In just over a year, Lakes Animal Friendship Society (LAFS) volunteers have worked with the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic to help over 400 cats without guardians (community cats) in Burns Lake area.
“Cat populations have been out of control in parts of the Burns Lake area for some time,” said Alistair Schroff, director of LAFS.
Cat colonies arise when cats are abandoned by their guardians or when owned cats that are not spayed and neutered multiply exponentially.
“It does not take long for the population to get out of control,” said Schroff.
Some of the cat colonies in Burns Lake area had up to 100 cats. The conditions that these cats were living in put them at risk for starvation and disease, and of being killed by predators and humans.
“Once there is a community cat problem, as the name suggests, only the community can take care of it,” said Schroff.
The Lakes Animal Friendship Society decided to tackle this issue by starting a community cats project. Volunteers caught community cats one by one and took them to the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic. At the clinic, a veterinarian checked the cats’ health and spayed or neutered them. Cats were then vaccinated against diseases.
For larger cat colonies, LAFS volunteers cage-trapped the cats, transported them to the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic for spaying or neutering and returned them to their colony areas. A volunteer gives the cats food and water every day and watches out for cats that need to see a veterinarian.
Adoptable cats from these colonies were sheltered at Simonds Sanctuary, a Burns Lake cats shelter operated by the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic and supported by the Mother Millie Fund.
“When the cat population grows out of control as it has, extraordinary measures are required,” said Schroff. “We hope this project will provide a model for other communities.”
When asked how the cat population had gotten out of hand in Burns Lake, Schroff said the main problem is that not enough cats were spayed and neutered to control the population growth. Schroff also said that people who see cats as “disposable” are not as likely to invest in their care, including getting them spayed or neutered. To make matters worse, many cats end up being abandoned for various reasons.
“Many people have the mistaken belief that cats can care for themselves in the wild,” said Schroff. “They are not wild creatures, they need us to be healthy and happy.”
The Lakes Animal Friendship Society has also been working to educate children about community cats. The society has encouraged Burns Lake students to create artwork that portrays happy cats, and also asked them to choose the ending to a children’s book LAFS volunteers have written. The book is based on the story of the community cats in Burns Lake and how local students were involved in helping them. The society hopes to have this book published in the spring of 2015 and will be distributing it to classrooms and school libraries across the region.
The Lakes Animal Friendship Society was formed in 2009, becoming a legal society in 2011. There are currently 11 official members, and two of them – Alistair Schroff and Valerie Ingram – work on a regular basis.
The society does not receive any payment for their work. PetSmartCharities of Canada has supported the community cats project by providing grant funds through the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic has also supported the project by performing close to 400 surgeries and donating one third of the cost. Schroff said the Burns Lake Veterinary Clinic was a “key part” of the community cats project.
“The staff of the clinic has always been a huge supporter of efforts to improve animal welfare and goes above and beyond the call of duty on an ongoing basis.”
Schroff said it’s important for the community to keep working to make sure the cat population does not get out of control again.
People can make donations to the Lakes Animal Friendship Society via PayPal on their web site www.lakesanimalfriendship.ca or by mail to Box 49 Southbank BC V0J 2P0.