Red Cross lab tech plans to spend retirement helping homeless cats

The Report: October 1998 vol.19 num.3


After 29 years as a blood bank laboratory technologist at the CanadianRed Cross, June Humphreys is looking forward to her retirement. However, Humphreysdoesnt intend to just sit back and relax ... instead, retirement will mean moretime to devote to her other -full-time job."

For the past eight years or so, Humphreys has been an active volunteerwith Richmond Homeless Cats, one of the many community-based charitable organizationsaround the Lower Mainland and world-wide dedicated to helping unwanted, abandoned, andferal (wild) cats. Humphreys has been involved with the group since its inception.

Humphreys is one of five full-time volunteers, and she spends most ofher evenings on the phone, taking reports of feral cat colonies or just giving advice.Three or four nights a week she goes out and actually traps cats, in order to take them tothe vet for spaying or neutering, vaccination and ear tatooing. On other occasions hergroup will lend out humane traps and other equipment so people in the community can rescuethe cats themselves.

Adult homeless cats are usually released back where they were trapped.Whenever possible, volunteers try to find homes for kittens, but its difficultbecause of the burgeoning population of unwanted cats. Richmond Homeless Cats feeds inexcess of 340 cats every day. They have a shelter, but its so full they cantaccept any new residents.

Adult cats and kittens are usually boarded at the veterinarian, butoccasionally Humphreys has to shelter cats overnight in her carport. She has 10 cats ofher own. -That may seem like a lot, until you get involved in this work," shesaid.

Humphreys used to work all over the Lower Mainland, but more recentlyshe has limited most of her hands-on cat rescue efforts to Richmond, where she lives.-We try to keep a pretty low profile, because we have far more work than we couldever possibly hope to do," she explains. -For example, there are probably 2,000colonies of feral cats in Surrey, as a guess. You could have a thousand people doing itfull-time and it wouldnt be enough. We do just one colony at a time."

In addition to direct intervention, cat rescue groups would like to bemore proactive by helping people in the community get their cats fixed. However, itsa huge challenge because many cat owners are either unwilling or unable to pay for theprocedure. -Education is the only way to stop the problem," says Humphreys.-The SPCA does it ... they have the money to put ads in the paper and so on ...but its like anything else: how do you educate people? You have to do itone-on-one."

Spay and neuter legislation is another option being actively pursued bycat rescue groups and the SPCA. Coquitlam municipal council recently passed the firstbylaw in Canada requiring cat owners to get their cats spayed or neutered. Surrey isexpected to follow suit shortly, and similar initiatives are being studied in Vancouver,Burnaby and New Westminster.

In 1987, 7,000 cats were put down in the Greater Vancouver area by theSPCA. It is hoped that spay/neuter legislation will reduce this figure ... in USjurisdictions that have adopted similar legislation, animal shelters have reportedreductions of between three and 12 per cent annually in the number of cats that must beeuthanized.

Humphreys has been an HSA member since the Red Cross laboratorytechnologists joined the union in the mid-seventies. Prior to her retirement this August,she was a health and safety steward and an assistant chief steward.

-Its hard to believe that Ive actually retired,"she said. -You know, it takes a while to get used to it and stop referring to peopleas ‘the people I work with. "

When asked if she is looking forward to retirement, Humphreys replies,-Oh yes, absolutely. But I dont know whether its going to change my lifethat much."

Richmond Homeless Cats currently spends approximately $4,500 a monthon food and veterinary care. The donations they receive through fundraising efforts oftenfall far short of this figure, with the difference often carried by their volunteers. Ifyou would like more information, or to make a donation, call 604 271 7729.