Local feral cat rescue looking for support

Three of five kittens that were rescued with their mom from off the streets in Mirror. Feral Cat Network president Tracy Sprague says it’s not enough to rescue kittens, you have to get the parents as well as close the circle. Photo submitted by Tracy Sprague
Donations collected by Skullery Tattoo Studio in Bashaw in a recent food drive for the Feral Cat Network. Image: Facebook Donations collected by Skullery Tattoo Studio in Bashaw in a recent food drive for the Feral Cat Network. Image: Facebook
This is Ears. He lived on the streets for over five years and his body is covered in scars, with missing fur and deformed ears from years of ear mites. He was rescued and adopted to an indoor home. Photo submitted by Tracy Sprague

A bottle drive is being held in Bashaw and the surrounding area in support of the Feral Cat Network Foundation of Alberta (FCN).

The FCN is a registered society in Alberta and provides services to Bashaw, Donalda, Mirror, Lougheed, Sedgewick, Strome and Forestburg.

“Veterinary costs are our biggest expense. Also the cold weather is moving in and we want to get as many cats off the streets as we can,” stated a Facebook post from Candice Williams, the FCN member for Bashaw.

“We will graciously pick up your bottles at curbside. Any bottles you have and would like to donate be it one bag or several, our felines would be forever grateful.”

A recent food drive by Skullery Tattoo Studio in Bashaw brought in several bags of kibble for hungry felines, for which the FCN was very grateful.

If you haven’t heard of the FCN before, they’re a small organization that traps, neuters and releases (TNR) feral cats and strives to educate the public about feral cats that has been officially up-and-running for about a year now.

Unofficially, the group has been operating for closer to two-and-a-half years.

The main founders are president Tracy Sprague, Williams, Donna Sparrow, and Barry Swartz (who has since passed away) and Norma Swartz.

The program either releases feral or wild cats to dedicated caregivers who will provide water, food and shelter, to be outdoor cats or barn cats, or rehomes the ones that can be tamed.

These caregivers sometimes watch over colonies of these outdoor cats.

Sprague says she hates using the word ‘feral’ because it makes her think of a wild animal like a coyote, rather than a cat that is a domesticated animal.

Sprague and the others started FCN because they saw a gap in services available for feral cats.

Adoption for these cats is really low in small, rural towns — they just aren’t wanted here, she says.

Yet, these places are exactly where people keep bringing their cats and dumping them, or abandoning them when they move away.

Over the last three years, Sprague has personally caught and taken 200 cats in Donalda to be neutered. Of those, she was able to rehome 75 of them.

In Daysland, they found a colony of 15 cats, neutered them and returned them to a caregiver.

Sprague is passionate about caring for feral cats and controlling their populations because of the devastation she has seen.

When she moved to Donalda, she owned one cat, which was fixed.

However, she quickly found there were at least 20, skinny, stray cats who came around so she started to feed them.

One had a broken leg, others had broken tails or were otherwise maimed, another had a dented in skull, possibly from being hit by a car.

Other cats were injured from being hit with shovels, others had been shot by people wanting them off their property.

She’s seen them with respiratory infections and malnourished and found sites with multiple cats dead – possibly from being drowned and discarded.

“I couldn’t believe the condition the cats were in,” she said.

“How can we not have compassion?”

Finding a frozen kitten on her steps was the last straw.

“I said ‘no more.’ I have the capability of making this change and I have to do this.”

Fortunately, she was able to nurse the kitten back from the brink of death and it is alive today.

She’s reported some cases to the RCMP and SPCA, but there doesn’t seem to be any stop.

There’s no shelter or rescue in the province that can take such huge numbers of cats all at the same time and some are too wild to become house pets, she says.

So that leaves neutering and releasing them, but they will only do so to a dedicated caregiver.

Some of these caregivers watch over whole colonies, building them sheds or other shelters, especially for the winter.

Living outside, there are still dangers, even with a caregiver — such as other animals, or vehicles.

Sprague herself looks after a colony of 15.

“I do my best to protect them from it, as does every caregiver, because we are dedicated.”

The five official members take care of their own areas, as well as travel all over central Alberta, and the network has about five regular volunteers as well.

“There’s just such a need for these cats,” said Sprague.

“We try not to let anybody down.”

Sprague wanted to recognize the Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS) in Calgary that helps them by taking their stray cats and getting them adopted — they’ve taken as many as 200 from them before.

“Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.”

A lot of the spaying and neutering is done out-of-pocket by the members. The FCN relies on donations, and bottle drives to pay for vet bills, as well as foundations in Edmonton that support rescues.

If you have bottles you wish to donate, call or text Candice or Scott Williams at 780-603-9514. Donations can also be made via e-transfer to feralcatnetworkfoundation@outlook.com.

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