Cat lovers everywhere will talk forever about the various personalities of their pets. And one cat is never enough, it seems. One young woman in my life tells me about the relationship between her cat and dog... the dog nips gently along the cat’s body and the cat licks and cleans the dog’s ears.

Love knows no bounds.

My nephew sent a photo recently demonstrating the affection between his large, fully grown cat and his young golden retriever... the photo showed the pair’s common bond... cat’s head in dog’s mouth! Go figure.

There’s a different kind of love occurring all across Barrie as Marie Aldred and a small army of cat-loving volunteers rescue kittens who’ve been born to mummy cats that were abandoned as owners moved on. Or, they take in injured cats, pregnant cats, oversee births, care for the babies and after ensuring they’ve been neutered, send them out to loving homes.

It all started eight and a half years ago, at the rear of Marie’s little restaurant--Ollie’s--on Essa Rd. She was taking the garbage out to her dumpster one evening and found several cats scrounging for meals. They were clearly running wild, trying to fend for themselves, and doing poorly at it.

And that was the beginning of Marie’s commitment to our community as she founded Furry Friends.

The purpose? To educate people to be more responsible and to understand that there’s no such thing as a free cat or kitten. Marie feels strongly that people often see cats as disposable pets. They’re given a kitten and it’s pretty cute but when it comes time to move, or it gets in the way in some fashion, they just send it out to fend for itself.

“Cats can have three litters of kittens a year,” says Marie, “and each litter can be between two and eight kittens.” So, a cat left to the wild can create huge numbers of other cats. Cat colonies set up, but because they’re not spayed or neutered, the problem is compounded.

Furry Friends is a no-kill solution to uncared-for cats. Marie and her team are into rehabilitation... they take in two kinds of cats: those born in the wild (feral cats) which take a long time to rehabilitate, and those abandoned by their owners, or injured and lost.

In volunteer foster homes across the city, people are caring for pregnant mummy cats and their kittens, all neutered before they go up for adoption. Other foster homes take cats who need socializing and trust building to become adoptable. Marie says a cat born in the wild takes a long time to be climatized to home interiors. The noise of television sets, the slamming of doors, people’s voices... it’s all a frightening experience and trust is slow to build.

One of the biggest supporters of these adoptee cats and kittens is Petsmart. The store provides adoption space, cage areas where potential buyers can come in contact with the rehabilitated animals.

Almost all veterinarians in the city take part in Furry Friends neuter program. With each adopted animal is a neuter voucher which has been paid for by Furry Friends. Veterinarians participate by honouring the voucher, which is lower than their normal ‘bench rate.’
This movement, as it enters its 10th year, is benefitting from the energy of alot of people. Some donate money because they’re concerned about animal welfare. With that money, the organization pays for its rent, heat, hydro, water which totals about $2000 a month. Food. Vaccinations for the cats. Food. Kitty litter... even though Marie and her 50 volunteers are all unpaid, there are still substantial costs to the program.

Seniors across the city knit blankets for the cats, but Marie’s needs list includes kitty litter, scratching poles, beds, pet carriers. On a larger scale, Marie wishes people would never adopt a kitten that’s not neutered... or abandon it in a field or a barn.

“We try to get a donation with every adoption to cover the vaccinations for the cats,” says Marie. There are Furry Friends donation boxes around the city. As a registered, charitable organization, Furry Friends also collects Zehrs and Sobeys cash register tapes... $100,000 of Zehrs tapes will pay the hydro for a month on the Furry Friends shelter. Canadian Tire money is used to buy supplies. She wishes someone with a pickup truck would come forward to donate a few hours just to pick up and deliver large items the volunteers can’t handle on their own. You can reach Marie by calling Petsmart at 722-0337 and asking for Furry Friends. The staff relay the message. The shelter budget can’t afford a phone.

During December, 96 cats went out for adoption and in January, 53 went to homes. In total, in 10 years Marie and her friends have saved the lives of 15,000 cats. And with the neutering program, they’ve prevented the lives of probably 200,000 more.

Quite a feat for a lady who just went to take the garbage out!

Thanks, Marie.

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