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Photo Courtesy of @msfayeelle

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Jessica Blencarn has four lovable cats at home. But that has not stopped her from fostering others. Since joining Sammy’s recently, she’s given temporary homes to 36 felines. (Jessica Blencarn)

How the anonymous Sammy boosted cat colony rescues in B.C.

By Brandon Jones

A nearby colony housing over 100 feral felines would be on nobody’s want list.


But that’s what Sammy endured on his property outside Kamloops B.C. back in October 2019. He tolerated them but he could no longer let them stay. His neighbours were growing restive. 


But he was a kind man. He had always fed the animals when he could and watched out that they came to no harm. 


And the felines were quite happy most of the time. What could be wrong with living at an unused farm dotted with crumbling buildings? And many pieces of rusting farm machinery with dry hidey-holes where they could breed and stay out of the elements? 


But the situation could no longer continue.


That’s when three rescue veterans got involved. And ended in the creation of Sammy’s Forgotten Felines, which has grown to become a specialist in the trapping of feral colonies in Kamloops, B.C., located 3-1/2 hours northeast of Vancouver.


Today Sammy’s is a thriving organization. Dependent entirely on volunteers that include a network of 20 foster homes, its operating budget runs to about $30,000 annually. Roughly 50 animals are in its care at this writing.


For the full story about Sammy’s, Guardian’s Best interviewed Jessica Blencarn, one of the three directors. When she isn’t rescuing cats, Jessica, 33, coaches young athletes as they compete in cross-country skiing competitions across Canada and internationally. 


Sammy’s has eaten up much of Jessica’s spare time since she joined the organization. She and her spouse have themselves housed 36 cats.


Jessica, did you take part in that rescue back in 2019?


It was before my time, actually. Three long-time rescue enthusiasts from Kamloops – Valerie Wilson, Julie Ondang and Jenn Breckenridge -- completed that project. The women knew each other, of course, but at the time they were volunteering with separate rescue organizations. By joining together, they bring decades of experience to the task of catching and relocating cats.


How did this rescue come about?


Valerie Wilson was the prime mover. She had been with the Kamloops SPCA for many years and had been aware back in 2015 of a large cat colony on the outskirts of the city. It had been there for years. 


She knew various organizations had tried to remove the animals, but they never managed to catch every single cat. As most rescuers know, leave even a few cats uncaptured and a colony will re-establish itself in as little as two years. 


When Valerie visited the site, she found dozens of sick, malnourished and diseased cats and kittens, as well as many dead animals. She swooped into action and, in a single month, trapped a full 98 of them on her own. She was almost finished the job when she learned to her dismay that she had to move to Vancouver. Her goal was in sight but it was impossible for her to continue. 


Where were these cats coming from?


The animals were breeding like crazy, of course. Experts say feral cats can produce anywhere from 100 to 5,000 offspring over the space of seven years. But many felines arrived when they were simply let loose at the farm.


The SPCA is usually the first place people think about when they have animals they cannot keep. But sometimes the SPCA has no space. Over time, Sammy’s farm came to be known as a place where you could drop off unwanted animals and know they would receive care.

Did they receive care?


Not really. They could take shelter in one of the buildings or under a rusty tractor, but it’s not like living in a warm house. In the winter months, Kamloops temperatures can go as low as -20°C. 


Who was providing the minimal care they were getting?


Sammy. He’s the Sammy in our name. The land where the colony was located belongs to him. He’s a good person. He would keep an eye on the animals and give them something to eat whenever he could. 


But he could not ignore the growing complaints from his neighbours. The colony could not remain there.


Please don’t ask me Sammy’s last name. He wishes to remain anonymous, and we respect that.


And Sammy’s Forgotten Felines grew from that.


Yes. Kamloops has a lot of feral cats, perhaps a lot more than other cities of a similar size. In fact, the SPCA refers to the situation here as a feral cat crisis. 


It’s a region that would be attractive to the animals. We don’t get as much rain. Plus, ranches and farmland where cats can hide out and thrive surround the city. Just to compound the problem, few people in Kamloops spay/neuter their pets. So lots of kittens are being born all the time. 


Feral cat colonies are a genuine problem here, one that Valerie, Julie and Jenn quickly came to recognize. Hence the birth of Sammy’s Forgotten Felines

How did you get involved?


I moved to B.C. in 2011 and ended up in Kamloops in 2020. That was right around the time of the removal of the colony. I read about it in the newspaper and, having always wanted to get involved with animal rescue, saw this as an opportunity. I called the number and they asked me to come on down. 


I started off fostering and, because Valerie had departed by this time, soon took on some admin responsibilities. 


You have fostered many times and still do, in fact. Is it tough to part with a cat you’ve fostered?


It is, I must admit. That never changes. They may all be different in personality, but they all have lovable characteristics. It’s natural to grow attached to them. 


To make it easier to say goodbye, I just tell myself there’s another cat out there that needs fostering and it’s my responsibiity to make room for it.

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Kind-hearted Sammy would try to feed the numerous felines who lived on his property. But the animals needed more help than he could give them and the colony needed to be rescued. (Flickr)

How does Sammy’s assist fosters who agree to take a cat temporarily?


Basically, we give these kind folks everything they need: Food, litter, all the supplies, including toys, bedding. Sometimes even a scratching post. We also pay all vet bills. Our goal is to create a cat-friendly home, while also making it easy for the homeowner. 


Many fosters are eager to assist us in our work, of course. Often they will supply the food and litter out of their own pocket.


What’s a challenging rescue you’ve had recently?


That has to be Paulette. She’s a muted calico who came to us just a few weeks ago. It’s a story with a scary beginning and a happy ending. 


When she arrived, she was three weeks old, far too young to be separated from her mother. She’d been abandoned, on her own, a tiny half-blind kitten. Can you imagine? She had many health problems: a bad flea infestation, missing one eye, malnutrition, dehydration – you name it. Also, her front legs were deformed.


As is our policy, we immediately took her to the vet. Kamloops Vet Clinic is a big supporter of Sammy’s. Dr Shannon Gruen examined her and started her right away on kitten milk replacer. And Paulette just took off from there. 


She's made an amazing recovery. Her fleas are gone, she’s put on weight, her leg deformity is improving. She’s a different cat! Of course, right now she’s still in the care of her foster, Lisa Burns. 


But she’s almost ready for adoption.


A rescue like Paulette’s costs money. How do you raise funds at Sammy’s?


Our Facebook events generate major donations. When we describe a case like Paulette’s on our page, kind people are naturally touched and can be quite generous. They’re able to see exactly how the money will be used. 


But we don’t depend entirely on Facebook. We also host fund-raising events. A major one is the dinner we stage every couple months at the Stock Pot Café, which is owned by one of our founders, Julie Ondang, and her husband. The restaurant supplies the food and our volunteers do the work – although with Covid, the meals are all takeout. All profits go to Sammy’s. 


Another important source of funds is our Christmas auction on Facebook. Local businesses donate things – gift cards, jewellery, household items – and people can bid right on the site. 


Out of our total annual income, about 60 per cent comes from our Facebook pleas, 30 per cent from special events like the Stock Pot dinners, and 10 per cent from people who donate unsolicited because they are good people who support the work we’re doing.

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Sammy’s is successful because of the dedication of its volunteers. Shown at a recent adoption event are six stalwarts (l to r): Melody Tomkins, Nicki Wolfenden, Paula Krest, Julie Ondang, Lyra Wolfenden and Jessica Blenkarn. (Jessica Blencarn)

What happens to captured cats after Sammy’s has had them rehabilitated and neutered?


We adopt them into forever homes. With kittens, that’s easy. With older cats, it can be a bit more difficult. The ones that are friendly – or show signs they will become friendly – will be socialized so they will fit in at new homes. 


And the ones that are deemed unsuitable for adoption?


Those animals also end up in a happy place. We work closely with the Richmond Animal Protection Society. They operate a year-round sanctuary for cats, a place where the animals can live out their lives comfortably, watched over by caretakers who ensure they are warm, healthy and have full bellies.


How do you capture a feral cat?


That takes practice. First, we must assess the situation: Is it feral? Has it been injured? Does it have any serious ailments? 


From that information, we decide how we’re going to capture it. We travel with different traps – box traps, where the door closes when a cat steps on a trigger, and drop traps that can be released when the animal is in the correct position. We never leave a trap unattended. And we never use nets. They are just too scary for the cat.


We also carry safety equipment like gloves and thick towels. Plus food and treats, of course.


You take pains to ensure you don’t frighten the animal.


Correct. We handle them gently right from the outset. Their experience with humans must be positive. You know what they say about first impressions. If animals are handled tenderly at the very first contact, they will be easier to work with later on.


So, the need for Sammy’s will continue.


It will. Our plan is to increase our capacity and we are focusing our fundraising efforts with this in mind.


Kamloops has a growing need for the kind of service Sammy’s is offering. There are just too many feral cats here, more than there are people to house them. So this will be an ongoing challenge. 

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