clinic and supported to pass away in a gentle, dignified way. VOKRA volunteer Ellen is one of the people who loved Mr. Washington well and she wrote this tribute to him.

 

Washington 1

Sometimes after a time spent under the care of humans, semi-feral cats slowly begin to warm up to the point where they are tame enough to pet and accept the care of their human guardians–there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing that change. Mr. Washington was one such special case, and his love seemed to grow daily, warming the hearts of his feline and human friends alike.

While we can only half guess at the life Mr. Washington lived prior to coming to VOKRA, we can speculate that it was the kind of life that led him to have such a regal and formal name bestowed upon him. His benevolent and welcoming air would match any politician in his namesake capital city! With a twinkle in his eye, and the older, wise air of a gentleman about him, Mr. Washington was always sure to greet each visitor and volunteer, whether he strolled calmly up to you, or gently eyed you from his favorite perch. His right eye was semi encircled in black, monocle-like, as though born to watch over, like some kind of purring detective.

And watch over he did! Mr. Washington loved to know what was going on, whether you were merely cleaning, or dinner had finally begun. He could often be found grooming or cuddling with his feline friends, and even seemed to teach and assure the other cats, who were much more feral than him, that us humans weren’t so bad.  He led his friends in his brave interactions with us, accepting pets (and treats!) graciously.

Mr. Washington is truly an example of how a cat can say more with their eyes and affection than words ever could. With Washington it was always love at first sight–he burrowed his way into the heart of everyone he met, and it is doubtful that he will ever leave. He spent his last day enjoying the simple pleasure of lying in the sun, and knowing that he was loved. No one warns you of the tears you will shed when you become a volunteer, but having known such a special boy is worth every one.

mrwashington

Washington 3Mr. Washington and his GF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Ellen, for this lovely piece, to Sharon Darling for the wonderful photos, and to all the volunteers who give their time and love to our Southlands Barn Sanctuary cats.

 

 

 

Where Do Your Donations Go? (Video)

Ever wonder where your money goes when you donate to Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association? Let these adorable VOKRA kitties tell you all about it!

Great big thanks to Jamie Hamilton of Hamilton Design for making this video for VOKRA. Jamie’s family has volunteered with VOKRA for many years and Jamie grew up surrounded by foster kittens so he knows first hand what we’re all about.

Many thanks also to the lovely Bif Naked for letting her song So Happy I Could Die be used. Bif is such a great supporter of animals and we sure do appreciate her.

 

Now that you know how much good your money can do, what’s stopping you from donating to VOKRA?

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