DIDSBURY — A local animal shelter designed primarily for felines has, courtesy of community and volunteer support, managed to survive the COVID-19 storm intact.
Located in town at the former site of the Didsbury vet clinic, the Wild Rose Humane Society provides service to the area ranging from Airdrie to Innisfail.
The non-profit organization, run by a volunteer board of directors, has only one part-time employee who puts in 10 hours a week. Following the past couple of years of public health restrictions it is now fully back in fundraising mode.
“Well now, it’s like the flood gates are wide open and everybody’s fundraising,” said Julie Gregg, a board member as well as cat care volunteer. “We’re on that same band wagon.”
The society’s roots reach back more than 10 years, when a group of community volunteers gathered to begin offering educational sessions and promoting animal welfare, said Mark Fournier, treasurer, who joined the organization in 2017.
At the time, Fournier said there were some individuals from the municipality’s bylaw services who were active on the board, and a need for an animal shelter in the area was eventually identified.
“The group of the day did a phenomenal amount of fundraising and went to the town and managed to put the money and resources together in order to get the building,” he said, adding the former vet clinic — which was acquired just prior to his arrival on the board — was an ideal location to turn into an animal shelter.
After completing some work to the building — which boasts a variety of different rooms for cats as well as storage and office space — the society started to accept felines in the summer of 2018, he said.
“Since then, we’ve been taking cats into the shelter,” he said, adding the rescue focuses on fostering and adoption, but also occasionally welcomes felines that have been surrendered.
“We’ve got a variety of different rooms. Most of our cats aren’t in kennels,” he said. “I always call a kennel kind of a time-out box, if a cat’s being a little aggressive toward the other cats or just needs a quiet area.”
Upgrades to accommodate canines
During the pandemic-imposed lull, the society has endeavoured to continue upgrading the facility’s infrastructure, he said.
“Physically, we’re almost ready to take dogs,” he said. “Now, we just need to make sure the funding and the volunteer capacity is in place in order to welcome dogs into the shelter.”
Although the shelter predominately accommodates cats — approximately 20 of them — and is not yet officially accepting canine companions, Fournier said the society has had a number of dogs come through their doors on a few “one-off scenarios”. But dogs need “a lot more care,” he added.
Whereas cats essentially require two daily shifts that involve a volunteer dropping by to check on and feed the felines as well as clean up their litter, canines need multiple walks every day as well as much more one-on-one attention, he said.
The society’s objective is, by and large, to find forever homes for felines. But once in a while, a cat that is more independent than most and prefers the solitude of roaming around outside alone as opposed to staying indoors perched atop a scratching post, will come through the shelter’s doors, he said.
“So, we do have a barn cat program,” he said, adding those cats — which have been vaccinated and altered same as all the others — are offered for adoption at a lower rate.
And just because they’re not destined to live in a house, the new owner is nevertheless expected to provide shelter in an out-structure such as a barn or shop, added Gregg for clarification.
“They’re not just meant to be free roaming,” she said.
No COVID surrender surge
Although Fournier said he had heard about some of the “horror stories” coming from larger city centres like Calgary and Edmonton, where many people who early during the pandemic bought cats as companionship pets to steer off cabin fever and boredom later ended up regretting their decision as restrictions were lifted, he said the society has not experienced a surge of surrenders.
“We always get some surrenders. But I would say the amount that we’ve been getting was more or less in line with what we’ve seen with previous years,” he said.
That could be a simple matter of geography and how rural areas don’t have a lot of apartment buildings like cities, so people in rural areas who welcomed animals into their homes during the pandemic seem to have, for the most, kept those pets, he said.
The most common surrenders, he added, are either when people move away and cannot take the pet with them, or when a senior who had one or more cats passes away without including anything in their will.
“Those cats will come to us, and those are the ones that we always find kind of a little bit heartbreaking,” he said. “We try and give them new home sooner than later, because they’re just a victim of circumstance.”
In situations when a senior had multiple cats that bonded over the years, he said the society strives to find a home that will welcome them all together.
Community support and dedicated volunteers save society
Fournier without hesitation fully attributed the society’s sustained ability to operate over the last couple of years to community support and excellent volunteers.
Although the society’s origins date back more than 10 years, momentum didn’t really begin to build until 2018-19, he said.
“Like everybody else, that ground to a very quick halt in 2020,” he said, adding the society survived largely courtesy of people’s commitment to the rescue.
That included the municipality as well, he said.
“Like everybody else, our fundraising came to grinding halt,” during the pandemic, he said.
“They were great throughout the entire process,” he said about the municipality and its administrative team. “Without their support and the support of the vet clinics in the area here, we wouldn’t have made it through COVID.”
The society has 28 cat care volunteers, of whom four are adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18, said Gregg.
There are also a couple of keen youths who can only volunteer when a parent or guardian is present, she added.
“We really encourage that,” she said, adding the society is looking at hosting a cat care camp for children between the ages of eight and 10 to teach them how to feed, brush, clean after, and be all-around responsible cat care providers.
The First Olds Guides in Olds also recently found a way to pitch in by deciding to craft about a dozen cubbies out of cardboard.
“Cats love boxes,” said Gregg, expressing gratitude to the “really nice gift” from the Brownies and Guides in Olds.
Anyone who wants to contribute to the society can until June 4 give gently used items that will be sent to Value Village for a cash-back return on donations. Alternatively, the Putts 4 Paws golf tournament is coming up on July 23 in Crossfield.
Visit www.wildrosehumane.ca for more information about the society.