Small towns in rural Manitoba all too often become dumping grounds for unwanted pets, especially cats. Stray cats had always been a part of my time in Douglas but in 2019 it really became an issue.
I had a cat or two as part of the family since I was little. Sharla claimed she was a dog person when we met and even told me early in our relationship that she wondered what kind of a single grown man has cats….
It didn’t take Sharla long to expand her sphere of love to include cats.
For the first time in 18 years I was without a cat in the summer of 2019. The last of my old girls passed at the age of 19. Shortly thereafter I got a call from Wheat City Vet Clinic asking if we’d be interested in rehoming a cat that needed a new family. Toby came to live with us and even got the title of Summus Shop Cat.
In Oct of 2019 we rescued our first kitten. Lenny was about 10 days old when Sharla followed our neighbour to a little cry coming from hay bales in the yard next to us and found a roughly 10 day old kitten that couldn’t walk. Looking back now I think this is the day that got Sharla hooked. We syringe fed Lenny while he was too weak and small to eat on his own. He spent his first 3 days with us in a small cardboard box that I brought with me to whatever room I was in all day long. Lenny gained strength quickly and has been apprenticing under Toby ever since.
In the Spring of 2020 it became obvious our town had a serious stray/feral cat problem. At least 3 batches of kittens were born to strays in rapid succession. Of course Sharla wanted to save them all, but more than that we wanted to deal with the unfixed adult population of cats in town so that the number of kittens needing rescued wouldn’t overwhelm our abilities and resources.
We had a great relationship with Dr. Sherry at Wheat City Vet Clinic, we had the skills to feed and care for very small kittens, we had the resources to trap the adult cats and cover the costs of their spays and neuters’, but we lacked two things to make it work: places to home the kittens and the relationships with our neighbours to find and trap the roaming cats.
We took to our community fb page and outlined a plan to trap, fix, vaccinate and release the feral cats while caring for and homing the kittens. Our neighbours got on board and soon we were getting tips on which cats where seen where and boxes of kittens would appear on our front step. We reached out to existing rescues to learn how they home animals and developed a network of people to “get the word out” when we had a cat or kitten needing a home.
In the past 3 years I can report we have now rescued 37 cats, the most recent last week. Our feral cat population in Douglas is stable and all but one that we know of is fixed (I’m trying again for the last unfixed female as soon as the snow melts!!). We’ve come to know many more of our neighbours over this project and we are grateful for the friendships that we have now because of this.
We can’t say thank you enough to Wheat City Vet Clinic for working with us to solve this problem. The number of times I’ve called there and said “We caught another one!” and they squeezed in one last appointment at the end or beginning of an already full day to help us is laughable now. Dr. Sherry’s help is all the more remarkable when you come to understand the shortage of veterinarians in rural Manitoba and how they are all over stressed by the volume of need for their services exceeding the hours in the day they can possibly work.
Fixing and rescuing animals in one town is a problem that can be solved by independent citizens locally. Resolving the veterinarian shortage in rural Manitoba is not.
Given a little more leverage and access to a few important rooms, I’d like to go to work on this issue for all of us.