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The Feral Cats of This Abandoned Island Off Newfoundland Are Getting Rescued

As the government debated over what to do with the colony of cats—euthanize them, leave them to die—rescuers stepped in.

by Sarah Smellie
Dec 11 2019, 3:22pm

Left image of Little Bay Islands rescues via Exploits Valley SPCA Adoptables Facebook. Right image of Little Bay Islands by Wikimedia user Baffledexpert.

Packs of feral cats living on a nearly abandoned island off Newfoundland have been spared uncertain, taxpayer-funded death and will live to yowl another day—in Nova Scotia.

Little Bay Islands, a tiny island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, was once home to 54 people. In February, the people voted unanimously to resettle the community. With power, water, and ferry services ending at the end of December, most people have now left and are never coming back.

But they’ve left behind the island’s feral cats, whole colonies of them. So volunteers from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are going to rescue them.

“These cats are losing their caregivers, their food source, their shelters. And they're just gonna die a long, suffering death, and I can't live with that,” said Linda Felix, who volunteers with a Halifax charity called Spay Day.

She first heard about the cats in October and was hoping there’d be an effort to save them. “Everybody was waiting for somebody to do something, but there doesn't seem to be that somebody,” she said. So she rallied a team of trappers to drive to Little Bay Islands, trap the cats, and bring them back to Nova Scotia, where they’ll be spayed or neutered and given an appropriate home—like a barn. The rescuers are aiming to be there by the weekend.

And they’re looking at over 1,000 kilometres of travel, including a six-hour ferry ride from North Sydney to Newfoundland, with a van full of caged cats.

Things got dark Tuesday morning when the Newfoundland and Labrador government sent a release saying it was working with a vet on its own solution. The cats would be caught, assessed, and, “if necessary, euthanized in a humane manner.” Animals deemed to be good candidates for adoption would be brought to a shelter but adult feral cats are generally lousy candidates, the release said.

Suddenly, the team was in a race with the government and the vet.

Sonya Higgins, a Halifax-based cat rescuer originally from Newfoundland, has been helping Felix coordinate with people on the ground in Newfoundland. She said she and Felix had told the government about their plans and got no response.

“They’ve not been forthcoming or willing to communicate with the people willing to help,” she said. “We're sorely disappointed that they’ve known for years that the relocation was coming up. And they knew that they were cats on the island because the residents...have all been contacting government and saying, ‘What are you going to do about the cats?’”

When asked for comment, a government spokesperson said there was nothing to add.

But there was. On Tuesday evening, another release arrived, saying the vet had backed out and the government didn’t expect to find a replacement. The release wouldn’t give a reason for the vet’s decision, “especially in the wake of an extensive outpouring on social media following this morning’s announcement of the plan to assist these animals.”

1576076774228-Linda-Felix
Linda Felix. Submitted.

Higgins said the government likely wouldn’t have used the right traps anyway.

She’s not sure how many feral cats live on Little Bay Islands and said there are conflicting reports. One former resident said there were four well-known colonies, two with at least 30 cats. “Then there are cats at the dump site, near the ferry. And then there are cats at another location,” Higgins said.

Though she’s not able to join the cat-catching caravan herself, she’s confident the trapping team will get the job done, no matter how many animals there are.

“We have a resident taking the trappers to the island to show us where the cats congregate and then the trappers will do what they do best,” she said.

She expects the team to be out there trapping cats this weekend.

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ANIMALS
Canada
Newfoundland
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