With more than 4,000 animals stuck in shelters and in foster care in British Columbia, the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other animal rescue groups are spending the holiday season trying to find homes for them.
The BC SPCA Home for the Holidays pet-adoption drive encourages people to consider providing a “forever home” to a dog, cat, kitten, puppy, rabbit or other small animal in SPCA care. The same is true of all the non-profit animal rescue groups.
The Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA), for instance, has more than 300 cats and kittens available now for adoption — a higher number than usual this time of year because a hot, late summer resulted in many feral cats breeding again, said VOKRA founder Karen Duncan.
She started the organization in 1991 to rescue wild kittens and trap and fix as many cats as they find could since the older ones are difficult to tame. The organization saves about 1,400 kittens and cats and neuters or spays about 300 feral cats annually.
“No one likes feral cats so if they go into a shelter they’re usually killed. You’re not allowed to bring in a raccoon and kill it so it’s not fair to kill a cat just because it was born on the street,” said Duncan.
She usually advises people who want to bring a cat or kitten home during the holidays to do it only if they know they will have the time to spend with the animal to help it adjust to its new surroundings.
“We like to suggest to buy the supplies (for a cat or kitten) and put those under the Christmas tree and say this (the cat or kitten) is what you’ll get after Christmas when it’s not so hectic,” she said, adding the SPCA makes an exception when individuals or families know their Christmas will be a quiet one and they have the time to spend with their new pet. However in those cases, the holidays can provide extra time to spend with a new pet.
“The SPCA strongly discourages giving pets as gifts. But if an individual or family has carefully considered their decision and the responsibility of a new pet, the holidays can be an optimum time to adopt,” said Lorie Chortyk, general manager of community relations.
“Families are more likely to be off work or school during the holidays and have more time to spend with each other and with their new companion animal.”
For animals at the SPCA waiting for homes, there is a new activity program. Dogs and cats are being taught how to do “high fives” and follow other training commands such as hitting a target or sniffing out a hidden treat.
Kim Monteith, the SPCA’s regional animal welfare supervisor, said the new program called Nosework is also fun for the volunteers and takes place on Thursday evenings indoors at the Vancouver SPCA shelter. They’ll bring dogs together with the volunteers and play games like hiding treats or musical chairs.
“It’s getting the dogs used to being around other dogs and it’s something different for them from just going on a walk with the volunteers. The volunteers also want to have fun with the dogs.”
Monteith said the extra stimulation provided also works with cats and even rabbits who respond to what is known as clicker training, where a volunteer uses a hand-held device that will make a clicking sound whenever the animal does the desired behaviour.
She demonstrated using a cat named Romeo at the shelter who was doing high-fives and jumping through a hoop.
“This training provides more enrichment,” she said.
Chortyk said while staff and volunteers are doing their best to improve the lives of the animals while they are in the shelters, it’s not optimum for them to have to spend the holidays there.
“There is no substitute for being part of a permanent, loving family,” she said.