Six years ago, Colette Beals lost her elderly cat Jingles and decided to get a new kitty to help her second cat, Belle, and children through the grieving process.
But for the Labrador woman, finding a new cat wasn't simple.
"Finding a kitten in Labrador West was extremely difficult. I wasn't aware of that at the time, but just couldn't find one to add to our family," Beals said.
Beals began looking in Newfoundland and soon learned that while cats are hard to come by in Labrador West, there is an overpopulation problem on the island.
In honour of Jingles, Beals started an organization — which she called Mission Kitty — in 2016 to help the population of feral, abandoned and stray cats throughout Newfoundland. She says she raised about $120,000 in the first four years and $106,000 in 2021, which she's distributed to 30 different rescue groups.
"That made me so happy to be able to distribute funds to, you know, little Sammy that might need eye removal or Gabe that needed his paw removed," she said.
Mission Kitty uses a Facebook group to auction off new and used goods and solicit money from companies including Avon and Scentsy, she said. Beals said she's driven to keep building the group because she's "the crazy cat lady."
"I want to save them all. I wish I could help them all. I wish none of them had to suffer," Beals said. "I just cannot stop, no matter what."
Beals says the group has placed more than 350 rescue cats and kittens in new homes in Labrador.
Tanya Wight, chair of Deer Lake Kitty Rescue on Newfoundland's west coast, says Mission Kitty is a "godsend."
"They have been able to offer access to funds outside of what our local community is able to offer," said Wight.
The group has rescued hundreds of cats in the Deer Lake area, said Wight, costing more than $100,000 over seven years — with never enough funds to meet the need.
"This is not an isolated issue, that we have a huge cat overpopulation crisis in this province that has gone largely unseen," Wight said. "We have thousands of adult cats in the care of rescue groups across this island. Thousands more kittens being born this spring.… We have a limited number of homes, and we just can't seem to break that cycle."
Access to low-cost spay and neuter clinics that are subsidized by municipalities or the province would help, she said, and government-supported rescue groups could provide animal protection and care.
For Beals, the next goals are getting registered as a charity and starting a second-hand shop to raise more money. For now, she just hopes to continue to grow.
"I would love to be able to give, give, give," Beals said. "We have totes of items for a yard sale already this summer. I've got about 30 totes of Christmas items out in storage for our Christmas auction. So it's non-stop. I'm always collecting, always brainstorming, trying to figure out ways to help more."