There’s another kind of housing crisis hitting the lower Sunshine Coast: The local branch of BC SPCA is in “desperate” need of foster homes — and forever homes — for the many, many kittens and cats they have coming in.
Marika Donnelly, the branch manager of the BC SPCA of the Sunshine Coast, told Coast Reporter that this year’s “kitten season” is the busiest they’ve seen in years. While the exact number is constantly fluctuating at the branch, as of July 5 there were approximately 30 animals in their care and more in foster care. But a recent investigation on a property near Egmont found more than 40 cats and kittens, most of whom are expected to be rehomed. Some of those cats are pregnant. (The less sociable, more feral felines will be trapped, neutered and released to be cared for at that site.)
The individual at that property has accepted the help the BC SPCA has to offer, and is allowing the branch to perform a staged intake of the animals over many weeks. Donnelly explained that such situations can quickly get out of control, especially in rural areas without much support, and this particular situation started with one unspayed cat. These days, she said it seems they’re getting calls weekly from people who have found strays or who are surrendering kittens because they can’t find homes for them.
“People don’t know where to go for support. There is this perception with the BC SPCA a lot of times — especially if you're going with the cruelty department — that we operate on that enforcement level, but [we’re] really looking for voluntary compliance. And when there is voluntary compliance, there are resources that we have to help people. We would rather do that — we don't want to take people's animals away,” Donnelly said. Anyone can call for judgement-free help, she added.
Some of the factors at play include an “adoption boom” during the pandemic. The Sunshine Coast’s branch usually spays or neuters the animals in their care before they are adopted out, but wait times for the procedure are longer than usual due to a vet shortage in the area, Donnelly said. For those pets that have yet to have the operation, BC SPCA provides a voucher to reduce the cost, and most veterinary practices on the Coast will accept it and directly bill the branch. (The SPCA makes sure to follow up with any animals that did not have the procedure while in their care.)
“We can't get them done fast enough. We're waiting weeks to months for procedures for our animals in care,” Donnelly said. “I think the same thing has happened with a lot of people who got these kittens. And now all of a sudden they couldn't get them spayed, neutered fast enough. And then they've had kittens. They give those kittens away, then those kittens have kittens. So, now it's come to the point two years later where there's only so many homes out there and too many kittens.”
A low-income program also offers to perform the procedure for free for those who are eligible, but Donnelly expects the grant funding for the program — $8,000 in total — will run out before they can apply for more at the end of the year. In the first five months of the year, 31 adopted pets benefited from the program that assists people with low incomes.
Such a program, Donnelly said, is just the solution to the overpopulation problem the Coast could soon be facing. The pets also come with up-to-date vaccinations, microchipped and treated for parasites.
While a recent animal welfare investigation in northern B.C. facilitated the relocation of around 120 felines, the Sunshine Coast branch was not able to take any in. A batch of 10 puppies from the Pemberton area also had to be recently declined, as the local SPCA was unable to reserve a timely trip on the ferry — they won’t transport the animals without a reservation, as they can’t risk having to wait several sailings in the summer heat with the animals.
Wanted: Foster families
Donnelly said the branch is desperate to connect with more locals who can foster the kittens until they are old enough to be adopted. Some of the under-socialized pregnant cats also need temporary care, as their litter is too young and vulnerable to stay at the SPCA, where adoptable pets need the room. Usually, the local branch has around 17 regular foster families, but some are currently unavailable, and they are seeking more help.
Interested people can find the application form at https://spca.bc.ca/ways-to-help/volunteer and training and supplies are then provided by BC SPCA. Foster families will be contacted, and just need a spare room to keep the kittens in.
There are only three full-time staff members working at the Sunshine Coast office.
The more foster families they have, Donnelly says, the more animals the branch can help — and there’s no shortage of felines in need.
“It's pretty rewarding, to [take in] these babies, foster them and see them grow up,” she said.
After they reach eight weeks old, the kittens can be adopted. (And several discount rates can apply, depending on the circumstances.)
Other ways to help
The Sunshine Coast branch of the BC SPCA is always looking for donations, which can be in the form of supplies — particularly canned wet food and pine pellet litter — or money. The branch is also now welcoming the return of volunteers to the shelter, after reducing in-person visits during the pandemic.