Monty is an old, stray cat that’s blind in one eye. It’s obvious from looking at him that he’s been through a lot.
“We discovered, when he came in, he has little BB gun pellets under his skin,” Maria Soroski, cofounder and master trapper at the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association, told the Georgia Straight. “Somebody shot him with a BB gun. And he’s also just been diagnosed with diabetes.”
One of the 1,800 lost, abandoned, and feral cats seen by VOKRA each year, Monty is being temporarily housed at the charitable organization’s new operations centre, which opened in March. With 28 cages, the facility can handle up to 50 cats, mostly destined for foster care and then adoption.
Founded in 2000, VOKRA has a no-kill policy and works across the region, from West Vancouver to Mission. The nonprofit has over 100 volunteers and a network of 350 foster homes.
VOKRA treasurer Alannah Hall gave a tour of the centre, which occupies a 3,200-square-foot industrial space in East Vancouver. Hall emphasized that the facility is not a shelter.
When they arrive, cats are brought to an intake pod for a health check-up and entry into a database. Afterward, they go to one of four other pods—each with its own air supply to prevent diseases from spreading—for the remainder of their stay, generally one to three days.
“A lot of the kitties that we’re picking up off the street are actually tame,” Hall said. “We think that it’s people just moving and leaving the cats behind.”
Feral cats—those that have grown up without being held—have to be trapped. That’s Soroski’s specialty.
Soroski demonstrated, with the aid of a stuffed animal, the use of a humane trap. The metal cage is left in the field with tuna or salmon at the back. When a cat enters the trap to get the fish, it steps on a trigger plate, which closes the door. VOKRA also has traps with doors that are operated by remote control.
Captured feral cats are transported to a veterinarian for spaying or neutering under anesthesia, and then to the centre for recovery. Then they are released where they were found.
“They were born outside,” Soroski said. “They have the right to live there.”
According to Soroski, through the trap-neuter-return (TNR) method, VOKRA has virtually eliminated feral cat colonies in Vancouver and Burnaby.
A colony, typically a family of one or two generations, can expand rapidly without intervention. For example, a cat might give birth to six kittens, half of them female. In five months, those three female kittens will likely be pregnant.
“We’ve just recently gone into Surrey and now we’re trying to TNR the masses of feral cats there,” Soroski said. “So, we can do the same thing as we did in Vancouver and Burnaby.”
Inside the centre, a large board, labelled “Poo Duty Roster”, bears the schedule for cat care volunteers.
“Of course, everyone who volunteers here gets cuddle time,” Hall said.
Sitting in one of the pods, VOKRA cofounder and president Karen Duncan bottle-fed five two-week-old kittens staying in a cage with their protective—and pregnant—adoptive mother.
“This is all just because somebody let cats breed indiscriminately,” Duncan said. “It’s very sad.”
Duncan asserted that all cats should be fixed by the time they are five months old. New litters make it harder for the many cats waiting to be adopted to find homes, she said.
According to Duncan, people shouldn’t buy cats as gifts. Indeed, they shouldn’t buy cats at all.
“Buying animals, I feel, is just ridiculous,” Duncan said. “There’s so many in rescues, at shelters, waiting for homes. Every time you take a home away from them, that animal has to sit longer or is in danger. So, stores should stop selling animals completely. It’s not needed. It just encourages breeding for profit.”
In 2012, VOKRA reported $471,408 in total revenue and $482,258 in total expenses, according to the Canada Revenue Agency website.
Hall said the organization is supported by individual donations, private and government grants, and fundraising activities. For instance, VOKRA sells calendars and holds its annual Walk for the Kitties in September.
Another source of revenue is adoption fees, which range from $180 for one kitten to $320 for two kittens. Fees include a vet checkup, the first shot, two wormings, de-flea treatment, fixing, and an identification tattoo.
Outside the centre, Duncan and Soroski noted they’ve been doing this for 14 years. For Duncan, the new facility gives her confidence that their work will continue on into the future.
“That’s really important to me—that we’re not just doing something over and over again and it’s not making a change,” Duncan said.