On Friday, November 20th, 2015, I woke up at 7am and took a ride out to Witless Bay, which is a thirty-minute drive south of St. John's, in the eastern part of Newfoundland. I woke up this early because Joan Simmons (picture to the left) was getting ready to drive out to a small outport community about an hour away. We had to catch, and rescue, at least five to six cats on this particular day. We were there until 6pm in the evening. Catching cats is not as easy as you may think it is.
I have to say that it was an incredible experience to do this with Joan because it displayed a great deal of patience, dedication, and ultimately, it was rewarding once we caught the correct amount of cats for the day. I felt a great sense of relief.
To acquire a better understanding of why Joan does this, and where it all stems from, I interviewed her about her new found passion.
Marc Lafrenière: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Joan Simmons: I was born in Newfoundland, and I'm a retired government worker, which allowed me to protect our natural and cultural resources.
Marc Lafrenière: You're interested in rescuing cats - why are you volunteering to do such a thing?
Joan Simmons: I have always been an animal lover! I've worked in the outdoors for many years protecting wildlife and now that I'm retired, I want to continue in some small way to still help animals in need.
Marc Lafrenière: Is there a particular problem in Newfoundland, in regards to over-population of cats?
Joan Simmons: There is a growing problem with breeding of cats, it's out of control in this province, as well as in many areas in the world. Sadly, local unchecked breeding of pets are taken care of by the SPCA, but for the growing number of unwanted, feral, cats, they are breeding uncontrollably. We have hundreds of colonies, of cats, in our province that are left to their own devices to fend for themselves, and to breed!
Marc Lafrenière: Once you rescue the cats, where do they go, and who takes care of them?
Joan Simmons: We, and a few volunteer rescue groups, are trying to check these colonies by trapping the breeding adults. There are many successful TNR (trap, neuter, and return) programs in this country and the United States. Almost all kittens from our rescues are re-homed and many non-feral adult cats that were dumped or lost, also get re-homed.
Marc Lafrenière: Have you ever encountered terrifying situations?
Joan Simmons: (laughs) No, never terrifying. I've dealt with lynx, bears, and moose (etc.), so I don't consider working with cats terrifying. We do have to be careful with feral cats, and try to avoid at all costs getting scratched, so gloves are often worn when trapping, and transferring them.
But it's more disheartening situation that we find ourselves in - too many starving cats, not enough funds to help them, as we are 100% volunteer, and cannot raise enough money! Worst of all is the heart-breaking scenes of severely injured cats, where some have no eyes, holes from BB-guns, torn faces, and sick senior ones. These cases tear at your heart!
Marc Lafrenière: What's the most memorable cat story you can tell us about?
Joan Simmons: There are many stories, but two interesting ones were the 'bobtail' colony cats - they hop like rabbits (which is an unusual genetic trait!). The other story was the one cat we found that turned out to have both male and female organs!
Marc Lafrenière: Who else is involved in rescuing cats in Newfoundland? Are you part of an organization?
Joan Simmons: We are a very small organization of only four main volunteer directors. We have some wonderful cat lovers who support us, and who help us with volunteering, fundraising, and donating. There are also other small rescue groups who all do what they can to help unwanted, injured, or feral cats.
Marc Lafrenière: Are there any financial costs to you personally, in regards to rescuing cats?
Joan Simmons: Rescuing is a very costly operation. Almost 100% of our money raised ends up in the hands of veterinary bills. Close to $50,000 in a couple of years, to care for injured animals and to the cost of spray/neutering. If only government would supplement to help control these growing populations.
Government helps the SPCA through a grant. Unfortunately, they do not offer any grants or assistance to rescues, and sadly, the SPCA does not go out to rescue, or trap, any unwanted animals, or colonies of feral cats. So, we try to fill this gap, but it's like trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water! We don't have the manpower, the tools, nor the professionals at our disposal, like free/inexpensive veterinary care!
Marc Lafrenière: What do you hope happens in the near future, from your efforts?
Joan Simmons: If only government would realize the need to support efforts to control feral colonies and assist rescue groups, in the rescuing of unwanted cats. They should adopt a plan of action in partnership with rescue groups, and they can cease breeding of unwanted outdoor cats! They can also bring an end to future animal suffering!
Marc Lafrenière: Would you recommend to anyone to rescue cats?
Joan Simmons: Absolutely! People should never support careless animal owners who allow their cats to breed. Buying kittens from them only supports the terrible cycle of too many cats! Many rescue cats, and almost all kittens, turn into fabulous pets!
Marc Lafrenière: Thanks for your time, and in allowing me to tag along on one of your rescue operations! It was loads of fun, and incredibly educational.