By December van den Berg
Five Penticton women with a passion for cats are making a difference in the Okanagan.
Have you ever had a litter of kittens born inside your floor and had to saw into your venting system to get them out? Have you ever had to enlist the help of a bona fide hazmat team to enter a dilapidated, asbestos-filled building in order to rescue a litter of kittens trapped inside the walls? Have you ever accidentally caught a very large (and angry) raccoon in your live cat trap and had to find a way to release it without getting your hand ripped off? Do you often reach into your purse looking for a mint and instead, pull out a random cat toy or a tin of wet food that you didn’t know was there? These are just a few of the occupational hazards associated with being a professional cat rescuer and enthusiast (fanatic), and five women from Penticton know all about it.
On July 10, 2012 these five cat-loving businesswomen, with lengthy and diverse histories in animal rescue, met for dinner to “discuss the possibilities” of starting a new group. The next day a week-old orphaned kitten named Uno showed up on their doorstep and AlleyCATS Alliance was born. By October of that year they had hosted their first fundraiser, opened a bank account, acquired charity status, and well, the rest is history!
The mandate of AlleyCATS Alliance is to provide rescue, rehabilitation, medical care, and adoption to feral and orphaned cats and kittens throughout the Okanagan, and if you take a look at what they’ve been up to in the past three years, that pretty much sums it up. In their first calendar year they affected over 100 cats. In their second, more than 250. Already this year which is only half over, they have affected almost 300 cats, and there does not seem to be an end in sight.
Where do the cats come from? Due to rising costs of vet care, more and more people are unable to afford the cost of spaying and neutering their cats. The cats are allowed to roam outside, and sometimes they run away and begin the cycle of procreation. Colonies are formed, and they can grow exponentially at an alarming rate if not controlled.
What does it mean to be affected by AlleyCATS Alliance? Because there is no shelter to speak of, all rescued cats and kittens are sent out to a network of foster homes where they are nurtured, rehabilitated, and raised up. Once old enough, they are sent to the vet where they are thoroughly examined, spayed and neutered, vaccinated, dewormed, and tattooed. Then off they go to one of the adoption centers located in Kelowna and Penticton, and every one of them eventually finds a loving, “furever” home to call their own.
What about the wild ones? In many cases, the cats deemed feral, which means wild or undomesticated, will become a part of a TNR mission. TNR or “Trap Neuter Release” is a widely accepted practice wherein colonies of feral cats are trapped, spayed and neutered, and returned back to the areas from which they came. When that isn’t possible, suitable barn homes are often found. It is always insured that caretakers are in place to continue to feed the colony and provide adequate shelter.
AlleyCATS Alliance President December van den Berg often jokes, “There are two seasons to a cat rescuer’s life. Kitten Season… and February.” But she’s not kidding. With spring arriving earlier each year, and warmer weather lasting into the so-called winter months, Kitten Season sometimes goes on well past Christmas. AlleyCATS Alliance relies entirely on private donations and grants, as the demand for their services continues to grow.
But the directors will agree their greatest resource is their volunteers. Good help is hard to find, and it would seem AlleyCATS is growing in quality and strength as dedicated and incredible people step forward to help do their part to save the kitties. From volunteering at the annual Massive Spring Yard Sale, taxiing cats to and from vet appointments, fostering, going on cat-trapping missions in the dark, to administrative tasks… there are endless jobs to be filled, and the work never ends. Anyone who wishes to volunteer should visit the website and fill out an application form.
The AlleyCATS Alliance board of directors is made up of president and co-founder December van den Berg, treasurer and co-founder Marielle Brule, director and co-founder Theresa Nolet, director Sue Beagle, and director Karen Hopkins.
“Of course, the real stars of AlleyCATS Alliance are the many, incredible kittens who touch our lives in inexplicable ways as they fill our homes with laughter, love, and litter. There’s a reason why we do all of this, and it speaks for itself.” —December van den Berg
December van den Berg, President of AlleyCATS Alliance, and Territory Manager with Petsecure Pet Health Insurance, has a passion for rescuing cats, and officially started AlleyCATS Alliance in 2012. She currently resides in Penticton with a houseful of dogs and cats, as well as her husband, Paul, and step-children, Marysa and Josh.
*Reprint from our Pet Health 2015 issue