Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which was submitted after publication.
A newly minted cat rescue in Elgin has helped save the lives of more than five dozen cats removed from an alleged hoarding situation at a property in Bourget.
Johanna Cake, founder of the new Eastern Ontario Cats foster-based rescue, said it was the only thing she could do when she heard of the situation of 67 cats and a rabbit from fellow rescuer, Shelley Funk.
“They were all so sick we had to go right to the vet with them,” Cake said, when they were able to remove the first 17 intact males. “They had eye issues, upper respiratory and ear infections. It was disgusting. Before we could even give them vaccines or get them neutered, they had to be on two weeks of antibiotics.”
Cake tells that one cat, Scarlet, was rescued with a suspected injured paw, but it was discovered she had a broken hip that the vet compared to a break from being hit by a car. She had a respiratory infection and pyometra – a life-threatening infection of the uterus. She was euthanized Jan. 29 due to her illness and extensive injuries.
From November to January, the cats and a single rabbit were removed from the home and the vet bills reached $19,000, Cake said.
That’s when she spoke with Carleton Place’s Shelly Dickie of Dickie’s Cause 4 Paws – Kitten Rescue, and a fundraising plan ensued.
“I asked Shelly, how to fundraise for these cats. I had so many cats in care and only so many fosters,” Cake said. “They’d been living in cages for four years … in the most unbelievable living conditions imaginable. The cats were in such bad shape, and I knew before I could take in any more, I needed a way to pay off the bills.”
Dickie and Cake worked together to fundraise, as “that’s what we do as a cat rescue,” Dickie said. “We help each other.”
Cake said she wouldn’t have been able to take in all the cats she did without the help from Dickie. “Without teaming up with Dickie’s Cause 4 Paws there was just no way we could have taken in 47 more cats,” she said.
Cake said these animals have trauma, head tilts from ear infections, and damaged eyes from respiratory infections left untreated. They survived in basements on cement floors without a blanket or straw for warmth and comfort, she said.
Many of these cats are now being nurtured through foster care. It will be some time before they will be available for adoption, but that is the end goal, Cake said.
Cake’s non-profit rescue is a no-kill, 100 per cent foster-based shelter. She currently has 170 cats in foster care. After only a year in existence, she has adopted out 500 cats and kittens and has helped trap, neuter, and release another 150 cats.
“It’s been a huge undertaking, but the community has just been so amazing coming together and helping us with food, donations and offering their homes.” Cake said. “Some people have never fostered cats before; they’ve just opened their homes to help.”
She said it’s been so amazing to see, “but it’s really frustrating that the authorities weren’t able to help with any of this.
“So, it’s always left up to these rescues with no money,” Cake said. “We’re a registered charity but we get no government funding; it’s based on donations alone.”
When asked why she wanted to start a foster-based rescue, she sighed deeply.
“If I don’t, who else will,” she said. “I’ve been in cat rescue for years, volunteering, and there was never enough help. I started this a year ago and I said at the start, if I help five cats, I’ll be happy. We just celebrated 500 adoptions and helped trap, neuter, and release about 150 cats – they get fully vaccinated which helps eliminate the spread of disease.”
One group of a dozen cats were trapped, neutered, and released from the Portland area. Cake said they were asked to help the stray cat population there and were able to go in with traps to get 12 of them in one weekend.
Cake said she applied for a community grant from the Township of Rideau Lakes for $5,000 to help build a shelter. She said she has yet to hear of their decision. (This week, council is working on its 2024 budget.)
“It would be a big help to get that, even to do examinations,” she said.
As for the $19,000 vet bills, Cake said that has been paid in full thanks to Dickie’s fundraising efforts.
“We’ve been able to raise funds to cover that in full,” she said, “which includes the 17 cats that were originally rescued. But there are always additional surprises.”
Another recent rescue success story for Cake was a cat found nearly frozen to death in a snowbank. She called her vet at five minutes before closing, who was able to take in the feline, warm it up and give it some IV fluids. It responded well to treatment.
“They’ve been absolutely wonderful,” she said of her partner veterinarians – Tenth Line Animal Hospital in Orleans and Blueberry Creek in Perth.
She said if nothing is done to stop these types of situations, even more animals will be held in captivity in the future.
“These people loved these animals,” Cake said, “but not in the right way.”
The health of these rescued cats is improving, Cake said, but it will take time.
“We’re hoping they will all make a recovery and will go up for adoption,” she said. “Right now, it’s a really sensitive time. They’re so traumatized. A lot of it is spending time with them and letting them get used to normal human contact, seeing sunlight. Not being in cages is a really big thing for them right now because they are so used to being crammed into something. That’s all they want to do is stay in a little hut because that’s all they’re used to.”
One cat they took in November is only now starting to come out of his hut, Cake said, and interact with other cats.
“It’s taken several weeks but we’re hopeful within the next couple months, he’ll be ready for adoption as well,” she said. “It’s all about patience, and slow movements, and taking the time to let them earn our trust.”
If you would like to learn more, donate, foster an animal, or help in any way, visit easternontariocats.com
When the Ontario Provincial Police were contacted by Lanarkist, they indicated that this type of investigation was the purview of Animal Welfare Services.
Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said, “Animal Welfare Services received a complaint in August 2023 regarding the treatment of animals at a property in Bourget. An inspection was conducted and it was determined that the standards of care under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act were being met,” he stated in an email to Lanarkist on Jan. 31.”
We also reached out to the people who had these cats but did not receive a response as of publication time.