As cats go, Boo and Hoo come with lots of extras.
The sister cats both have six toes and one side of extra long whiskers — lopsided sets that make up for a birth defect that left both with partial sight in one eye.
Thanks to local volunteers, Boo and Hoo also have zero chance of adding any more kittens to the hundreds of feral cats living in Masset and Old Massett.
Kelly Aitken is one of the volunteers with Masset Cat and Kitten Rescue, a new group that has found homes for Boo, Hoo, and dozens of other feral or abandoned cats since October.
Aitken recently spoke with councillors in Masset and Old Massett to get support for a local TNR drive — a “trap, neuter, and release” program that could dramatically lower the number of feral cats.
The wild-living cats can spread disease, injure local pets, and kill birds in the Delkatla Wildlife Sanctuary.
“If we can do 25 cats from Masset and Old Massett, that would be a huge kick in the butt,” said Aitken, speaking at a recent Masset council meeting.
Councillors in Old Massett voted to support the drive, and Masset councillors agreed to match any financial donations so both villages give equal support.
While they have favourite spots, including a fish-packing plant in Masset and a sand hill in Old Massett, at night the cats roam free between the villages, and are often seen scavenging the beach along the tide line.
As Aitken says, “Cats don’t know there’s a sign.”
If the rescue group can raise $2,000 locally, the BC SPCA will pitch in $6,800 for the TNR drive.
Local vets Don and Dane Richardson, who run Haida Gwaii’s only animal hospital on the Richardson Ranch, have also offered to treat the animals at a heavy discount.
Leila Riddall, another local volunteer who has helped many other wild animals, from raccoons to eagles, said that because of the mild winters, cats on Haida Gwaii can have up to three litters a year — one more than cats on the mainland.
That makes it even easier for feral cat colonies to grow out of hand, Riddall said, adding that if a pregnant cat has females, that one cat can be responsible for 30 kitten births a year.
Stepping into her garage, Riddall introduced five more cats that, unlike Boo and Hoo, are probably too “racoon wild” to ever be tamed.
A few months ago, Riddall had to get a nasty cat bite treated at the hospital, an experience that fellow volunteers Kelly Aitken and Denise Collison know firsthand.
Cat bites can get badly infected, said Riddall, and feral cats will often attack people if they feel cornered.
“I’ve been chased,” said Aitken, laughing.
But Riddall, Aitken and Collison are happy to take the risk if it means helping a feral cat find a home, or lowering the number of feral cats without resorting to a cull.
Shooting or poisoning feral cats is usually less effective than TNR in the long run, said Aitken, since a fixed cat colony will keep out any newcomers. Similar programs have worked well in Sandspit, Skidegate and Queen Charlotte.
In her garage, Riddall picked up a cat trap to show how it works — drawn into a long steel cage by some cat food at the far end, a feral cat steps on a plate that shuts a heavy door behind them.
The cat is then taken to a vet for a one-time visit where it gets spayed or neutered, and vaccinated against disease.
It’s a good thing that it’s one visit, said Riddall, since most cats won’t fall for the same trick twice.
From there, tame-able cats go to foster homes, she said, while wilder ones go back to the colony. A few cats in the middle get a second life as barn cats, living in a heated tackle room and chasing mice.
“After a month, they install a cat door on the barn, and from then on the cat stays, keeps whacking mice and rats, and everybody’s happy,” said Ridall.
For more information, or to make a donation to Masset Cat and Kitten Rescue, call 250-626-7576.