After a harrowing 1,000-kilometre journey by land and sea through harsh weather, 37 cats who once roamed a small Newfoundland island are adjusting well to life in Nova Scotia.
The felines came from Little Bay Islands, whose 54 residents voted in favour of accepting government financial relocation assistance earlier this year, meaning services like power and water will be cut off on Dec. 31.
Although the cats were feral, many were fed by and socialized with the island's residents, which raised concerns about whether they would survive once everyone was gone.
The plight of the cats gained national media attention and prompted volunteers at Spay Day HRM Society, a Halifax-based charity, to hatch a plan to save them.
"It all came together within two days and it got real really quickly," said Linda Felix, president of Spay Day HRM.
Four volunteers packed two rented vans with trapping gear and set off for northern Newfoundland, driving through a mixed bag of weather all along the way.
"The window for trapping had to be very small because you can't keep wild cats in small cages for an extended period of time," said Felix, standing next to rows of large kennels covered in blankets inside empty office space in the Burnside Industrial Park.
"Combine that with winter and bad roads, we needed to do a quick in and a quick get out and get back home."
Volunteer Tracey Galusha said they used humane raccoon traps to catch the kitties, which range in age from four months to six years old.
She said the cats fared well during their interprovincial adventure, which included long car drives over snow-covered roads and a ferry ride across the Atlantic Ocean.
"We had one little cat who was singing to us on the way back," said Galusha, holding a grey kitten as he nestled his face into her sweatshirt.
"We crossed Port aux Basques to North Sydney, and when we got in the van in North Sydney to come back, there had been some, let's say, smelly stuff going on. But it was only a short five-hour ride back to here and everybody got a clean kennel."
The cats arrived at the Burnside facility on Sunday, Dec. 15.
Galusha said most of that cats are in good health, except one cat who had to have his eye removed because of an injury and a few cats with upper respiratory infections. All have since been spayed or neutered.
"These are the cleanest feral cats we've ever seen. Nobody had fleas. Nobody has ear mites. There was no disease," she said. "A lot of them aren't really afraid of humans like normal feral cats."
Felix said the cats have varying degrees of socialization. Some are nearly ready to be put up for adoption through the SPCA, while others will go to foster homes so they can have more time socializing with humans.
Another roughly 15 cats, mostly older adults, are considered too feral to be adopted. Homes for those felines will be found through the organization's barn cat program, in which cats live inside barns and have access to food, water and warm shelter.
Four more cats were trapped after the initial 37, bringing the total up to 41. The late arrivals were on their way to Dartmouth from Newfoundland on Friday.
Felix said about 50 volunteers have helped out with the rescue of the island cats, including some who stopped in to take care of the animals on Christmas Day.
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