Annex Cat Rescue is a 100% volunteer charity dedicated to addressing the plight of homeless cats in the Greater Toronto Area by:
- Humanely trapping homeless kittens and abandoned or stray adult cats for placement in our foster and adoption program;
- Feeding and providing medical care for feral cats in designated colonies;
- Curbing population growth in those colonies through trapping, spaying/neutering, and vaccinating;
- Educating the public on the compassionate treatment of homeless cats and responsible pet ownership; and
- Improving urban environments through community cooperation.
- Happy Tails: Maddison and Marshall
Marina, her husband and her younger son were thinking about adopting a cat.
Initially, they wanted to adopt one cat. They had heard that the ACR was a wonderful organization and went on our website to browse. They came across Maddison first, read her profile and thought that she might be a good fit for their family.
They visited Maddy at her foster mom’s home and there, they saw Marshall. The brother-sister duo was adorable together and Marina did not have the heart to separate the two of them. Marina’s older son, who lives in Ottawa, owns three cats. They thought they could handle two.
“If you get one, you might as well get two.”
Marina brought the pair home last January. At first, she kept them in their own separate room designated as “the cat room”. Slowly, Maddy and Marshall began exploring their new home. And they have transformed into active and opinionated members of the household.
“They have their own minds,” Marina explained to me over the phone. “Maddy is laid-back, a creature of comfort.” Like the lady she is, Maddy loves closets because she loves being with the shoes. She is a picky eater.
Both cats like their food prepared in a certain way. Marina’s response is that she cooks for them! She feeds Maddy and Marshall dry food but also makes recipes she gets from her vet. The duo is not a fan of canned food but loves Marina’s cooking.
If Marina or her family members do not keep an eye on Maddy, she will eat Marshall’s portion. “She is going to finish everything!”
Marshall likes to walk around the home. He likes to know that his litter is clean and has a strict open door policy. He wants every door including all the closets in the house to be open. Marina and her family abides (except they keep their front door and the basement door closed). If a door is not open, Marshall will knock on the door!
Sister and brother share a cat-condo but otherwise are not into climbing. Marina believes that this is a good trait since they are not destructive. This past Christmas, Marina and her family put up a nicely decorated tree and Maddy and Marshall quietly sat underneath it.
Marina’s family recently adopted a dog, Alia, whose foster mom also owned a cat. It was important to Marina that the dog she rescued got along well with cats.
Marina made sure that the meeting between her cats and dog happened at their own pace. Marina describes Alia as an incredibly gentle dog. Maddy and Marshall are quite curious about her as they’ve never had the experience to live with a doggie sister before. Often, Marina finds them venturing downstairs to take little glances at Alia.
Marina knows that it can take a few weeks for furry companions to get acquainted. She believes that it is completely doable to have a cat (or two) and adopt a dog or vice versa as long as the owner knows his or her pets and is familiar with the animals’ temperaments. “Be very patient for a few weeks before introducing the pets to each other,” Marina advises.
Maddy and Marshall are delightful and affectionate creatures that have entered Marina’s life. Marina urges anyone with the ability to share his or her home with other lovely animals in need of a home to do so.
“If you treat them with respect, feed them well, and make sure that they are healthy, then there is no reason to be unhappy.”
— Yin Cai
- A Day in the Life of a Cat Colony Caretaker
Caring for homeless cats is the best job in the world and the worst job in the world. And at Annex Cat Rescue – which daily provides food, shelter and medical oversight for 14 cat colonies citywide – it’s a testament to Toronto’s urgent need to address this awful but ultimately solvable problem once and for all.
No one really knows the exact number of homeless cats out there. In Toronto, estimates vary between 50,000 and a staggering 100,000 which many experts believe is a conservative guess even at the high end.
What is known for sure is that these gentle creatures, which should be companion animals living indoors and away from traffic, wildlife, harsh weather and the constant threat of starvation, are many in number and among the most vulnerable in our midst.
Indeed, every day in every corner of the continent, an army of volunteers – some organized, some simply responding to strays that arrive in the backyard one day – set out bowls of water and plates of food in an effort to strike at least one peril from the daily list of dangers common to homeless cats.
I am one of those volunteers.
Like many people, I got involved with helping cats by accident. A story I had written about charities led me to Annex Cat Rescue (ACR), a completely volunteer organization dedicated to easing the plight of homeless cats through diligent, ongoing care and adoptions wherever possible. I was so impressed with the scope and effectiveness of the work they did that, after the piece ran, I volunteered to do some writing.
That put me in the email mix, which soon led to a plea for a new colony feeder in an area near where I practice yoga. So, I signed up… unsure of what I was taking on.
Feeding homeless cats in a colony is humbling, heart-breaking and rewarding in about equal measure. No one does it casually. It’s awful in winter and when it’s pouring rain. But as bad as it is for feeders trying to pry the lids off of cat food cans with frozen fingers, it’s worse for the felines venturing into snow up to their bellies for a once-daily meal before the raccoons descend.
At the colony near my yoga studio, four cats live in a backyard where special straw-filled shelters have been set up by a kindly home owner to keep them from freezing to death in winter. These shelters are also made by volunteers and distributed free or very cheaply to encourage tolerant property owners to use them.
Because the home owner doesn’t want us in the yard, we seven feeders – one for each day of the week – must kneel down and feed the cats through a hole in the fence. Wet and dry food is set out on cardboard plates (easier to clean up) and fresh water is added to empty yogurt containers trucked along for that purpose.
Without hesitation, two cats – Baby and Bandit – are first to the hole, popping their heads out to take pets and playfully swatting at our hands as we scoop out the food while their cagier comrades hang back.
It’s not known how these cats came to be living in this way; the back stories of all homeless cats are mysteries. Homeless cats that are comfortable with human touch are presumed to have once been owned but were lost or abandoned while feral cats – those born outside before volunteers could trap and spay/neuter their parents – will often never allow touch even after years of being fed by the same volunteers.
In addition to daily feeding, colony caretakers monitor for signs of physical illness and dental distress, with charities like ACR footing the vet bills when the cats are captured, which is much harder to do than it sounds. These are wary beings. Also smart, and not easily lured unless they are very hungry.
The outcomes of capture are sometimes happy and sometimes not. The above-mentioned colony used to have five cats but we caretakers noticed that Elmo had weepy and glued-shut eyes – a potential sign of upper respiratory infection which desperately needed veterinary care. An experienced volunteer trapper (miraculously) captured Elmo through the fence and took him to the vet.
It’s unclear how much longer he would have lived outdoors. But Elmo, suffering from severe dehydration, feline AIDS (very common in ferals), anaemia and a horrific flea infestation in addition to the URI, went into cardiac arrest and died within days of being admitted to hospital.
When news of poor, gentle Elmo’s death spread among the caretakers, we wept. I am crying now as I type this. Like I said, no one does this work casually. It very often hurts.
We have successes, too. When our cats receive care in clinics, we sometimes discover they are receptive to handling and we’re able to transition them first into foster homes and then into forever homes. Of course, a shortage of foster and socialization homes is a constant problem.
Like I said, caring for homeless cats is the best and worst job in the world. And I speak for all cat rescue groups when I say we desperately want to be put out of business.
People must start regarding cats as they do dogs – like members of the family, not property that is surrendered to shelters or (ugh) just turned loose if behavioural problems emerge or they simply become inconvenient. And cats must, absolutely must, be spayed and neutered even if owners never intend their cats to go outside… because sometimes they get lost anyway.
We know, because we see them every day.
— Kim Hughes
(Photos: Top, group: Sara Slater; Bandit – Kim Hughes; Elmo – Sara Slater )
- Featured Cat: Smokey
Smokey was rescued after being found abandoned in an apartment when his human passed away. Despite his past trauma, Smokey is an affectionate and loving cat, looking for his forever home! He’s 5 years old, neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. He would do best in a home where he is the only pet. For more information on Smokey, please visit his profile.
Smokey was recently featured on CityNews “Fall in Love Friday”.
- The happy truth about FIV+ cats (hint: they’re totally adoptable)
He might not relish the role but eight-year old Winston could be the global ambassador for FIV+ cats.
That’s because Winston is both a classic example of how most cats come to be infected with the immune deficiency virus and, more importantly, a persuasive example of just how manageable – normal, really – life with an FIV+ cat can be both for its human caregivers and for any potential feline flatmates.
Winston’s story is a handy testimonial for anyone who may encounter an FIV+ cat candidate in an adoption search.
“Winston is very playful and has a lot of energy,” confirms foster Mom Alexandra Cioppa, who grew up with another cat, Baltimore, which was also FIV+. She continues: “Winston is always hungry – he loves to eat. He is super-loving.”
Once homeless, Winston doubtless became infected with FIV via a deep bite wound that occurred during a fight with another male cat over turf or food. FIV almost always presents in males, and transmission is almost always through intense fighting.
FIV – which stands for feline immunodeficiency virus, just as HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus – can be transmitted sexually in cats and through improperly screened blood transfusions. But according to experts, it’s rare. Mother cats cannot readily infect their kittens except in the initial stages of her infection.
Casual contact such as sharing food bowls, grooming or snuggling is unlikely to transmit the virus. Meaning that unless indoor cats have screaming brawls where blood is drawn, FIV negative cats sharing a home with an FIV+ cat won’t contract the virus.
Indeed, veterinarian Dr. Vlad Stefanescu of Toronto’s Yonge-Davenport Pet Hospital says adopting an FIV+ cat and integrating it into a multi-cat household is something he endorses, albeit with a few caveats.
“The only real considerations for FIV+ cat adoption are slightly more frequent vet visits, keeping the cats indoors and avoidance of a raw diet,” he says.
That’s because uncooked foods, meats especially, can include parasites and pathogens that a cat with a normal immune system might be able to handle but an FIV+ cat might not. Leave the fad diets to Gwyneth Paltrow and stick to regular cat food, says Dr. Stefanescu.
All cats should be kept indoors. However, owners of FIV+ cats have a particular obligation to keep their pets away from homeless cats in their community to help contain the virus. As for more frequent vet visits – recommended twice a year for FIV+ cats versus once-annually for non-geriatric FIV negative cats – that’s mainly because “Dental is also a big thing with these guys,” Dr. Stefanescu says.
“They suffer stomatitis [a severe, painful inflammation of a cat’s mouth and gums that can cause ulcers to form]. Some FIV cats just have bad teeth and need a full mouth extraction. The majority of FIV cats need regular dental work.”
Plus, regular vet visits allow owners and vets to monitor small changes such as weight loss that might be more significant in an FIV+ cat. Vaccinations, meanwhile, should be maintained for FIV+ cats just as they are for other cats.
Humans cannot be infected with FIV; FIV is a cats-only infection. Dr. Stefanescu pegs the prevalence of FIV among owned cats at about five percent. “Leukaemia (FeLV) is actually more common,” he says, adding that he has never treated a cat that contracted FIV from another cat in a domestic situation.
Adds Alexandra Cioppa, “FIV has never been an issue with Winston and it wasn’t with my cat Baltimore either. I don’t remember exactly how old Baltimore was when he passed away but he had quite a long life.”
So the takeaway for prospective cat adopters: don’t shy away from an FIV+ cat.
If you are adopting a cat directly from the street, be sure to have the cat tested while he (or she) is at the vet being spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and typically readied for a new life indoors. Remember that cats with FIV do not always appear sick. In the early stages of the disease, many cats show few signs, so the only way to know for sure if they are infected is through a simple blood test.
Should an FIV+ positive cat catch you eye on ACR’s adoption listings, don’t reject the cat in knee-jerk fashion. You can’t catch FIV, your other cats probably won’t either, and you’ll be giving a forever home to a lovely fella who will reward you daily with purrs and cuddles.
Just ask Winston.
— Kim Hughes
Update: Winston was adopted!
- Saluting Fay Neuber 1959-2015: Daughter, sister, aunt, friend and ACR volunteer
A quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi goes, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” That same maxim also applies to individuals, and by that measure, Fay Neuber was a sterling example of moral progress where cats were concerned.
A dedicated, long-time volunteer colony cat feeder with Annex Cat Rescue throughout the 1990s and much of the aughts, Neuber – who died last December after a lengthy battle with cancer at age 56 – had a devotion to cats that was boundless.
Indeed, Neuber almost miraculously met friend and fellow ACR volunteer Liz Cabral shortly after she was diagnosed in early 2015 while Cabral was coincidentally trying to locate some feral cats near Neuber’s home in rural Ontario, where Neuber had recently moved after two decades in Toronto.
“It was like divine intervention,” sister Kelly Neuber confirms, “because at that point Fay wasn’t going outside much. But she just happened to walk outside at that very moment.”
“I saw this lady and asked if she knew anything about stray cats,” Cabral recalls. She did. And with Cabral’s help, four ferals Neuber had been tending despite her advancing illness – Trixie, Pixie, Jackie and Danny – were eventually taken into care as were Momma, Manny, Tara and Jessie, Neuber’s owned cats.
“Fay would always refer to cats as her ‘little loves,’” says Cabral, who Neuber referred to as her “cat angel.”
“When Fay was in hospital last fall, I went over to her place to get her cats. Manny was frightened so I had to call Fay and she called out to him, ‘Manny my love’. She said that for about a minute and he calmed down enough for me to get him in a carrier.”
Says Kelly Neuber, “Fay always talked about Annex Cat Rescue being a grassroots organization, which was really important to her.” (Fay Neuber’s family asked friends to make donations to ACR in her memory).
“Even when she had moved to the country,” Kelly Neuber continues, “she was so devoted to feral cats. And she stayed in touch with ACR and would occasionally reach out for help with trapping [for TNR].”
“Fay was like a long-lost sister to me. She had such a loving heart,” adds Cabral. “She thought cats were such unique creatures. And they gave such unconditional love.”
And so did Fay Neuber, to the very end.
— Kim Hughes
- Happy Tails: Uma
It was clear that Uma was a special cat from the second Sarah and Jenna started talking about her.
Uma was rescued as a kitten by ACR, so her disposition with humans has always been friendly and required very little work in terms of the typical process of assimilating feral cats.
Jenna, a seasoned fosterer, says Uma was one of her favorite fosters. “She was amazing – she walked in on day one and owned this place!” Jenna’s cats at the time, Randy and Odus had no trouble welcoming Uma into their home. Uma, at 7 months, was a baby compared to Jenna’s cats. She quickly took to grooming them like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Jenna has been fostering cats for years. When asked about the process and what she would recommend to a new foster parent, she spoke of the fear that many people have. Those with animals and children are particularly worried about the unpredictability of the process. “99% of the time, there are no problems with fostering cats and it’s very rewarding; it’s also a great way to test out owning a cat if you’re thinking of adopting.”
Jenna describes Uma as a true partner, and knew that she needed to be adopted into a home with other cats to be happy. So, it seemed only fitting that Uma ended up with Sarah.
Sarah had lost one of her cats a few months previous and her cat, Hugh, was clearly very lonely. When Sarah read Jenna’s description of Uma on the ACR website, talking about how friendly and snuggly she was, she knew she had to check her out.
Sarah spoke about what an easy transition it was to bring Uma home, and how Uma and Hugh instantly took to each other, sleeping together and keeping each other company constantly.
Uma remains her vibrant and unique self. She lures her “neighbourhood boyfriends” to the window during the day and “chirps” instead of meowing to get her point across. Uma is also a huge lover of water. Having discovered a leaking faucet in one of the bathtubs, she loves to sit under it until she’s completely soaked.
Sarah recommends previous and new adopters to take their time when meeting a new cat, and make sure that they are a good fit for their home and other pets. Uma was the perfect fit for her new home and family.
Here she is wishing us all a happy holiday wearing her sparkly holiday dress!
— Kathy Ribeiro
- Happy Tails: Mittens and Snow (Now Cleo)
When Elliott Bay looked into Mittens’ exquisite blue eyes at an Annex Cat Rescue adopt-a-thon, he was charmed.The catch was that Mittens could only be adopted with his best friend Snow. Concerned that he wouldn’t be able to handle the demands of two cats, Elliott only planned to take one of them home.
Goh Iromoto is the cats’ former owner. Snow was completely emaciated when she turned up on his street. “She was most likely born and raised on the street as opposed to someone having lost or [abandoning] her,” Goh speculates. “Eventually I put out a bowl of food because I got the sense that she didn’t have a home.”
It wasn’t long before Goh and his girlfriend started fostering Snow. After a few weeks, when nobody was calling about her, they decided to take her in permanently. Snow became fast friends with Goh’s cat, Mittens.
“I definitely saw the value in having two cats versus one,” Goh says. He had to make the hard decision to put the cats up for adoption when he and his girlfriend split up. “Their bonding and their friendship is comforting to see.”
It was evident to ACR as well that Snow and Mittens would be happiest if they were kept together.
Elliott wasn’t only concerned about his ability to care for two cats. His home is also the head office for his business, Real Programming for Kids. At the time, he was considering hiring a new employee who had a severe cat allergy. Fortunately, Elliott had brought his friend, Annie, to the adopt-a-thon, who convinced him to choose the cats instead.
“How can you put an employee ahead of having cats?” she asked him.
“If it wasn’t for Annie’s aggression, I might have another employee now,” says Elliot, “but at this point in my life, I can’t imagine not having cats.”
These days, Mittens and Snow, who is now called Cleo, rule Elliott’s home office. Many of Elliott’s employees come from cat families and love having the cats around while they are working. Elliott believes that the cats calm the team and actually make them more productive. Elliott, like Goh, now sees the beauty in owning two cats.
“I think I overestimated the effort it would require to have two cats,” he says. “It’s not that much different from one, and in some ways it’s easier because they keep each other company – they’re either playing, stalking or cleaning each other.”
Elliott is thankful that he lucked out with two such gorgeous creatures and credits Goh for doing such a good job with them. He just has one lingering worry:
“I hope they don’t prevent me from socializing. It’s kind of like, who needs a girlfriend when I’ve got these cats? They’re just so good.”
— Leslie Sinclair
- Happy Tails: Peanut
Peanut’s story is one of those feel good stories that make the Annex Cat Rescue’s work worthwhile. Peanut was born to a colony and captured as a kitten with his sister Abby. The pair was seven months old when they were taken to an animal hospital, given their shots, and placed in foster homes.
Peanut ended up with Adriana, a first time fosterer with a cat of her own. Adriana was looking for volunteer opportunities online, and stumbled across ACR fostering postings on volunteertoronto.ca. After signing up and going through the screening process, Adriana was ready to begin fostering.
Peanut was her first assignment and he proved a perfect candidate for a first time foster. Staying with her only a few weeks, Peanut was very friendly from the get go, says Adriana. Peanut took to Adriana’s cat Millie as well, enjoying her company. However, Peanut’s presence caused a bit of jealously on Millie’s part, who was used to the sole attention of Adriana.
We often recommend that the foster process begins with the cat being isolated in a separate room, often a bathroom, until the cat gets used to the smell of his new environment. However, with Peanut’s young age and cheery disposition, Adriana’s attempts to isolate him proved unnecessary. Peanut was eager and willing to wander around the house, playing with Millie and exploring. Adrianna describes him as cuddly and energetic, jumping around all over the place.
Peanut was not with Adriana long. They spent a few weeks together before he found a permanent home, where he happily resides now. As Adriana will attest, fostering a cat like Peanut is a great way for volunteers to get involved in the community.
- Adopt a Senior Cat Promotion
Why adopt an adult cat?
When you adopt an adult cat, you know what you are getting. Their personalities are fully developed as are their body sizes and shapes. They are often up for adoption through no fault of their own; rather it is usually due to their previous owners’ issues: a new baby, allergies, and sometimes, sadly, illness or death. People who have adopted adult cats say they seem more grateful. perhaps it’s because they are chosen last.
- Report From the Field: Shelter-Building Workshop
We wondered what it would be like to help out at a Toronto Street Cats’ Shelter-Building Workshop. Yin, one of our writers, volunteered to go and find out. Here is her report.
I arrived shortly after 10 am for the first workshop of the season, which runs from November to April. Volunteers, around 20 of them, had already organized themselves into different stations in the parking garage of the Toronto Humane Society and were working away to construct feral cat shelters. The goal for the day: 100 shelters by 3 pm. Throughout the morning, volunteers continued to file in, young and old, from diverse backgrounds. There was even a pair of exchange students from Turkey who came to help out. By noon, workshop attendance had risen to over 60 volunteers.
When Toronto Street Cats first began these workshops in 2010, the organization had around 12 volunteers who made about a dozen or so shelters at each workshop. In the short span of five years, with the help of over 500 volunteers, TSC has built 3,222 shelters to date. The organization also holds spay and neuter clinics every month and it is looking to roll out its new initiative – putting together teams of volunteers who will actively solicit cat food donations to feed feral colonies. Anyone interested in helping should contact Toronto Street Cats.
During my conversation with organizers Carol and Kali, they generously shared with me some interesting facts on the supply and demand of these cat shelters.
TSC partners with companies such as The Home Depot, Canadian Tire, and Armtec to purchase building materials (i.e. bins, insulation, and piping). The shelters are sold at $15, to cover costs, to groups and individuals managing colonies or tending to one or two feral cats. The organization also gives a portion of the finished product to Toronto Animal Services and Animal Alliance of Canada. Shelters from the previous season have all been sold. Orders in preparation for this winter have already begun. To purchase a shelter, please place an order online.
Volunteers work in an assembly line fashion. Each station is responsible for a distinct component or step in the construction. They work under the supervision of Team Leads, who are essentially volunteer veterans. I had an opportunity to speak with Joy and Heather, both Team Leads, who have dedicated their time to these workshops for the past 3 years. Both possess an overwhelming passion to help the feral cat population in the community.
Jan, a first time volunteer, read about the workshop in the Toronto Humane Society’s newsletter. She loves cats and was motivated to help. Grade 10 students Henry, Harry, Fardin, and Tyler also wanted to contribute their efforts because of their love for animals.
As a result of all of the volunteers’ hard work, close to 140 shelters were completed that day.
If you are interested in learning more or volunteering with TSC to build feral cat shelters, please visit their website at http://torontostreetcats.com/shelter-building-workshops/. The next workshop is Saturday November 28.
— Yin Cai
Photos courtesy Toronto Street Cats