Spades was a problem.
The five-year-old cat, who came to the RAPS City of Richmond Animal Shelter as a stray, didn’t seem very fond of people. That can make finding an adoptive home challenging. Hissing and scratching aren’t what most families are looking for when they seek a feline companion.
Fortunately, we also operate the RAPS Cat Sanctuary—Canada’s Cat Sanctuary—which is where hundreds of cats who are unlikely to find a forever family live out their lives surrounded by love and care.
These cats come to us from all over B.C. and beyond. Many come from jurisdictions where they would have faced euthanasia. Because RAPS is a no-kill animal-serving agency, we welcome cats who have literally nowhere else to go.
But it turns out Spades isn’t much of a cat person, either. He got in nasty scraps with some of the other cats and people at the Sanctuary. Spades was a recluse and stayed hidden most of the time, which does not portend a good quality of life.
We weren’t sure what to do about him.
As a rule, RAPS adopts cats out to homes only with the assurance that the animal will remain indoors. Between cars, coyotes, transmissible diseases and other dangers, outdoor cats tend to have a far lower life expectancy than indoor cats. Ensuring that cats have the best chance at a happy, long, safe life is our top priority.
But Spades was unhappy with people and unhappy with cats. What kind of a life was in store for him? Being surrounded by hundreds of cats who made him frightened and agitated was not an ideal situation. And his habit of swatting at human hands made a human family a distant dream.
About this same time, a horse barn in Southlands (that weirdly rural stretch of Vancouver between the river and Marine Drive) was having a nasty rodent problem.
Sheryl Law, who boards her horse at the barn, was aghast to see that rats were gnawing on the soft cartilage at the back of the horses’ hooves and behind the knee.
“We tried really hard to get a cat,” says Law. But, like RAPS, most other animal organizations insist on keeping cats indoors.
While it is crucial for an organization like ours to set out clear standards and procedures, it is likewise important to consider every case on an individual basis. So, when Sheryl came to us with her request, we gave it serious thought. In the end, we concluded that, despite some risks, Spades had a better chance at a happy life in a place where he got to choose his interactions with humans and where he was the solo cat. We had to acknowledge that we have rules—and that sometimes we need to bend them.
The conclusion of this story is a shocker.
Since moving to the barn last summer, Spades has become almost unrecognizable to those who knew him. It turns out that, when it’s on his terms, he’s quite happy to jump on a person’s lap, rub against their riding boots and even get picked up for a short rub.
“I sent a letter of complaint,” Law laughs, “because he's very friendly and loves being cuddled. This is not the cat we thought we were getting.”
The rodent population has been kept at bay wonderfully, Law says, and the presence of a cat has brought the horse community closer together. They argue over which human he likes best. For their part, the horses are generally nonplussed. Some wuffle Spades curiously while others largely ignore him. When Law grooms her horse, she puts Spades on the horse’s back and he settles in comfortably.
“He really has brought the group of quite disparate people together and everyone's looking out for him, everyone throws in money to make sure that he's got food, his worm medication, and everybody's working together to have them be part of our community,” Law says. “He definitely rules the roost.”
Julie Desgroseillers is senior manager of the RAPS City of Richmond Animal Shelter.