AMHERST – Michelle Hicks has company.
“I have, living outside,…four that I know I’m feeding,” said the cat lover.
The four stray cats she regularly feeds also live on her property, in cat shelters she had made by Sunset Industries in Pugwash.
Hicks thinks stray cats are a problem everywhere. In her case, she thinks people moving out of a neighbouring apartment complex are a source of some cats, while others may be gathering in a large abandoned property near her place.
The woman has about 20 cats living in her home right now – “It’s a lot of work.” – but the shelters provide, well, shelter, for animals she can’t or doesn’t keep indoors.
“She’s actually bought quite a few from us,” said Dave Arsenault, manager of production and marketing at the not-for-profit Sunset.
The manufacturer has existed for decades, according to Arsenault. A document he supplied said their mission is to provide a “safe and supportive working environment so (adults with serious and persistent mental and physical challenges) can live a more satisfying and meaningful life.”
The 35 client-employees and four employees (in addition to the manager) work in three shops. One of them is a woodworking facility, where they do made-to-order pine furniture and cabinets.
They’re busy. There’s always work. But the depths of winter do bring a bit of a lull, and the cat shelters – they’ve made 15 or more so far – have been a welcome project.
“Most of the material is recycled material,” said the man.
The plywood they use has been donated by the government – end pieces from the provincial sign shop in Truro. The styrofoam they use for insulation was donated by a company Hicks sourced, and the shingles were also from Hicks, thanks to contractors who donated leftovers.
Arsenault said the Amherst woman approached Sunset about making a shelter for her and the idea’s blossomed from there. The manager had a blueprint on hand and did up a prototype. In consultation with Hicks, adjustments were made (a second entrance was added).
In addition to finding satisfaction from using recycled materials, the manager is pleased to get business as far away as Amherst. And the cat owner is also pleased to be working on something that benefits stray animals.
“It’s an interesting project all the way around.”
Hicks said it’s heartbreaking seeing animals that had homes homeless and freezing in winter. She said people are under the misconception domesticated cats can fend for themselves. But they can’t eat snow, she said: they need fresh water, and food and escape from the elements.
There are ways to help, according to Hicks. Even if someone doesn’t want to have a cat shelter on their own property or feed stray cats, they can find someone who’s willing to and offer to donate the cost of food or shelter (Aresenault said he’s charging $65 to the public).
“These are not feral (cats),” she said.
Hicks claimed feral cats aren’t seen by people. Cats that come up to houses associate humans with good things; they were pets, she thinks. A person made them dependent then, for whatever reason, stopped taking care of them. She said someone needs to be responsible for these animals (she goes so far as to pay to spay or neuter the strays when she can, she said).
Hicks praised people she knows of in the community who are helping animals, and she said she’d like to see more cat shelters built and used in the area for next winter.