Cats living on their ninth life are being granted a 10th by a Quesnel resident and a program aimed at rescuing feral felines.
Dee Dunphy, who has lived in the city since 1979, discovered an initiative called TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) after stumbling across a colony of feral cats while working in the Two Mile Flat area in 2015 and wondering what she could do to help.
Since 2017 Dunphy, along with a loose group of volunteers and friends who help her, have rescued over 300 feral cats and spayed or neutered another 200. TNR has also provided help to low-income residents to spay or neuter their domestic cats.
Dunphy’s latest cat capers have taken her to the Quesnel landfill after it was discovered by an employee several feral cats were living dangerously among the trash and debris.
“They have a big dump bin everyone puts their garbage into and they went to move one to empty it and they found a kitten behind it,” she said. “They caught the kitten and then contacted me, and I went and picked it up.”
The kitten, now named Jasper, was the first of several spotted among a large, metal pile.
Dunphy then went in with several traps — some tailored for adults and other for kittens — and has since rescued nine adults and 13 kittens since May, all of whom have now been fixed and found new barn homes.
Dunphy explained barn homes are a perfect, safe location for feral cats because most are not socialized to be friendly toward humans as pets.
“Feral cats have no human contact or had very little contact when they were young, or abandoned when they were young and, basically, left for themselves,” Dunphy said. “They don’t know human contact and what we are to them is a predator. Some can be socialized but, depending on how old they are, mom has already taught them to live a feral life.”
Dunphy said by the time kittens reach 12 to 16 weeks old they can sometimes be socialized to be friendly towards humans while, after that, it gets increasingly more difficult.
“We give it a try and if they decide they want to be feral we have to respect that and find them a barn home where they can live safely with a caregiver, but live as a feral,” she said.
Dunphy works with the local BCSPCA through her ‘Dee Feral Program’ to have cats fixed and released into barn homes.
“The SPCA doesn’t have the means or the staff to deal with feral cats because they are basically wild,” she said. “It’s not one you can reach in and pet.”
She has also built a relationship with Dr. Bianca Scheidt at the Animal Care Hospital in Quesnel.
“When I first started this TNR I went to the vet and they said you have to make an appointment two weeks in advance,” she said, explaining that was a challenge because she didn’t know exactly when a feral cat would pop up in a trap.
“I’d taken one of my own cats to Bianca for an appointment and asked if she worked with feral cats. She said yes, and to just check with her if and when I could drop them off and she’s been absolutely amazing. She’s one of the most important parts of this whole thing and, obviously, we couldn’t do this without her.”
All of the costs associated with trapping, neutering and releasing the animals is now done through collecting donations and turning in bottles. Dunphy said in the past the local SPCA has helped out through a feral grant program, however, funding has discontinued, she said, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, TNR has turned into an almost full-time job for Dunphy.
Through local Facebook pet pages and pining up posters around town, Dunphy is the go-to when anyone discovers feral colonies of cats.
“We’ve recently sent six to barns in Prince George, and we’ve taken cats to Merritt, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and 108 Mile,” she said.
When asked why she felt the TNR program was worth pursuing, Dunphy said it’s all about the cats.
“It’s about finding money for the vet bills and making sure they’re safe,” she said, noting she currently has 10 cats of her own, plus nine ferals awaiting homes.
“The people I work with are amazing people and we’re all out for the same reason and it’s for the cats. I love their personalities — they’re each so unique.
“With the feral cats, especially the kittens, watching them, then trapping them and seeing them be so scared but knowing the danger they came from and then watching them now purring and loving being pet — that’s just the most rewarding part of it all.”
If anyone would like to notify Dunphy of a feral cat or a feral cat colony they can contact her directly via messenger on Facebook at ‘Dee Dunphy.’