#FosteringSavesLives

This bunch of semi-feral kittens needed lots of socialization before they were ready for adoption.

Cats and kittens are ready for adoption when they learn to trust and accept us humans. As many of the cats in our care come from the streets they’ve often had limited or negative experiences with people. By caring for them in a stable and safe home environment, our foster moms and dads are helping to charge their view of humans, which is life changing. Fostering allows these cats and kittens to grow and transform into confident kitties who will then find their forever homes.

As each cat or kitten is unique, the way foster parents socialize with them is different. For example, feral or semi-feral kitties see humans as potential predators and so they’ll run away and hide. They may hiss at you when you try to pet them or lash out by swatting or biting. In this situation the caregiver must be slow and patient. You start by sitting wherever they are – close but not too close – and make sure you have some tasty treats. As you have food, they’ll start to associate you with good things. The more they see you as non threatening, the more they’ll warm up to you. Eventually, with patience, love and persistence, an adoptable kitty emerges.

Fostering’s not only a positive experience for the kitties, but also the foster parents! It’s very rewarding to help cats and kittens get adopted. A little time and patience goes a very long way and watching them grow and learn to accept and love humans is an extraordinary feeling. Foster parents not only have immense love for kitties, but also the desire to put time and effort into giving them the best life possible. Unconditional love is given to each cat and that love changes their lives for the better.

Clawdette’s one of the 26 kittens Erin’s helped save so far by fostering.

Erin, a long time foster parent, shares a memorable story:

“My very first foster turned into my very first foster fail! I took her on while living in Australia. I had some extra time on my hands, so I asked the vet clinic close by if they had a sick or higher-needs cat that needed fostering. They were so happy since they just had a feral kitten brought in. She was extremely hissy and completely terrified of humans, so they needed her to go somewhere else aside from the vet clinic. I brought her home and got her settled into the bathroom. After hiding under the sink in the bathroom for the entire first afternoon through to the night, the next day I went in there to stay with her and do my own thing while being with her. After doing that for the morning, she came out from under the sink, crawled up on my lap, had a bath, curled up on my lap and went to sleep. I knew at that moment that I would not be giving her back at all, ever. The rest is history!

She is very much attached to me (and only me) and not great with other animals. But because of my experience with her we’ve gone on to foster 26 more kittens since then. She was my introduction into fostering and paved the way for all these other kittens to come and be a part of my life. I’m grateful for every day that we have together! And seeing how she has grown from an incredibly hissy and terrified kitten to a much more confident and happy cat, has shown me just what fostering can do for a cat. It is a life changer for them!”

Sarah, a long-term VOKRA foster parent, has fostered two “pee kitties” so far. These are kitties who pee in inappropriate places for seemingly unknown reasons. After checking with a vet to make sure there are no underlying medical issues, she goes through all the other potential reasons, such as stress and anxiety, disapproval of the little box shape or litter type, habits or any other thing she can think of. She notes all the occurrences of inappropriate peeing and the surrounding circumstances to find the patterns and modify the environment as needed. She’s just like a detective!

With one foster, all the kitty required was a larger box with deeper litter. With the other kitty, Zoey, all she needed was to have all enticing soft items, such as towels and bath mats, off the floor so the only target for pee was the litter box. All these “pee kitties” simply needed was a person with the patience to understand what they want and the willingness to create a consistent environment for them.

Sarah weighs in on why being a foster parent is an amazing opportunity:

Ziggy’s one of Sarah’s former “pee kitties”. Happily she was recently adopted and now has a new forever home.

“I started fostering when I was living on my own after having moved to Vancouver by myself. I grew up with cats and adding a cat to my home seemed like a no brainer! However, as a student, I was unsure about my long-term plans so fostering allowed me to have a furry companion without committing before I was ready. It’s also so rewarding to see them improve and go off to new homes with excited new owners! And, of course, I feel like I’m helping with the larger problem of cat overpopulation and reducing strain on VOKRA as a rescue organization so that their main focus can be on those cats with greater medical needs while healthy kitties can enjoy the comfort of a home rather than a shelter environment. It also allows me to help teach others about the importance of fostering and how much fun it is!”

Fostering saves lives and we have more than 350 foster parents to thank for that! Many of our kitties need to socialize with humans and learn to accept them before being adopted and our foster homes offer the best opportunity for them get the fresh start they need. One at a time, fostering produces a transformed, adoptable kitty ready to find a loving furever home!

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.

Raindrop and Steveston each grew up in difficult circumstances and came to us as semi-feral cats two years ago. They met in foster care where they became fast friends and are a great comfort to each other. They’re both still very shy, but we’re hoping an accepting and patient adopter will come along and open their heart and home to them.

Volunteer of the Month – May 2018

The May sunshine is shining a spotlight on our Volunteer of the Month, Nicole Neifert!

Nicole has been described as “The Original VOKRA Surrey Volunteer”. For more than 10 years she’s spent countless hours helping to get homeless and abandoned cats off the streets.

“I first met Nicole in 2008 when I started trapping for VOKRA,” said fellow volunteer Mona Boucher. “She was dropping off a cat she had trapped at the vet hospital.  Back in those days we didn’t have a postop space so feral cats were set up in kennels at trapping sites to recover from spay/neuter before being released.”

Eventually Nicole built an insulated and heated shed in her backyard to house cats recovering from spays/neuters and a host of other ailments and injuries.

Amy, Hans & Itty are just a few of the cats in Nicole’s life.

“Many times we’ve had cats stacked to the ceiling after a night or several nights of trapping and she never complains,” says Mona. “Over the years hundreds and hundreds of cats and kittens have come through her shed.”

As Nicole has a veterinary background, she’s a natural fit to care for the frailest, injured and sick cats trapped in Surrey. She’s seen miraculous recoveries and a fair share of heartbreak, but over and over again she puts her heart on the line to care for the cats in the greatest need.

Although Nicole doesn’t trap much these days, from time-to-time stray cats in need of help find their way to her yard.  She’s also quick to respond when there’s a cat in distress – up a tree or caught in a space where they can’t get out.

“Like most of us involved with VOKRA, a few cats have stolen Nicole’s heart and moved into her home,” said Mona. “Some of them are still with her today and some of them have crossed the rainbow bridge. She cares for her own cats and the rescued cats while simultaneously working and caring for her husband and two children. She’s an inspiration.”

In Nicole’s own words, “Everyday little things are done and add up to huge changes. Colonies fixed and fed, homeless strays warm in a bed again, lots of full bellies and raising the care and awareness of owned and stray cats. I’ve entered abandoned houses and left with cats and fish, I have dug up the dirt under concrete stairs to get an injured kitty, stood below a tree and prayed for the tree guy and the cat, a friend got stuck in a recycling bin while helping me get some kittens that had fell in, loaded my car to the bump stops with free cat donations, driven thousands of kilometers, scooped millions of poops, and cleaned just as many kennels. All of these things have accumulated to amazing changes in so many lives, including my own. It is an honor to be recognized but it is a gift to be part of VOKRA. I’ve been supported by so many amazing ladies.”

“I’ve learned so much from Nicole over the years and I look forward to many more years and many, many more kitty lives changed for the better,” said Mona. “Nicole is simply awesome!”

We couldn’t agree more! THANK YOU so much Nicole for your dedication. VOKRA was built through the hard work of volunteers just like you and we can’t thank you enough.

As a volunteer-driven non-profit, we clearly couldn’t do what we do without our extremely dedicated and hard working team of volunteers. Thank you to each and every one of you!

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

Volunteer of the Month – April 2018

April showers may bring flowers, but they also bring us our Volunteer of the Month, Cynthia Reed!

Cynthia first started volunteering with VOKRA back in the summer of 2010 when we were still headquartered in co-founder Karen’s basement. Since then she’s witnessed the amazing growth of the organization and our move into a shiny new Operations Centre.

Within Cynthia’s first week of volunteering Karen, one of our master persuaders, had also talked her into fostering two small feral kittens.

“It was the height of kitten season and Karen’s basement was overflowing with kitties needing a home,” explains Cynthia. “How could I say no to Karen?”

Like many fosters, Cynthia “foster failed” on her first try and became a pet parent to fur-babies Tony and Cleo, who will be eight years old this month.

Cynthia has many memories of kitties she’s fallen in love with during her time volunteering with VOKRA. One of the cats who will stay in her heart forever is Chance the Wobbler, a cat with mobility issues who lived at Karen’s for a long time.

Jorge is patiently waiting for a new foster to come along

There’s also Charlie, who lived at Ops after being diagnosed with cancer, and Jorge, a sweet senior who is patiently waiting at the Centre for a new foster home. And there’s also Beamer, a blind and deaf kitten who Cynthia spent many hours playing with when he first arrived.

“There are way too many to count them all,” said Cynthia. “Everyone is special.”

Since VOKRA moved into our Operations Center, Cynthia has spent most of her cat care time in the T-N-R room.

“My experience with feral cats has been very rewarding and I have certainly learned a lot from (co-founder) Maria when helping her with some the wilder cats,” Cynthia explains. “I have done my best to adopt Maria’s calm and patient nature with the cats and now I look forward to caring for those ‘terrible’ cats other people might be afraid to approach.”

Cynthia goes on to say, “Being with VOKRA for so many years has given me the opportunity to work with and get to know some great people and I have been able to pass on what I have learned by mentoring several new volunteers.”

Volunteering for VOKRA has been a fantastic experience and I hope to be around for many years to come.

Cynthia  Reed

Thank you so much Cynthia for all your dedication to the kitties and the many, many hours you’ve spent volunteering. We truly appreciate your support and also hope you’ll be around for many years to come!

As a volunteer-driven non-profit, we clearly couldn’t do what we do without our extremely dedicated and hard working team of volunteers. Thank you to each and every one of you!

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

Volunteer of the Month – March 2018

Spring is in the air! At VOKRA, sunshine and cherry blossoms can only mean one thing – the kittens are coming! Soon our Operations Centre will be even more of a hive of activity than it already is. One of the people who help pull it all together is Monique H. who is one of the smiling volunteers you’ll find manning the front desk. Monique does a wonderful job and also ensures all the new receptionists know the ropes when they start. Here she tells us in her own words why she volunteers for VOKRA:

I took a very serendipitous route to VOKRA…the universe was trying to tell me something. I first heard of VOKRA when I binge-watched the locally shot TV show Fringe and Googled lead actress Anna Torv. She was a foster to some very adorable VOKRA kittens and talked about them in interviews. Naturally my next step was to search for “VOKRA kittens”, which led me to a gigantic cache of cute. I followed the kitten video trail until I found an article talking about VOKRA’s new Operations Centre in East Van, which just happened to be a few blocks from my house. It was meant to be!

I think I was one of the first group of receptionists, as Ops had only been open for around 6 months when I started volunteering. We hadn’t even taken over the space next door yet, which was a doggy daycare, although I’m sure they sensed the cats were going to win their territory when van-loads of mamas and babies started arriving. It all looked so organized and efficient, although co-founder Karen gave quite a laugh years later when I told her those initial impressions.

Minda

My main motivation for wanting to help rescue cats was how much of an impact my own kitty has had on my life. I was always an animal lover, but my parents were not cat people, to say the least. Even when I moved out on my own I wasn’t able to take the leap. That changed when my partner and I adopted Minda. We found her through the SPCA and she was so sad and scared in her kennel that it broke my heart. She quickly became “my” kitty and I learned the joy of waking up to a cat cuddled on my stomach (I also learned the “joy” of being trained to dish out earlier and earlier breakfasts). When I developed health problems and couldn’t participate in a lot of my former activities, Minda was there to purr beside me and keep me company. Not only is every cat worth saving, doing so may save a human as well. That’s why my very favourite part of working the front desk is filing adoption papers, as each contract represents a wonderful new relationship forming.

I’m keeping it a secret from Minda, but other kitties have won my love as well. My very first “VOKRA crush” was sweet little Mei-Lei with her long coat and jaunty jackets. When she got injured and lost while in care I was among the many, many folks having a quiet heart attack desperately hoping she would be all right. I obviously have an “M” problem, because Meep was also very special to me around the same time. She would fall asleep in a blanket in my lap and she was around Ops for so long that we had a regular Saturday date to zone out after my shift before I went home.

Bottle feeding Little Dude

Last summer I got to bottle-feed a kitten for the very first time, thanks to Little Dude. It’s really an incredible feeling, I think I’m addicted now. Help! And of course, the kitties that are no longer with us like Stewart and Charlie. I was working my shift when Charlie first was surrendered by his family and got to see his pain and confusion turn to confidence and chattiness as he outlasted all predictions on how long he would be around. I miss you so much Charlie – every time I see those little dried fish I think of you.

My favourite memory of VOKRA itself is a night I spent at Ops in the days before we installed air conditioning. With the bay door open and warm summer air coming through, I got to witness all of the cats wake up from their after-supper naps and become the little lions that they are. Shy ferals came out of their hiding places and sleepy cats started to play recklessly with their toys. Kittens squeaked and pounced. It was like visiting the tiniest jungle and I feel honoured to have had an invite. Thank you so much, Karen and Maria, for creating a place where cats can be themselves and where we humans get to see them do so.

THANK YOU Monique!!! Your dedication to VOKRA and all the kitties is truly inspiring!

As a volunteer-driven non-profit, we clearly couldn’t do what we do without our extremely dedicated and hard working team of volunteers. Thank you to each and every one of you!

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

Volunteer of the Month – February 2018

February is the month of love and we have an endless amount of it for our volunteers! This month we’re celebrating Mandy Douglas and her dedication to ensuring newly adopted kitties are insured. Here she tells us in her own words why she volunteers for VOKRA:

I started volunteering with VOKRA in the beginning of 2014. I had some big life changes the year before and decided to finally get involved with an organization I greatly admired. I first heard of VOKRA many years earlier, when my parents and I were feeding a large number of feral cats that started showing up around our house. VOKRA was kind enough to offer us the use of their Trap-Neuter-Return traps and help advise us on how best to catch these cats in order to get them fixed and find them homes. I respected the no-kill aspect and being entirely run by volunteers and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

My first few months with VOKRA, I was helping out with administrative work in the very newly opened Operations Centre, but due to an irregular work rotation I was unable to commit to a consistent schedule, so instead I just focused on insurance vouchers. I work from home and register every cat who gets adopted with six weeks free insurance from Pets Plus Us. This process takes place 2-3 times per week, every week, without fail (even on my honeymoon, thanks to my very supportive husband!). Not only does this allow some protection to the adopter during the initial transition of bringing the kitty home, but Pets Plus Us also gives a donation to VOKRA for each registration.  Over the past four years, I’ve logged well over 500 hours and registered nearly 5,000 cats for their insurance!!

My favourite part of volunteering is seeing the “less desirable” cats find their homes – the older cats, ones with behavioural or medical difficulties and even the “superstitious” black cats. It’s always such a happy moment to learn these cats can spend their days being loved and cared for properly.

Monty

I’ve fallen in love with every cat I’ve met at the Ops Centre, but the most memorable ones were Monty and Cinnabar. These were cats who had suffered a lot, some at the hands of humans, but they didn’t let that affect their ability to trust and would allow me (a stranger) to cuddle them and even rub their bellies.  It was always a special moment and these cats served as role models for me and for the way I should conduct my life – not allowing the mistakes/abuse of others to affect my ability to trust or love someone new.

I genuinely love the work I do for VOKRA and I am honoured to be able to contribute to an organization I can be proud of. I look forward to many more years and thousands more cats!

THANK YOU Mandy!!! We’re the ones who are honoured to have you as a volunteer!

As a volunteer-driven non-profit, we clearly couldn’t do what we do without our extremely dedicated and hard working team of volunteers. Thank you to each and every one of you!

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

Ending Homelessness: One Trap at a Time

At VOKRA our mission is to end cat overpopulation and homelessness. One of the ways we’re helping accomplish this is through to Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the process of trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to the location they came from. We’ve seen a lot of success with TNR, but much of our time is actually spent on trapping tame strays. Trapping these cats and kittens is the first step towards finding them their furever homes.

When we receive information about a stray cat, we find out as much information as we can to help us determine the best way to trap. We take into account how long the cat(s) has been hanging around and their lingering behaviour – are they coming at a specific time or are they around all the time? It’s important to know if they’re being fed or eating as well. Getting to know as much about the cats as possible is key to making a quick and successful trap. Behaviours such as skittishness or curiosity help us determine the correct method.

At times, it’s as easy as coaxing the cat into a carrier. Other times, setting up a trap is the only way. Traps are usually set up where the cat is being fed and include fresh tuna at the back of the trap. With feral cats, they’re taken to the vet for sedation and spay/neuter, vaccinations, ear and dental cleaning and flea treatment. They recover at our Operations Centre and are then taken back to their original location. The individual who called about the cat will be provided with food and any follow-up care. With tame cats, after they’re trapped they’re taken to our Operations Centre where we check for a microchip or tattoo. We deflea, deworm and vaccinate these kitties and have blood tests, urinalysis and teeth cleaning completed if they’re more than five years old. These tame cats are then ready for a foster home and, when they’re ready, will go up for adoption.

This is “Woody”, trapper Janet Cox‘s trusty wooden trap. She uses it to trap kitties who refuse to go into a metal trap. It always works like a charm!

It may seem feral cats could be more problematic than tame strays, but it’s just as important to trap these tame cats. Owned cats get lost and abandoned, which is a painful situation. If they aren’t fixed, they breed and female cats will usually give birth to their kittens outside or under garages, or amongst junk in a yard. These kittens will then grow up unsocialized by humans and grow into feral cats. If these kittens are also not spay/neutered, the cycle repeats itself and soon a feral colony will be formed. This is why it’s important for cat owners to spay and neuter their cats by five months old, and for the public to call us if they suspect a tame or feral stray who hasn’t been fixed is lingering around their neighbourhood.

Dedicated Surrey volunteers and trappers, Anne Salomon and Mona Boucher know all the tricks to trapping.

Sometimes, our trappings don’t go as planned, as explained here by VOKRA co-founder and trapper extraordinaire Maria Soroski:

Maria will a mitt-full of kittens trapped by Anne.

“I was called out to an industrial area in Burnaby because the business said they heard meowing coming from under the floorboards of the trailer on their property,” said Maria. “Since I couldn’t remove the floorboards, I crawled under the trailer to where they pinpointed they heard the kittens. When I found the area above me between the floorboards, I heard the noise – they were baby raccoons! I got out of there as soon as possible before the mama raccoon got mad.” 

After trapping for 17 years and counting, Maria’s has countless stories. Here’s one of her most memorable ones (for cats, not racoons!):

“At least twelve years ago, I went to a location in East Vancouver where there were three adult feral cats, two female and one male, and a litter of five kittens that were eight weeks old,” explains Maria. “It was January, bitter cold that night with snow that had fallen on the ground. I set traps by the back lane garage for the kittens first and waited in my car to keep warm. Two kittens went in the traps immediately and as I was carrying the two traps to my car, I was suddenly surrounded by the adult cats. They were hissing so I ran as fast as I could to my car with the kittens in the traps while they chased me. I waited in my car again until the remaining kittens went into the traps. The three adult cats were waiting by my car, so I quickly opened the door and ran to the last traps. As I was bending down to pick up the traps, the two adult females jumped onto my back, growling and swatting. I managed to get them off me and got all the traps to my car. The adults were jumping up at my window, so I threw an open can of cat food onto the grass, started the car and drove off as they ran behind my car.”

5:30 a.m. – Maria’s view as she waits patiently for some kittens, who were dumped in a back alley. to decide to go into the trap.

“I’ve never had this happen to me again, but I felt so bad for the cats as they saw their babies be driven away,” continues Maria. “The next night, I went and set traps for all three of the adult cats and took them to the vet for spaying and neutering. They stayed a couple days with us to recover and I let them see the kittens. It seemed to calm them down, knowing I didn’t cook their babies for dinner. The feral adults were returned to their original location and taken care of outside by the person who called us.”

Trapping isn’t an easy job, as we can all now see. It requires dedication and commitment to VOKRA’s mission. The trapping of tame strays is especially important as they have socialized with humans before, making them adoptable into a furever home. However, furever homes can’t exist if we don’t have pet-friendly housing. Global BC covers the issue here, making it clear our housing issues are a big cause for the loss of homes and families for too many pets. Sign the Pets OK BC petition here to help make a difference. Our trapping efforts are rendered useless if these kitties have less and less places to go once they’re ready for adoption.

Thank you to all our volunteer trappers who spend hours and hours watching over traps – be it sunshine or rain, day or night. Due to your efforts thousands of kitties have been taken off the streets and now have homes to call their own!

A mama and four kittens were trapped from under this porch. All the kittens had eye infections, but it was their lucky day. They were transferred to our Operations Centre for assessment and then onto foster care where they received daily treatment. Today mom and kittens are all healthy and have been adopted into loving homes.

Hazel’s Journey to Recovery

Every day the dedicated volunteers of VOKRA go to great lengths to save the lives of homeless cats and kittens from around the Lower Mainland. Little Hazel is one such kitten who may not be here today were it not for our care.

Hazel was born to a semi-feral mom who had recently been brought in to our Operations Centre. Not only was she the smallest kitten in the litter, she was born with one eye swollen shut. It turned out  poor Hazel was born with an eye infection, resulting in ongoing issues with pain and poor vision in her eye.

Hazel didn’t let her vision limitations slow her down though. She played, tumbled and chased her siblings around just like any other kitten. During one particularly active play session, Hazel’s weak eye was damaged and she was rushed to an emergency vet. It was discovered her weak eye was acting as a foreign body and had no chance of recovery, so it would eventually need to be removed.

As the months passed by, all Hazel’s brothers and sisters were adopted while Hazel struggled with recurring infections, leading to her eye being removed at four months old. Unfortunately, her health problems continued and she returned for a second surgery.

After two surgeries, two dewormings, four rounds of antibiotics and many more vet trips, Hazel continues to be a loving, intelligent, playful and overall adorable little ball of fluff. She’s so resilient that even two months of living with a cone around her head hasn’t slowed her down.

Happily Hazel will be available for adoption in the coming weeks. She’s a spirited little trooper who will be make some lucky family very happy. If you have room in your heart and home for little Hazel, keep an eye out for her on our ready-to-adopt page.

And if you’d like to help us pay for Hazel’s medical treatment, as well as the veterinary cost for all the other special kitties in our care, you can donate today at givetovokra.ca.