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Cold snap sees Central Alberta cat rescues under pressure

Kitten found in St. Albert dumpster one of many abandoned or surrendered during the last few week.
1201 cats in cold sup CC
Lumi the eight-week-old kitten is now safe and warm in a Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS) foster home. SUPPLIED/Photo

An eight-week-old kitten is now getting the care she needs after being abandoned in a St. Albert garbage bin last week. 

Crystal Goudie, a foster home supervisor with the Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS), said the kitten — now named Lumi by her foster mom — was discovered by a neighbour on the morning of Jan. 5, when it was -28 C. 

“When we get calls like that we never know what we’re really going to find,” Goudie said. “To be honest, I was definitely expecting frostbite, but thankfully we were able to get this kitten warmed up before any of that happened.”

In addition to the weather, the cat had been abandoned on garbage day, Goudie said, meaning the timing was even more serendipitous. Goudie said the neighbour phoned the store Mr. Pets. Staff at the store then contacted SCARS to quickly match Lumi up with her new foster home. 

Amanda Annetts, a co-ordinator for SCARS who handles cat intake, said there are currently 205 animals in the organization’s care. Typically, SCARS gets 10 requests a day, Annetts said, adding that the volume has been high for the past two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

“Usually [people surrender their animals] because they are going back to work, or their life has changed, or financially they’re unable to care for them,” Annetts said. “Because of COVID-19 many of the animals haven’t been socialized in two years, so there is often also some sort of behavioural reason.”

Amid the cold snap, Edmonton’s Animal Care and Control Centre announced Jan. 3 they would no longer take in healthy animals due to staffing shortages brought on by illness. Instead, the centre asked residents to care for strays and licensed pets they come across.

Annetts said SCARS could see heightened demand as a result, noting this can make it especially tough to reunite lost animals with their owners. 

“If someone has lost a pet, and the pet is completely healthy, it's not like people can just hold on to these animals indefinitely,” Annetts said, adding that for this reason, microchipping is especially important to ensure there’s a way to contact the owner of a lost animal.

Being in animal rescue, Annetts said extreme weather can often feel like the "worst weeks of our lives."

"Because of the amount of calls and requests, it's just physically impossible to keep up with the entire Alberta community," Annetts said. 

When it comes to demand for intake in St. Albert, Annetts said SCARS gets a lot of requests to pick up animals on the outskirts of the city.

“A couple on a farm will phone in, for example, and say that someone has dumped a litter of cats on their lawn,” Annetts said, noting Edmonton typically has more options for people who discover abandoned pets. “At least with Edmonton a month ago, they could just rally up the animals and bring them into [the animal care and control centre] and they would take care of it.”

St. Albert city council previously explored options for a cat bylaw in 2020, but ultimately voted against implementing the two options brought forward by administration. 

Both options included a cat licensing program, with the cheaper three-year price tag of $71,711 requiring residents to procure their own traps and take responsibility for moving cats to a kennel. 

A pricier option — projected to cost $457,700 over three years — would have been more traditional, with cat traps provided to residents and bylaw officers transporting the animals to a kennel. 

Now, with demand levels for animal intake reaching extreme heights, Annetts said it’s especially important for the rescue community to come together to fill the gaps presented by a lack of shelter. 

“It’s the only way we’re all going to get through this,” Annetts said. “It’s really nice to have other rescue support, and other rescues that are doing the same thing day in and day out.”

Virgina Dobson, president of Little Cats Lost, an organization that rescues, rehabilitates, and rehomes cats in the Edmonton area, including St. Albert, said Lumi’s story is unfortunately not an uncommon one. 

“It was only a few weeks ago that we pulled a four-month-old kitten with a hernia the size of a tangerine out of a snowbank northwest of [the Town of] Devon,” Dobson said. 

Dobson said those looking to volunteer shouldn’t be shy to reach out. 

“Not everyone is able to or wants to foster,” Dobson said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not other ways for someone interested to help out, whether it's with knowledge or resources. Everything helps to take a bit of the stress off of people who are a bit over-volunteered right now.”

Stefanie Orazietti, a foster with Little Cats Lost, has volunteered with the organization for the past couple of years. 

“When I started out, I didn’t have cats, or any tools or supplies, or know what I needed to do,” Orazietti said. “Little Cats Lost set me up with everything.”

Since signing up to foster and learning the ropes, Orazietti said she has seen quite a few cats soften under her care as they begin to feel more comfortable in a home setting. 

Orazietti has chosen to foster older cats, as opposed to kittens. She recalled a time when a cat came into her care after being on the euthanize list for its behaviour. 

“We received this picture and this cat looked completely feral and wild, but he ended up being one of my favourite cats to foster,” Orazietti said, arguing people often “don’t see the amazingness” of cats that might be terrified due to past experiences. 

“That’s why foster homes are so important, versus putting cats in cages,” Orazietti said. “You can see their true abilities and how much these cats have to offer when they’re in a home.”

Orazietti said seeing her nine-year-old daughter interact with the cats she fosters has been a particularly rewarding experience. 

“She gives them lots of patience, and will just sit in a room, and be with the cat,” Orazietti said. “Over days and weeks, she will get the cat out of its scared state. She turns them into beautiful cats, and she does it all on her own.”

Similar to Little Cats Lost, Goudie said SCARS is also always looking for more volunteers. 

“Unfortunately, there’s going to be another Lumi,” Goudie said. “The good thing is, there’s also so many people willing to help out.”