Longtime president reflects on decades of dedication – and the unexpected way she ended up in the animal rescue business!
RAPS is all about the animals. But everything we do is possible because of the humans who have devoted their lives to animal welfare.
There is no one in the organization today who has given so many years to building RAPS and, by extension, saving and improving the lives of animals, than Fearn Edmonds. The longtime president of RAPS, Fearn is also the individual with the deepest roots in the organization, having been a volunteer almost since the very beginning.
It began decades ago when she and husband Noel were walking in their Steveston neighbourhood and saw two black-and-white kittens crawling out of a dumpster. Having travelled in parts of the world where feral and stray cats are commonplace, they were shocked to find homeless cats in their neighbourhood.
“We didn’t know what to do, so I made some calls,” she recalls. A few referals later and Fearn met up with a woman named June who, with a couple of other deeply devoted women, was trapping cats and kittens around Richmond – especially around the B.C. Packers plant, where the scent of freshly processed fish was bringing all the kitties to the yard.
Fearn and Noel were shocked to find that Richmond was veritably crawling with abandoned, feral, stray and otherwise homeless cats.
June helped Fearn trap the two kittens – then told her there was no place for the kittens to go. The couple would have to home them until they could find a permanent home.
But wait … there’s more.
Women (and men) who care for animals can be quite indomitable in making sure that animals get the treatment they deserve. Having spotted a soft touch in Fearn, June told her that there were feeding stations around town which the small team drove around daily to refill. Fearn was “volun-told” and joined the group in driving around at night feeding the colonies of ferals.
There were adventures. The cops sometimes wanted to know what folks were doing skulking around wilderness and deserted industrial areas after dark.
At the time, these women’s dream was to create a sanctuary, so that these cats, who they would trap, spay/neuter and then release, could have a forever, safe home.
Trap/neuter/release (TNR) has been a common strategy for controlling animal populations in places that lack facilities to care for them. TNR is not ideal – it leaves the animals vulnerable to predators while, conversely, allowing cats to continue preying on birds, rodents and small mammals, which has the effect of upsetting entire ecosystems – but it is better than allowing populations to expand unchecked.
The other dream was to create a vet clinic, because every cent the group raised went to spaying and neutering fees and assorted vet costs – funds they raised through bake sales, garage sales and their own pockets.
Meanwhile, back at the Edmonds’ home, things were getting pretty hairy. Their townhouse strata council permitted one pet per household. The 15 cats they were soon homing were somewhat above the rules of the complex. (Another of the volunteers had quite a few more in her house.) When neighbours noticed different coloured cats in windows on different days, the couple played dumb.
“We’d say, ‘no, no, that’s the same one,’” Fearn would assure them. (Apparently, it was some rare form of chameleon cat whose colour just kept changing.)
As would be the case through the now-quarter-century history of RAPS, corporate allies came through to help save and improve the lives of animals. B.C. Packers donated caseloads of fish products that didn’t meet retail standards, maybe because the tins were dented or the labels were misprinted.
“My hands smelled permanently of salmon. I was very self-conscious when shaking hands with someone,” she recalls with a laugh.
Fearn came by her devotion to animals naturally. Her dad was “an animal nut,” she says.
“We had a de-scented skunk — I don’t advocate keeping those kinds of animals,” she says. “We had a mynah bird that mimicked the sound of the telephone ringing. I always went for stray animals.”
Fearn and Noel are (obviously!) cat devotees. Right now, they are pet parents to JoJo Jonas and Coco Babka.
“The cats both come from the RAPS Cat Sanctuary,” she says. “They’re both semi-feral. We got Coco first and then JoJo, as Coco’s companion. Coco doesn’t really like having too much to do with people, but they are companions. They are like one cat.”
The pair also have a long history of rescuing pugs, beginning when a friend was urgently searching for a home for one.
“Pugs are very docile creatures and they get along very well with cats,” she says. “We brought one of those into our house and then we sort of got involved into rescuing pugs and now we’ve got three – Hymie, Charlie and Barbie.”
She has a theory about why she and Noel are so enamoured of this particular breed.
“A pug is a cat-person’s dog,” she says. “I think it’s almost like a child-replacement. They’re very cuddly and very needy. Of course, they have those flat faces with the great big eyes. They’re more like a cat, I would say, than like a dog. They like to sit on the couch and on your lap, they like to be stroked. Sometimes they can be hyper, but for the most part they’re very docile.”
Since retiring from their careers, Fearn and Noel spend a fair bit of time on their boat. The cats remain at home with a sitter, but all three dogs come along for the ride.
“They tolerate it, I would say, they don’t love it. They love to be with us, so anywhere we go, they go.”
On the water, it’s safety first, of course.
“We have harnesses for them, so they’re always tied on at all times,” she says. “They have lifejackets. They could swim, but they’d rather not.”
Despite a lifetime of devotion, Fearn does not, in fact, love all creatures great and small. She’s in arachnophobe and isn’t fond of other insects, either.
“I don’t kill them, but I have to remove them immediately,” she says.
In addition to spending more time on the water, retirement has afforded Fearn more time to devote to a longtime passion: jewellery-making.
Her artwork, Wilde Olive Jewellery, can be found on Instagram at wolive_jewellery.
“It’s something I didn’t really have time to pursue before, but it’s something I’ve been involved with for many, many years,” she says.
Her specialty now is animal memorial jewellery.
Looking back on a quarter-century of volunteering, Fearn takes pride in the leaps and bounds RAPS has made – especially in the past couple of years.
The dreams of that tiny team of deeply devoted volunteers of the early years have come true. First, the RAPS Cat Sanctuary opened in 1999. Then, in 2018, RAPS opened the RAPS Animal Hospital, which has almost entirely eliminated external vet expenses that had run to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year before the hospital opened.
She is also proud of RAPS’ education and advocacy work, including successfully lobbying the city of Richmond to become a Canadian pioneer in animal protection by banning the retail sale of puppies and mandating the spaying and neutering of cats.
It is safe to say that, without Fearn, who almost literally stumbled into the rescue field, there might be no RAPS today.
Thank you, Fearn, for decades of devotion!