Nfld. & Labrador

Helping feral cats is like a 2nd full-time job for this Newfoundland teacher

Emma Manning is running a make-shift trap, neuter and release program, with just a few volunteers and some small donations.

Emma Manning says she spends hours each week on cats

Emma Manning explains the trap she uses to catch and transport animals to a veterinarian in Clarenville. The trap is set near the Newfoundland T'Railway in Gander. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

About five days before her next scheduled vet appointment, Emma Manning will go looking for a cat to bring with her.

There are certain tricks she's learned in the past few months — sardines or tuna can really draw a crowd — but overall, the job is not too difficult: Manning says she can pretty much guarantee that she'll have a new cat for each appointment. She rarely has to cancel.

Patients come from a feral cat colony that Manning believes she's identified alongside the Newfoundland T'Railway through Gander. She estimates the size at just 10 cats — for now — partly due to her efforts in spaying or neutering as many of the animals as she can.

Manning told people involved in her Facebook group that images captured from an outside camera in February showed eight cats in one night, in just one of the areas she suspects is home to a cat colony. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"When I get home in the evenings, usually I'm out — if I am trapping, I will spend three hours in the evening trapping," she said. "So I would say it's almost like working two full-time jobs."

The second line of work — setting up food and traps, capturing the animals, bringing them to a veterinarian in Clarenville and releasing them back into their home, is something like a make-shift animal control program.

These feral cats deserve just as much intervention and care as what a tame cat would.- Emma Manning

Manning is relying on a small group of volunteers and a small amount of donations. The school teacher says she's still pushing for more buy-in from Gander's town council, and the role of the SPCA in the community is limited. CBC News has asked both groups for their perspective on the cat colony.

So for now, Manning is almost entirely on her own.

Manning will place food inside the trap for a few days before actually setting the trap, to try to get the cats comfortable with the inside of the container. After she cuts the ziptie, Manning says she or another volunteer will check the trap every hour. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"I think what I get out of it is the joy that I see on these cats faces," she said. "I know it sounds silly but when they're released back outside just a sense of freedom for them … a chance to live the life that they deserve."

Last week, Manning and her group — organized through Facebook — caught three cats, named Nelson, Nadia and Nat. Volunteer Amanda Burt brought them to Clarenville on Monday, and will host them in her shed for a few days during their recovery.

Gerry, a male feral cat, peers out the front of his cage in Amanda Burt's shed in Gander shortly after an operation to neuter the animal in Clarenville. Scratches on the front of the animal's face suggest aggressive behaviours, according to Emma Manning, which often disappear after the operation. Gerry will be returned to Summerford, where he was trapped, after a short recovery. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The animals were tightly wrapped and fed, but they are destined to be released again into the woods. Manning says most of the cats she traps are simply too old to be domesticated.

"It could take years to socialize one of these cats to indoor life and a lot of times they never will be happy inside because they are so fearful of people since they missed that crucial age period," she said. "So to them, outdoors is their home."

Amanda Burt wraps Nadia, a female cat found in Gander, inside a cage, and then surrounds the cage with foil, to keep the cat insulated. The cats need to be kept warm immediately following their surgeries. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Even though the cats will be released outside, Manning says she is making a measurable difference in their lives. According to Manning, without the vaccines and surgeries, female cats are constantly impregnated, and male cats are constantly fighting for territory.

"I would say that these feral cats deserve just as much intervention and care as what a tame cat would," she said. "Although these cats are not the type that would come directly to you and they don't want to be around human contact, the life that they live without 'TNR' is deplorable."

Emma Manning carries a feral cat inside a shed where it will be kept warm for a few days before being released back into the wild. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs have been started across Canada, and are endorsed by the country's Humane Society and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

"The feral cats, you might not be able to touch them, but you can definitely love them in their own way," said Burt. "Their caretakers love them, and everybody in rescue, they know with a feral cat — you know that you're their kind of last hope for a good life."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander, N.L.


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