Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association tames the region’s feral cat colonies

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      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.”

      A VOKRA volunteer holds a two-week-old kitten.
      Stephen Hui

      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.

      Cofounders Maria Soroski and Karen Duncan started VOKRA in 2000.
      Stephen Hui

      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.

      A two-week-old kitten drinks milk from a bottle.
      Stephen Hui

      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.



      Barb Mount Poulsen

      Apr 14, 2014 at 11:08am

      Great article! Thanks for raising awareness of the size and scope of the cat rescue issue in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. VOKRA does heroic work to save animals in our community; especially impressive because we don't have a single paid employee! 100% of all money donated goes directly to cat care, primarily to vet bills, food and litter. Adoption fees cover a portion of the expenses associated with care but rarely the entire amount. Please help by donating at Tax receipts can be issued for any donations of $20 or more. Thanks for your support!


      Apr 14, 2014 at 11:12am

      Call me irrational, cruel, and hot headed, but I would like to put anyone that shot BB's at a defenseless cat in front of a firing squad with real bullets


      Apr 14, 2014 at 11:34am

      It is obvious that these two women are kindhearted and mean well. However, when will people wake up to the fact that the millions of cats in North America are big contributors to the decline of native bird populations? "Oh, but my cat wouldn't do that!" Or, "but we put a bell around Fluffy's neck...." Oh, really? Yes, your cat eats birds, and it has adapted very quickly to being able to stalk a bird, quietly, whilst wearing it's bell. Bye bye, birdies.......


      Apr 14, 2014 at 12:15pm

      @ ayinedollah felines hunting birds is part of nature so deal with it: natural selection in action. Our old guy is an indoor cat who occasionally ventures outside with me for a sit in the sun. Somehow on his 16 year old limbs and with me sitting right there he has still managed to get the drop on a couple of birds in the last year. Watching him sitting perfectly still as the bird hoped into range before pouncing reminded me of Blake's The Tyger.

      The work done by Orphan Kitten Rescue is fantastic. Over the years we have adopted 3 cats, one via OKR and the other 2 through a different group, and when the time comes for our guy to go to the great cat heaven we will adopt another cat in need of a home.


      Apr 14, 2014 at 1:08pm

      @Ayinedollah: Doesn't that mean that VOKRA's work in controlling the feral cat population is a good thing? Also, they strongly recommend cats remain indoors for their own safety. Not always possible in the feral population, but the TNR program is doing great work in that regard. Therefore if you're concerned about bird populations, support VOKRA. But yes, cats hunt birds, its in their nature. Leave nature alone and it takes care of itself. Spay and neuter, people!


      Apr 14, 2014 at 1:27pm

      Hi G!

      "felines hunting birds is part of nature so deal with it: natural selection in action."

      Indeed, you are correct. However, the overpopulation of felines is a byproduct of human activity. Not very natural. That is the point.

      I would agree that the work done, within a certain paradigm, by the OKR is very good indeed. However, the fact still remains that there are too many domesticated, and feral, cats in North America and our native bird populations are suffering because of it.

      Be well, G. Give the 'old guy' a scratch for me.


      Lilian Taylor

      Apr 14, 2014 at 1:36pm

      VOKRA adopts only to indoor homes, so the danger to birds doesn't exist as far as these particular cats are concerned.

      The TNR program means that feral cats can't produce any more offspring. If a pregnant feral is captured, her kittens won't be feral; they will be adoptable. The same applies for feral kittens that are rescued at a young enough age. The older community cats naturally (and often, unfortunately, unnaturally) die off.

      The stray and feral cat 'problem' is caused by irresponsible people who do not spay and neuter their animals, or who just toss them away when they can't be bothered any more. In my opinion, it's the (in)human(e) beings who are the real problem.

      Stanley P

      Apr 14, 2014 at 1:44pm

      @ ayinedollah Oh give me a break. There is only a problem because PEOPLE fail to take responsibility, as usual -- people who discard them on the streets, who fail to have them spade and neutered?

      My hat is off to the amazing women of VOKRA. They are ALL volunteers, they work serious overtime that often extends into the wee hours of the morning, and somehow manage to do a HUGE amount of good with only a meagre budget.


      Apr 14, 2014 at 2:10pm

      Hello, Monica!

      Would you care to reconcile these two statements for me please?

      "Also, they strongly recommend cats remain indoors for their own safety."

      "Leave nature alone and it takes care of itself."

      Be well, Monica!


      Great Work VOKRA!

      Apr 14, 2014 at 2:46pm

      Well Done.

      Ayinedollah. What exactly is your point? Or are you just obtuse?