Don Kerr hoists an orange cooler onto the table inside a building at Minden Cat Angels, a volunteer-run shelter outside the village.
It won’t keep drinks cool anymore but it will help stray cats stay warm this winter, with a hole cut out of the side and a dry bed of straw inside. It’s a strategy Kerr will use throughout the season to help Minden cats once his location is at capacity. “I can’t take them all,” he said. “But I can offer [people] at no charge a shelter box as long as they’re willing to supply cats with food and some warm water during the winter.”
Kerr operates one of the only shelters for cats in Haliburton County and is expecting to have to turn cats away this fall as the weather gets colder. “I limit at 18 in here,” he said. “And that’s pushing it because I only have, right now, maybe two volunteers coming every week.” Cats such as George and Oreo lounge in Kerr’s heated shelter, or take strolls along elevated catwalks. It takes hours of work a week to keep up with their needs.
One way Highlanders can help, Kerr said, is to donate coolers.
Kerr will turn them into single-home dwellings, that residents can put outside to help keep stray cats alive during the deep freeze. There’s always a need for adoptees too. Kerr expects an influx of cats due to one of the only other shelters in the Highlands being forced to shut its doors to new cats. Cats of Paint Lake’s property is likely to be sold.
Operator Heather Deveaux said the non-profit is in a “holding pattern.” The organization’s board will decide what the future could look like at an upcoming board meeting. “I kind of feel guilty because I’ve had to sort of step back when I know the need is so great,” Deveaux said. “But on the other hand, on a personal level, it’s gruelling. It’s exhausting. It’s heartbreaking.”
She said running a shelter, especially a small volunteer effort like Cats of Paint Lake, means no days off and lots of late-night animal hospital visits, long drives and sad moments with sick animals.
While she can’t accept new cats, her phone is still ringing. “I still get phone calls whether it’s from other rescues or from people who’ve seen animals in the community or people who need to surrender their animals,” she said. “What we are doing still is networking because we spent a lot of time connecting with other rescues.”
Deveaux urged Highlanders to consider getting stray cats spayed or neutered, a service many veterinarians will conduct on stray cats for lower rates. She said Cats of Paint Lake was in the process of writing grants that might have funded low-cost spay and neuter pop-up services in the Highlands. “That’s one of the big reasons that people don’t spay and neuter is that it’s extremely expensive,” she said.
While feral cats are more likely to multiply on their own, they aren’t the only animals seeing an increased need for shelter.
Kristyn Elyse, who operates Snowflake Meadows, a dog boarding, rescue and re-homing centre, told The Highlander in the summer that the need for dog foster families and adoptees has remained high. While she isn’t accepting new dogs at the time, this summer and spring she said she was experiencing an unprecedented demand for her services.
“Kennels are full, shelters are full, we are experiencing a severe foster shortage because fosters are volunteers: people. The same people that also want to travel and see their friends and family now that restrictions are lifted,” she said in an email.
She said she noticed a halt to the number of folks willing to act as foster homes for dogs, meaning she was at her limit with dogs at Snowflake Meadows. “I don’t think any rescue was prepared for the abrupt halt that occurred in March and came to a complete standstill in April. Ask any rescue and they will tell you they have never seen it like this,” she said. Both Kerr and Deveaux said they have numerous stories of Highlanders finding close friends in their new adoptions. Deveaux added that while she currently isn’t accepting cats, the Highlands’ support “blew her away.”
Once, she found out a cat’s surgery was crowdfunded while the veterinarian was operating. “People care about these animals, and it’s not their fault that they’re out there,” Deveaux said. “It’s irresponsible pet owners or sometimes [the animals] escape. Of course, if they escaped before they’ve been fixed, that’s a problem.”
To donate to Minden Cat Angels or find out more about their cats, visit Minden Cat Angels on Facebook.