These feral cats once roamed a remote N.L. island. Now they live in Maritime barns
'These cats were just rescued from a cold place. I wanted them to be warm'
It's quite a step up from roaming the rocky shores of a remote Newfoundland island in sub-zero temperatures, scrounging for food and shelter.
After travelling 1,000 kilometres by land and sea, 40 feral cats from Little Bay Islands, N.L., are settling into their new homes in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Most of the cats — 29 of them — have been sent to warm barns, some sharing space with horses and chickens.
"They're very cute," said Shannon Doane, who took in two of the cats to help with rodent control at her barn in Elmsdale, N.S.
"They're very skittish because they are feral, but they're not completely wild."
The cats were rescued by volunteers at the Halifax-based charity Spay Day HRM Society, who heard about the plight of the animals and their imminent doom due to the permanent departure of the island's 54 residents.
Citizens of Little Bay Islands voted in favour of accepting government financial relocation assistance last year, meaning services like power and water were cut off on Dec. 31.
Although the cats were feral, many were fed by and interacted with the island's residents, which raised concerns about whether they would survive once everyone was gone.
After arriving at a makeshift shelter in Dartmouth, N.S., the cats were checked by vets and spayed or neutered. They were then assessed to determine where they should be placed.
One of the cats — likely an abandoned pet — was friendly enough to be put up for adoption through the SPCA. Another 10 have been placed in foster homes in the hopes they will become socialized for eventual adoption.
The cats considered too feral to be socialized were found homes through the charity's barn cat program. Cats live inside hobby or commercial barns and have access to food, water and warm shelter.
Three of those felines have hit the jackpot. They're living in Wendy Stewart's guesthouse in the coastal community of Halls Harbour, N.S.
Stewart said she originally intended to keep the critters in a drafty barn on her property, used mostly to store firewood.
But she also had an empty guesthouse and so she decided to move the cats in there.
"These cats were just rescued from a cold place. I wanted them to be warm," said Stewart, who has only named one of the cats so far — Clifford — since she's waiting for the other two to show more personality.
Stewart said the cats — two black and white and one all black — spend most of their time in a loft and occasionally leap onto a stack of rolled-up rugs to peer out of windows, surveying their new environment from high above.
Once they become acclimated, Stewart will open up an already-installed cat door on the guesthouse so they can come and go as they please. She said the felines are already warming up to their new digs.
"I just gather from their posture, their body language, that they're more relaxed than they were a week ago when they arrived," said Stewart.
Doane's cats are currently being confined to a horse stall in her barn while they become familiar with life in Elmsdale, which includes having chickens as roommates.
They have a heated bed inside a large dog crate. There is a heated water bowl, cat tree, cat toys and bales of hay for climbing.
She, too, has yet to name the cats, as she's waiting for them to show their individuality. She hopes they will eventually become socialized enough that she'll be able to approach and pet them.
"They've gotten comfortable enough with me that when I go in and feed them, if I sit quietly in the stall with them and read, they will eventually come out and eat," she said.
"The little black one is a little more adventurous than the black and white one and he'll come out and walk around the stall, around the perimeter, and doesn't seem to mind too much that I'm there."
Linda Felix, president of Spay Day HRM, said the cats have been sent to barns all across Nova Scotia and one in P.E.I. She said they were sent in groups of two or three and one group of five.
"They always have buddy," said Felix, adding there were three colonies on the N.L. island.
"We match them with cats from the same colony where they were trapped, so they went with a cat they would know and wouldn't be alone and afraid."
Felix said the cats currently in foster care are younger — between five and six months old — and so there is more of a chance they can be socialized. If not, they will find homes for them through the barn cat program.