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Saving animals means working together: A testament to the difference a small group of people can make in the lives of animals.

A holiday reflection

Saving animals means working together: A testament to the difference a small group of people can make in the lives of animals.

Like every animal rescue organization, RAPS began with a few deeply dedicated people taking responsibility for animals in their community. Begun 25 years ago, RAPS has grown into one of Canada’s largest and most innovative animal-serving organizations, but our grassroots heritage still guides everything we do.

One advantage of growing as we have is that we have the resources that some agencies do not. Since 2018, this has included the RAPS Animal Hospital. We are also celebrating two decades of operating the RAPS Cat Sanctuary. Together, these two invaluable assets allow us to save and improve the lives of so many animals who might otherwise face euthanasia or lives of misery and neglect.

As we mark the holiday season in a year of challenges, we want to share a story of silver linings.

On a patch of farmland in the Kamloops area lives a man with a big heart for animals. Sadly, he suffers cognitive challenges and, while he wants to help cats and kittens, he has gone about it in ways that are actually detrimental.

For years, a small group of individuals have checked up on the man – and the cats and kittens that have developed a colony on his property.

Valerie Wilson, who is now assistant manager of the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, formerly worked for the SPCA in Kamloops. It was in that capacity that she first encountered the colony in 2015.

“One of the cruelty officers called me and said you need to come out here,” Valerie recalled recently. “I drove out there and there were cats everywhere. There was also garbage, bread, lots of expired food items like juices, yogurt and granola bars littered all over the place. Unfortunately, there were also dead kittens everywhere.”

Cats, and especially kittens, need specific diets to stay healthy. The man thought he was being helpful by feeding them bread and other items discarded from grocery stores.

“I think I came home with nine kittens that day,” she recalled of her first expedition about five years ago. “Some of them in very, very bad shape – one that didn’t we didn’t think would make it. It did, actually, but it was malnourished. Others were deformed kittens with these little bent legs.”

“I managed to get 98 cats in 30 days,” she said of one operation. Many were feral, but even more would settle down after they realized that humans were not all bad – delivering food and giving them safe, warm homes.

Not all organizations are no-kill agencies like RAPS, and so many of the more difficult or disabled cats were not given the chance at a good life.

It is not entirely clear how long the man had been attracting and feeding the cats, but one of Valerie’s friends has a cat she rescued from that farm as a kitten 15 years ago, so that gives some hint of the timeframe.

“Over the next few months, I trapped here and there, but, unlike RAPS, the SPCA had limits on how many they would take,” she recalled. “Then, in 2016, I ended up moving down to Vancouver and I left the SPCA.”

But Valerie was still concerned about the cats and she returned to the farm. In conjunction with the RAPS Cat Sanctuary and other organizations, Valerie began a comprehensive trapping campaign. Many of the cats had upper respiratory infections, which needed to be addressed. Others had a range of issues, including many with physical disabilities. Most, if not all, were undernourished or malnourished. Many animal organizations claim that they do not euthanize “healthy animals,” which means many of the cats with these types of ailments not have been deemed healthy and would likely have been put down.

With two friends, Valerie started a rescue called Sammy’s Forgotten Felines in October of 2019 and, with the assistance of other rescues, started trapping. The RAPS Cat Sanctuary welcomed a few cats, then a few more and so on. Sammy’s Forgotten Felines is still busy helping homeless cats in Kamloops.

In addition to those who came to RAPS, the rescued cats were moved to a number of facilities and homes throughout the province. Of those who came to RAPS, a few were surprisingly amenable to human interaction and were transferred to the RAPS Animal Shelter, where they were adopted into forever homes. Others have met similar happy endings around British Columbia.

Almost all of the cats and kittens who were trapped last year are now in family homes. There are – finally – no cats left at the farm.To think of the challenging situation these cats faced – probably 150 of them at their peak – to the situations they now find themselves in makes Valerie very happy.

“Where they are now from where they were then — they were being picked off by coyotes and bears and cougars, they had no heat or shelter – they have a better life now,” she says.

The RAPS Cat Sanctuary has always been a destination for cats who faced euthanasia in other jurisdictions. In recent years, while RAPS was operating the City of Richmond Animal Shelter, that facility was understandably limited to animals who originated from the immediate community. RAPS is the only organization in the province that can transfer unadoptable cats to our own sanctuary – providing the highest no-kill services in BC.

As RAPS winds down our contract with the city, we look forward to opening a new RAPS Dog Sanctuary and, eventually, a whole new, independent RAPS Animal Shelter. This will free us from the geographic limitations we have faced in the past and allow us to more thoroughly fulfill our mission and promise to our members to save and improve the lives of as many animals as possible.

We believe that where an animal lives should not determine whether an animal lives. As we leave behind the challenging year 2020 and look forward to a brighter 2021, we enthusiastically envision more partnerships like the ones in this story, in which we have been able to save lives alongside agencies throughout B.C..

To Valerie, her friends, to the staff and volunteers at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, all the agencies and people involved in this rescue – and every human working to improve the lives of animals – we say THANK YOU, happy holidays and may 2021 be our greatest year yet!

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