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December 5th
The Story of Pearl (and Bruce)

Our neighbours are farmers, with cows, horses, a couple of dogs, numerous cats roaming around, and lots of heavy farm machinery. A typical farm, I suppose.

Upon visiting my neighbour one day, she invited me in to see the kittens born to their pampered and lucky indoor cat. The kittens were adorable! But the hard reality soon became apparent. These little kittens would be turned outside at eight weeks to fend for themselves. My neighbours would feed them a bit, but they also had to learn how to live around large farm machinery, large hooves, and wild animals like coyotes, foxes and hawks. When I returned a few weeks later, there they were outside, looking forlorn, and of course, no mother to watch out for them as she was living a fairly good life mostly inside.

I could not get this scenario out of my mind, thinking of these defenceless little kittens trying to survive in this harsh environment. I successfully got a rescue group to accept the kittens and was told not to leave any behind.

I returned the next day to ask my neighbour if I could take the kittens to the rescue so that they could have a better life. Thankfully she agreed, as I did not know what her reaction would be.

The first one I saw was sitting in the middle of the farmyard. He was so tiny and all by himself. Scoop! We got him! And we caught five more little ones, but I had to return a few times because some were very elusive. I did not give up; we could not leave any behind.

I did not have any experience with cats or kittens. This was all new to me, but I love all animals and have a lot of compassion for them, which goes a long way. Helmut was incredibly supportive and encouraging.

The kittens were delivered to the rescue safely, and my life was changed forever. We adopted little Bruce, the first little kitten I saw on rescue day. He was shockingly 1 pound of skin and bones, and he would not have survived much longer outside. In his foster home, he was very delicate, as he was so tiny and malnourished. He became dehydrated very quickly, needing emergency medical care. With the expert care of the foster Mom, he became a robust, cheeky boy, and we took him home when he was four months old. Bruce had so much personality, love, and affection to give. He would snuggle up to our dog, Sailor (which was amazing to see), and he fit in well with our family. We soon could not imagine life without him.

Fast forward two years, the same neighbour asked me if I would take five kittens they were looking after at their farmhouse. They had never got their sweet little indoor cat spayed! I checked with the rescue group to see if they could take them in. I was told yes, but I would have to foster them. No Problem! I was told that the kittens should stay with the mother cat for two more weeks for a better chance at survival. I went over to check on them to see how big they were and if there were any issues. While I was there, someone opened a door into the connecting shed. There at the door was a mama cat with her two little kittens, who were about the same age as the indoor ones. The mama was as sweet as pie. My neighbour, however, shooed the three of them away. I could not get these three out of my head.

I kept reminding my neighbour that I wanted these two little outdoor kittens as well, so they would not forget or lose track of them. And in early August 2008, I took the seven little kittens home. The kittens were about eight weeks old. It broke my heart to leave the sweet-as-pie outdoor mama behind, and I regret that decision to this day. At the time, I was overwhelmed with looking after seven kittens.

We set up the kittens in a spare room in our basement. While the five indoor kittens were used to handling and were very affectionate, the other two were not. Little Pearl was one of those two outdoor kittens and the one we ended up adopting. The rest of the story is a tribute to her.

Pearl was very frightened of me at first. But the food, warmth, toys and kindness must have made a difference.

Over the next ten weeks, Pearl changed the most. One day, Pearl climbed up on my lap just because she felt like it - I knew she would live with us.

All the kitties were brought to the rescue when they were ready to begin their adoption process. I had taken them to vet appointments, to be spayed and neutered, administered medications if required, and loved all 7 of them to bits. It was incredibly hard to give them up, but I could not live with seven cats.

I waited two weeks before committing to adopt Pearl as I wrestled with the pros and cons and how Bruce would feel. When I brought Pearl home, she settled in with Bruce as if they had always been together. It was seamless. And again, this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Pearl and Bruce were best friends.

Pearl developed a neurological disorder around seven months of age. The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) diagnosed her with a hereditary neurological disease. The disease did not hold her back, but it did affect her mobility and quality of life in her later years.

Both Bruce and Pearl have now passed the rainbow bridge. They brought us so much love and joy. I miss them daily. They taught me how important it is to spay and neuter the cats in your care. Cats can reproduce amazingly fast, but the reality is that many little kittens born outside will live hard, short lives and will suffer greatly. This is unnecessary suffering that can be avoided by spaying and neutering.

During the summer of Pearl’s rescue, I tried to help my neighbours solve or minimize their unwanted kitten problem. I called around to various vet clinics to see if any would help with the spay/neuter surgery for the adult cats on the farm. This was a daunting task, as the average cost was $200-$300 at the time. There were no low-cost clinics, and my neighbour could not afford the surgery. After numerous phone calls to vets and a lot of rejection, I found one vet who would spay four cats for free. This would not solve the problem entirely, but it was a start. I asked my neighbour to find four female cats and insisted Pearl’s mama be one of them. I was the chauffeur, and everything went smoothly.

At the time I was calling around to find a vet to spay/neuter, I realized there was a need for low-cost vet services in our area. It would help in keeping our cat and dog populations under control.

That was in 2008. In 2022, upon a visit to the Humane Society of Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth, I got to know that they offered low-cost veterinary services, including spay/neuter surgeries for $120, rabies clinic and microchipping your pets for as low as $30. They also have a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. Through the TNR program, community cats are trapped, sterilized (spayed or neutered), vaccinated, microchipped, ear-tipped (the universal symbol for a sterilized cat) and then returned to the location where they were trapped. It only costs $35!

We are so thankful to the Humane Society of Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth for providing excellent care to pets in our communities. They have low-cost spay/neuter clinics, in-house surgical room, and veterinarians on staff, complete with an x-ray machine. These are just a few highlights of the work the Humane Society continues to do, which shows how much they care and want to do for the pets in our community.

We are thrilled and excited to support the Humane Society of Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth this Holiday season as they head into their Hope for the Holidays campaign.


Susan Hebert and Helmut Zgraja
Helmutz Landscape & Interlock

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