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Volunteer Profile: Animals are Kati DeGraaf’s lifelong love

Written by Kati DeGraaf, Volunteer

I have had a love for animals, both domestic and wild, for as long as I can remember. As a youngster I volunteered wherever I could to spend time with animals. My favourite courses in school were always biology and genetics. During my later teen years, I was fortunate to work at a kennel that bred a few breeds of show dogs, during which time I learned about breeding, blood lines, and showing dogs. I spent many years working with vets, learning emergency animal care, basic medical procedures, and assisted in various types of surgeries.

I have worked with all kinds of critters including tarantulas, (not my favourite), reptiles, birds, dogs and, of course, cats. Many years ago, I ran a government parrot quarantine in our home. Just imagine up to 100 parrots of various species, for 45 days at a time, alerting you when the sun is rising and setting!

I started volunteering at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary approximately eight or nine years ago. I worked Friday mornings in the double-wide and back deck. It was a fantastic experience to spend the time with cats of many different backgrounds. It is a very special time when a feral cat starts to trust humans and gets adopted to a forever home. All of the staff and volunteers there are awesome and had something to teach from their experiences. Sadly, I had to stop volunteering at the Sanctuary approximately two years ago due to a back injury.

In May of 2013, I started to foster pregnant cats, mums with kittens, and orphan kittens in my home. My first fosters were a tiny brother and sister who were rescued and brought to the RAPS Shelter. They did not yet have their eyes open, and were very cold and hungry. They required constant monitoring and bottle feeding every two hours. They grew to be very strong kittens and, after eight weeks of fostering them, I returned them to the RAPS Shelter, where they were quickly adopted to their forever homes.

I have fostered an average of six litters a year since then. Some are mums that have been rescued with their young babies, many litters have been born here, and I have had numerous orphans to bottle feed.

I remember one time I had three mums here, 14 kittens between them, and three orphans! The nursery was full! People laugh when they come over and there are orphans here, as I keep the them on the dining room table where they are close for monitoring and bottle feeding.

I have so many wonderful memories it is very hard to pick a favourite. One of my favourites would be a beautiful mum named Charlie who came in pregnant. Two sisters brought her in from their parents’ farm when they realized that she was pregnant and they didn’t know how to look after her.

Charlie was a bit feral when she arrived, but left as a very happy and trusting cat. When she went into labour, she only wanted to lay on my arm. Every time a kitten was born she would open the sack around it’s face and then place it in my hand. I would have to cut the cord and dry the little munchkin off.

She did this with each of the kittens as they were born! Charlie was an awesome mum. The two sisters paid for Charlie’s care, spaying, etc., and when Charlie was ready to go home they took her back to be an indoor-only cat.

I love bottle feeding, even though it is a very time-consuming job. It is very heartwarming when the littles open their eyes for the first time, and when they put their tiny paws on your face and nuzzle into your neck.

I am often asked how can I give them up when they are old enough to go back to RAPS for adoption. My answer is easy – I have nurtured, loved, and sometimes spent many days and nights with them bottle feeding, re-heating heat pads, sitting with mums while they are delivering, etc. I feel that in that time I have accomplished everything that I can to prepare them for their forever homes, which is my goal! Yes, it can be a sad goodbye, but also a great feeling of pride for me.

Also, if I kept them all it would give a whole new meaning of a “crazy cat lady”!

I have great respect and admiration for the countless hours other volunteers and staff put in to ensure the health and safety of all the animals in their care. And if it were not for the numerous hours, generally at night, that volunteers go out to trap these vulnerable lives and bring them in off the streets so that they can be safe, get access to medical care, food, warmth, and a happy forever life, the endings to all of our stories would not be filled with such success.

In finishing, our permanent zoo consists of two cats and three pugs.