The Charles Dickens quote “what greater gift than the love of a cat” could not be more true for Gabriella Valente.
Valente never would have guessed that when she crouched behind the worn-down steps of her childhood friend’s porch that what she would find would change her life forever.
At the age of 10, she discovered a litter of kittens squirming in the dirt, barely able to open their eyes. Her eyes landed on a small, orange tabby. Valente cradled the small kitten in her hands and decided to bring him home.
She brought the three-week old to her father who asked “what are you doing? This kitten needs to be with its mother!”
But, Valente knew the kitten was home for good.
She nursed the kitten with nothing but some milk and an old tea towel. She decided to name him Demetrius as he suckled warm milk off of her finger. Demetrius was the beginning of Valente’s life-long passion for four-legged creatures.
Now, Valente volunteers at the Toronto Cat Rescue as a behavior counsellor.
Toronto Cat Rescue (TCR) is a nonprofit organization that works hard to find every cat the purr-fect home.
According to TCR, they rescue “abandoned, sick or injured cats from situations of abuse, neglect or imminent euthanasia.”
TCR is one of the largest cat rescues in Canada and was founded in 1994.
The rescue has no physical shelter but rather a large network of over 400 foster homes with almost one-thousand volunteers.
TCR opened a volunteer center in Etobicoke in 2016. The centre helps save and rehome as many cats as possible.
The rescue rehomed 2,522 cats in 2020, a significant accomplishment for any animal rescue.
But, one of TCR’s most unique features is their no-kill philosophy.
TCR is a no-kill cat rescue which means that a healthy animal will never be euthanized due to lack of available space.
Many Canadians are unaware of the fact that Canadian humane societies, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs) and other animal rescues do euthanize animals if there is a lack of available space or options.
TCR helps other animal rescues who face this problem by bringing in cats from other organizations such as Toronto Animal Services to prevent euthanasia.
Unfortunately, cats are the most common animal to be euthanized in shelters.
Humane Canada reported approximately 8,819 cats admitted into Canadian humane societies and SPCAs were euthanized in 2020.
In comparison, approximately 2,429 of all dogs admitted into shelters were euthanized in 2020.
The survey did not include individual private shelters, rescue and foster groups, and municipal animal services.
These numbers are in part due to the cat overpopulation crisis in Canada.
The overpopulation crisis means there are not enough homes for the number of cats in Canada.
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) released a nation-wide study about the crisis in 2017.
The study included over 478 stakeholders such as humane societies, veterinarians, municipalities, rescue organizations, trap-neuter-return groups and spay/neuter organizations.
According to the study, cat overpopulation continues to be a problem for communities across Canada.
The overpopulation crisis leads to homelessness, overburdened animal shelters and euthanasia.
The overpopulation is partly caused by the large number of homeless cats and feral cat colonies in the country, according to CFHS.
Suzanne Vokey, the administrative assistant at TCR says Toronto alone has over one-thousand feral cat colonies.
A feral cat colony is a population of cats that live together outside in a specific location.
Verena Besso, a volunteer from Annex Cat Rescue, knows all about feral cat colonies.
Besso is a caregiver for feral cat colonies in Toronto and currently feeds three colonies from her own pocket.
She carries a large bag of cat food in an alleyway near downtown Toronto.
There are garages on one side and houses on the other. An old white trailer sits behind the houses where four cat shelters are placed underneath.
Besso shakes the bag of food and glowing eyes slowly appear from beneath the trailer.
A tiny black cat named Buddy stretches her paws out and creeps out from under the trailer.
Buddy is 10-years-old and despite being feral, has been asking caregivers for affection and pets lately.
Besso says the best part about volunteering is the direct impact one can make as a volunteer.
“You’re able to help cats right in front of you, provide shelter for them and food for them. It’s just such a satisfying part of advocating for animals…being able to help an animal in need in the moment.”
Many animal organizations work to lower feral or homeless cat populations through different methods such as adoption, high-volume spay and neutering, and trap-neuter-return programs.
The good news is there are many solutions to the cat crisis.
One of the most effective and humane methods is the trap-neuter-return (TNR) program.
The TNR program humanely captures feral cats in animal traps, spays or neuters them at a shelter and vet clinic, and then releases them back to their colony.
Feral cats are also provided with medical treatment such as vaccinations.
Spay and neutering not only prevents cats from reproducing but. also prevents the spread of disease and reduces behavior such as fighting.
TNR programs also evaluate cats and decide if cats can be socialized and rehomed.
However, CFHS estimates that there are over two million homeless cats in Canada
The CFHS study also found adoption is the most successful and available solution to cat overpopulation.
Pamela Capraru, a copy editor and Torontonian is a long-time adopter of TCR.
She currently has two ginger cats named Thor and Loki, named after the Greek Norse gods.
Capraru says their presence has really helped her, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re great companions. They’re a wonderful comfort. They’re entertaining…And having that presence in the house and their routine actually kind of grounds me.”
Valente says one of the best things about volunteering is providing a cat with a home.
“You’re making a difference…you are saving lives…you are taking these poor little animals that have been abandoned and you are giving them…the gift of more life, the gift of homes and the gift of happiness.”
TCR strives to find every cat that comes into their care a home, but their hope is that one day we will live in a society where animal rescues are no longer needed.
If you would like to help Toronto Cat Rescue, you can visit their website to look at available cats, make a donation or fill out a volunteer application.