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Overwhelmed Pet Rescues Say Pets Aren't Ideal Christmas Gifts

Charm is a recently rescued cat who is available for adoption through Fixing our Felines, so take Charm into your own heart, not someone else’s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Expositor published the first part of our article on pet burnout in November. In this conclusion, three other Manitoulin pet rescue organizations speak of the overwhelming number of surrendered or abandoned pets, while one group shares concerns about gifted pets.

by Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

MANITOULIN—The need for pet rescue operations on Manitoulin Island is not new. While much of the recent attack can be traced to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is that volunteers have been rescuing, caring for and rehoming unwanted cats and dogs since at least the early 2000s. .

“Isn’t it awful that there are so many animal rescues on this island and we’re all overwhelmed?” asked Colleen Castleton of Fixing our Felines in Manitowaning. She explained that last December, a lady delivering food baskets brought nearly 30 bush cats out of a single property. The owner told the woman to take whatever she wanted, except for a cat, because “he wanted her to have more kittens”. They were able to trap seven kittens in three visits. Two of them went to repair our felines in January. M/s. Castleton had Isobel and Cynthia for 10 months before finding their forever home.

“I went three hours without a cat,” she told The Expositor. “Three hours.”

Within three days, Mrs. Castleton had seven more kittens and two mothers in her care. A lack of foster families means a limit to the number of people she can save. “That’s the worst thing about rescue: no foster family,” she said. Host families just need to open their homes, but the problem is that most of them are afraid of failing. They don’t want another cat or another dog. It’s the hardest thing you’re going to do.

She cried when Cynthia and Isobel left her. They were both tears of joy and sadness. “I understand when people don’t want to be fed,” she said. It has nothing to do with money or anything. We provide the food. They just don’t think they can give them up in the end. It’s really difficult.”

M/s. Castleton said some people expect her to respond immediately and that’s not always possible. A lady called about a cat and said she wanted it gone right away because it was feral. “You can’t expect us to stop everything and pick up three or five feral cats,” she said.

The cancellation of sterilization clinics held at Wiikwemkoong since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had an impact, Ms. Castleton said. Clinics are coordinated by Jean Flamand through the Welland and District SPCA Mobile Clinic. Lately, Mrs. Flamand takes cats to the Sudbury SPCA on a weekly basis. This week, she transported three cats, 13 kittens and a dog to Sudbury.

Deb Colville said she doesn’t know if the current numbers are unprecedented. She has been running Pet Save Manitoulin since 2010 and volunteered with Pet Save Sudbury as a foster shelter and fundraiser for nine years prior. “In 2010, we were able to raise funds from Island donors and pay for three spays and/or sterilizations per week,” she said.

Along with her son, Mrs. Colville has rehabilitated feral cats in Manitoulin, North Bay and the Sudbury area. They started Pet Save Manitoulin on the advice of their shelter veterinarian, Dr. PJ Rocheleau of the Espanola Veterinary Hospital. “He trained us in shelter management, especially the financial aspect, at the time,” she said. We helped train and set up other rescues here afterwards. Colleen’s group (Fixing our Felines) was the first we helped.”

At that time, dogs were abandoned on the sides of the roads due to medical conditions such as blindness and cancer, and cats and kittens were abandoned in large numbers during the holidays, Ms. Colville told The Exhibitor. Mid-August, Labor Day weekend and the last week of February seemed to be the best discharge times for felines. “We caught 10 big cats in a week in February about nine years ago,” she said.

Manitoulin Pet Save is a “no kill” shelter. “Shelters like this are filling up with unacceptable pets due to medical or behavioral issues, or both,” Ms. Colville said. She hasn’t welcomed any new pets since December, when she took in an unadoptable cat from Fixing our Felines as a long-term resident. She currently only has ‘unadoptables’ in her home, but hopes to welcome new cats once her longtime feline residents move out.

Bleu Fisher sees “breeding and breeding and breeding” of cats, she said. There are cats and kittens everywhere. For some reason, some people think it’s healthier for a dog or cat to have a litter or two. It’s not.”

M/s. Fisher leads Rainbow Rescue with the help of her partner Kimberly Beites. She is a household name in the Island animal welfare field, having worked in this field for over 10 years. What discourages her the most, she says, is that it’s often the same people who give up unwanted litters.

When asked if there was a solution to this, Ms. Fisher replied, “I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t think that will change. It’s sad that we have to tell people how to be responsible pet owners.

She sees a lot of unwanted senior dogs, which can be difficult to adopt, and abandoned cats and kittens, which are often sick or injured. Many injured animals are dumped, dumped without food or water, either at the dump or on the side of the road, she said. Last week, Mrs. Fisher picked up seven puppies and the mother the next day. The puppies will go to Chelmsford but she was waiting in the rescue room and the puppies were sick so Mrs. Fisher had to keep them for a few days.

“The island has always been a mess,” she says. On a good day, she will receive eight to ten calls. She does not use a foster family. She owns a large property and takes care of most of the care and childcare, with the help of Mme. Béites.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Ms. Fisherman said. “The cost of aid is overwhelming.”

The Christmas period brings additional concerns to relief groups. “We often like to come in at Christmas with as few catches as possible because we like to be ready for New Years and winter with all the animals in need,” said Carly Valiente, dog care coordinator for Manitoulin Pet Rescue. “Even though I want our pets to have their homes for the holidays, I’m very strict when adopting at this time of year to prevent the pet from being adopted ‘as a gift’ for someone.”

Dogs and cats require 15-20 year commitments and come with financial and other responsibilities. “They can’t be thrown away as a material gift,” Ms. Valiente said. “I try to avoid that as best I can.”