About four years ago, Heather Deveaux and her partner, Kyal Smith, started feeding feral cats around their cabin on Paint Lake in Dorset during harsh winter days.

Then they noticed a couple of “regulars” and got to know them. One, whom they named MamaCat started bringing her kittens so they could eat, too. After MamaCat’s second litter, Deveaux said they realized there was a larger feral cat problem than they had at first understood.

She said they heard from neighbours, friends and community members about cats they were seeing or trying to help.

“A number of events convinced us that we had to take a personal hand in getting the reproductive cycle under control,” Deveaux said. “Some of the babies that we knew early on died tragically, or disappeared inexplicably, and we never knew what happened to them. Others had health issues that we couldn’t help them with. We knew something had to be done. And if we weren’t going to do it, who would?”

They took the first couple of feral cats to the vet’s to be spayed or neutered at their own expense.

“We knew that this was unsustainable over the long term. We set up a Gofundme page, and to our surprise, people made donations. We kept on doing whatever we could to take care of the cats we knew, to re-home the kittens that we ended up bottle-feeding or getting our hands on as early as we could, and enlisting the aid of our growing community of cat and animal lovers,” she said.

The Gofundme page exploded over a seven-week-old rescued feral kitten named Floof, who had a serious medical condition requiring emergency surgery. Deveaux used her personal credit card for the $1,000 charge. Smith posted to Facebook looking for help. The next day the Visa had been paid off in donations.

“From this point on, we knew that this was something we needed to do, and that we had the support of a community of people, united in their love of cats and concern for their well-being,” Deveaux said.

She said cottagers, friends, family, locals and business owners started to reach out and offer support, or ask them for their support in helping cats they knew were out there.

A recent food drive raised an estimated $2,500 worth of food in both cash and in-kind donations, in approximately 48 hours.

The Cats of Paint Lake is now in the planning stages of setting up a new location on Paint Lake Road, which will provide them with better accommodations for the animals, and a more efficient space to manage intakes, assessments, care, and outreach.

At the moment, they have embarked upon taking an inventory and mapping the feral cat colonies and populations of Dorset and surrounding areas, including Lake of Bays, Kawagama Lake, Paint Lake and Algonquin Highlands, to start.

Deveaux added they cooperate, and coordinate efforts, with other agencies as much as possible, including the Humane Society, Muskoka Animal Rescue, Minden Cat Angels, Dorset Rescue Kittens and several vet clinics around the region. They have a number of other plans for the future.

But for now, “we want to shed light on the growing problem of stray and feral cats in our area. This is a human-created problem, and only humans can solve it. The cats are just doing what is in their nature, and they need our help to get their reproductive cycle under control, and to get in out of the cold.”

More information is available at: Catsofpaintlake@gmail.com Follow them on Facebook, Instagram @catsofpaintlake and Youtube.

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