Overwhelmed pet rescues say pets not ideal Christmas gifts

Charm is a recently rescued cat who is available for adoption through Fixing our Felines, so take Charm into your own heart, not somebody else’s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expositor published Part I of our story on pet rescue burnout in November. In this conclusion, three other Manitoulin-based pet rescue organizations talk about the overwhelming number of pets surrendered or abandoned, while one group shares fears about pets as gifts.

by Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

MANITOULIN—The need for pet rescue operations on Manitoulin Island is not a new one. While much of the recent onslaught can be traced to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is volunteers have been rescuing, caring for and rehoming unwanted cats and dogs since at least the early 2000s.

“Isn’t that horrendous, that there are so many pet rescues on this Island and we’re all overwhelmed?” asked Colleen Castleton of Fixing our Felines in Manitowaning. She explained how last December, a lady delivering food hampers had close to 30 cats come out of the bush at just one property. The property owner told the woman to take whichever ones she wanted, with the exception of one cat because “he wanted her to still have kittens.” They were able to trap seven kittens on three visits. Two of those went to Fixing our Felines in January. Ms. Castleton had Isobel and Cynthia for 10 months before they found their forever home.

“I had three hours of no cats,” she told The Expositor. “Three hours.”

Within a three-day span, Ms. Castleton had another seven kittens and two moms in her care. A lack of fosters means a limit on how many she can rescue. “That’s the worst thing about the rescue: no fosters,” she said. “Fosters just need to open their home but the problem is, most of them are afraid they’re going to fail. They don’t want another cat or another dog. It’s the hardest thing you’re going to do.”

She cried when Cynthia and Isobel left her care. It was both tears of joy and sadness. “I do understand when people don’t want to foster,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the money or anything. We provide the food. It’s just that they don’t think they’ll be able to give them up at the end. It’s really hard.”

Ms. Castleton said some people expect her to respond immediately and that’s not always possible. One lady called about a cat and said she wanted it gone right away because it was feral. “You can’t just expect us to stop everything and pick up three or five feral cats,” she said.

The cancellation of the spay/neuter clinics held in Wiikwemkoong since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely had an impact, Ms. Castleton said. The clinics are coordinated by Jean Flamand through the Welland and District SPCA mobile clinic. Lately, Ms. Flamand has been taking cats to the SPCA in Sudbury on a weekly basis. This week she transported three cats, 13 kittens and one dog to Sudbury.

Deb Colville said she doesn’t know if the current numbers are unprecedented. She’s been running Pet Save Manitoulin since 2010 and volunteered for Pet Save Sudbury as a foster shelter and fundraiser for nine years before that. “In 2010, we were able to fundraise from Island donors and pay for three spay and/or neuters per week,” she said.

Along with her son, Ms. Colville rehabilitated feral cats from Manitoulin, North Bay and the Sudbury area. They set up Pet Save Manitoulin on the advice of their shelter vet, Dr. P.J. Rocheleau from the Espanola Animal Hospital. “He trained us in shelter management, especially the financial aspect of it, at that time,” she said. “We helped to train and set up other rescues here after that. Colleen’s group (Fixing our Felines) was the first we helped.”

At that time, dogs were being abandoned on roadsides due to medical conditions such as blindness and cancer, and cats and kittens were being dumped on holidays in great numbers, Ms. Colville told The Expositor. Mid-August, Labour Day weekend and the last week in February seemed to be the prime dumping times for felines. “We took in 10 felines in one week in February about nine years ago,” she said.

Manitoulin Pet Save is a ‘no kill’ shelter. “Shelters like this fill up with unadoptable pets due to medical or behavioural issues or both,” said Ms. Colville. She hasn’t taken in any new animals since December, when she took in an unadoptable cat from Fixing our Felines as a long-term resident. She only has ‘unadoptables’ living at her home currently but hopes to take in new cats once her long-time feline residents move on.

Bleu Fisher is seeing “breeding and breeding and breeding” of cats, she said. “There are cats and kittens everywhere. For whatever reasons, some people think it’s healthier for a dog or cat to have a litter or two. It’s not.”

Ms. Fisher runs Rainbow Rescue with help from partner Kimberly Beites. She’s a familiar name in Island animal welfare, having been at this work for more than 10 years. What discourages her the most, she said, is it’s often the same people surrendering unwanted litters.

When asked if there’s a solution for this, Ms. Fisher replied, “I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t think it’s going to change. It’s sad that we have to tell people how to be responsible pet owners.”

She’s seeing a lot of unwanted older dogs, that can be hard to adopt out, and abandoned cats and kittens, often sick or injured. A lot of injured animals are thrown out, dumped with no food or water either at the dump or on the side of the road, she said. Last week, Ms. Fisher picked up seven puppies and the mom the next day. The pups will be going to Chelmsford but she was waiting on room at that rescue and the puppies were sick, so Ms. Fisher had to keep them for a few days.

“The Island’s always been a mess,” she said. On a good day, she’ll receive eight to 10 calls. She doesn’t use fosters. She has a large property and does most of the fostering and care herself, with help from Ms. Beites.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Ms. Fisher. “The cost of helping is overwhelming.”

Christmas time brings additional concerns to rescue groups. “We often like to go into Christmas with as few intakes as possible, because we like to be ready for the New year and winter with any animals in need,” said Carly Valiente, dog intake coordinator for Manitoulin Pet Rescue. “As much as I want our animals to have their forever homes for the holidays, I am very strict when adopting out around this time of year to avoid the animal being adopted ‘as a gift’ for someone.”

Dogs and cats require 15 to 20 year commitments and come with financial and other responsibilities. “They cannot be thrown away like a material gift,” Ms. Valiente said. “I try to avoid that as best as possible.”