Cats always seem to find Heather Defoe, the Cats of Paint Lake rescue, and when they do, they also find a new lease on life.
Dorset-based Rescue, which specializes in confronting feral cats, has helped more than 100 cats since it was officially established in January. They currently care for 47 cats, the largest they have ever had at one time, so they are looking to grow their team of volunteers so they can help as many cats as possible. Although the rescue is approaching its first anniversary, Deveaux and partner Kyal Smith have been helping the cats for years. It all started when a stray cat appeared in Smith’s cabin nearly four years ago.
“It was just a little furball under the deck with little green eyes peeking out at us,” Defoe said. “Finally, she came and sat there and put some ham on the floor and went from there.”
They named the new visitor MamaCat and after a year or two, she started bringing her kittens. They eventually found out that one of her cats was pregnant, and they left her with two mother cats and eight cats roaming around the property. That’s when they decided they needed to take action to help the cat colony.
“I started taking them to get sterilized or neutered and I realized that wasn’t really going to be sustainable in the long run. [or] Defoe said. “We created a GoFundMe Page And I thought, “Let’s just see, maybe we can get a little help from the people here because there’s a lot of strays, a lot of monster.” To our surprise and happiness, people began to contribute.”
Between the contributions of the community and the career changes caused by COVID, their small business has doubled and become a total rescue. Residents and local businesses started calling the rescue to report the cat sighting, so they set out to hunt as many cats as possible before winter weather hits. And soon after, the Cats of Paint Lake organization was born.
Taking cats from stray to friendly
The mission at Cats of Paint Lake is to rescue and help rehabilitate cats living outside, moving animals from wild animals to family pets. Rescue operation takes difficult cases from other rescues as well as accepting accidental surrender, but their main goal is to help the savages and vagabonds.
“We’re kind of focused on difficult cases,” Defoe said. “People who are challenging, a little brutal, people who have a sad story, but mostly we focus, especially at this time of year, on the stray and the savage because they are there and they are at risk of imminent murder.”
Stray cats are exposed to a variety of dangers while outdoors, including diseases, predators, changing weather, and starvation during the winter. Defoe said many rescues and even vets won’t handle feral cats, so she’s working with the Humane Society of North Bay to rehabilitate cats from Muskoka, Halliburton County, and beyond.
They have helped cats from Orillia, Barrie and Toronto and their team has reached out to people across the province and even outside Canada to advise on trapping and rehabilitating feral cats. Once cats enter the rescue process, they are met with warmth, safety, and comfort, which helps them begin their path to becoming domestic cats. Defoe said the volunteer team has a big part of that, and they love the work they do.
“They realize that the problem of stray and feral animals is out there, it is a problem created by man,” she said. “Cats didn’t ask to get lost, left outside, tossed outside, left out or bred outside for this, and so it’s going to take all of us to fix it. I have people who come in here and they are amazing with them and every cat responds to different people, so it’s great To have more and more of them on board.”
Find volunteers of all ages and abilities
They have about eight to 10 regular employees plus a few dozen seasonal and scattered volunteers, so they hope to get more people to cover the daily shifts at the rescue. The facility is a low-odor, temperature-controlled environment with heated floors, air purifiers and other features to keep both people and pets comfortable and safe, so some of the most common tasks are basic cleaning and feeding tasks.
“It’s not just about cleaning and feeding, it’s also interacting with and getting to know those animals, and that’s part of the socialization process,” Defoe said. “When you open their space and you go in there, that takes people who are, first and foremost, fearless, and really love cats.”
In addition to the rescue shifts, they can also use people who can help with driving, baiting, social media, photography and video, fundraising, and more. Some volunteers even sew toys, beds and other items for the cats. The rescue was attended by volunteers as young as five years old and 91 years old, so all ages and abilities are welcome.
For locals who have extra space in their homes, becoming a sitter is a great way to support rescue efforts. Due to the size of their facility, the rescue operation is limited to the number of foster families they have. Defoe said the more sponsors they have, the more cats they can help, but it’s important that they run the numbers and ensure they have enough resources to care for each intake.
“I call it finishing school, so a lot of the time, we’ve done a lot of heavy lifting to get the wildebeest out of the wilderness into an ‘I’m about to’ mode [house] Cat,” she said. “Once they get to that point, they need to learn how to live in a house and we can simulate that as much as we want, but we will never be able to let them learn how to live in a house unless they go live in a house.”
A little goes a long way
For people who don’t have time to volunteer, there are still many ways to help. With the exception of a small grant from Haliburton County Development Corporation, the rescue is done entirely on donations. Financial contributions as well as donations such as trash bags, old newspapers, food plates and disinfectant wipes make a huge difference in their daily operations.
Even commenting or sharing on their growing social media pages can help. They have accounts on Facebook social networking siteAnd Instagram And Youtube, but the most popular platform is tik tok With over 20,000 followers and around 275,000 likes. Following them online helps build awareness and bring in donations, and they hope their increased presence will lead to sponsorships or partnerships with pet brands.
Rescue work can’t be done without volunteers, donors, and other supporters, so no matter what kind of help locals can provide to the Cats of Paint Lake, every part goes toward bringing cats from stray to friendly.
“When you see the shift, they don’t all have to go out of the house,” Defoe said. “They are wild things because of the necessity of survival, but at their core they are just cats and you can sometimes help them find that again.”
To volunteer with the Cats of Paint Lake, or to make a donation, visit rescue site.