Helping feral cats is like a 2nd full-time job for this Newfoundland teacher
Emma Manning says she spends hours each week on cats
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.
"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.
"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.
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."
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."
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."