MOUNT FOREST – For every cat you see, there’s 10 more that you don’t.
That’s how Rhonda Bell from Mount Forest sums up the homeless cat situation in and around her community.
After receiving a call regarding four homeless cats living in an abandoned house, Bell goes to the rescue, and waits.
“I’m out at this place and its absolutely disgusting. The cats are abandoned, and they are emaciated. I haven’t anywhere to put them right now, but I’m working on it. They are just outside living amongst the garbage. It’s so sad,” Bell said.
“I’ve put a couple calls out to a couple rescues. But if I involve animal control, then I have no say over what happens to these cats.”
In 2010, Bell started Mount Forest Country Cat Rescue and TNR Group, dedicated to rescuing abandoned and feral cats.
“I am a rescue, but not like others. I am small. It’s just me. I do it out of my house. I don’t have any other volunteers except for a couple friends who help when they can,” Bell said.
“Mostly, the cats stay with me until I get overrun. I have one friend that fosters them. But because I’m only one person, there’s only so much I can do.”
Bell says the homeless cat situation is only worsening.
“I have never seen it so bad. I thought that this year would be my last, but it’s just so hard to walk away from them. When I try to, I just get depressed,” she said.
Bell has always had a special fondness for cats.
“Every cat is different. They all have their own personality and oh, I love those cute faces,” Bell said.
“They don’t ask for this life. We domesticated them and brought them into our homes. This is why we need to look after them.”
It all began one morning, 13 years ago when Bell came across a black kitten on the side of the road while on her way to work.
“I stopped and I got out of my car. He was very friendly. I brought him some food. I thought if he is still there later, I will come and get him,” Bell said.
“I thought about him all day because he was in bad shape. I asked my daughter if she would come and help me look for him and she did. He came out of a sewer pipe in the ground. I grabbed him and brought him home. My vet told me to bring him in right away.”
He had to be put to sleep because of various illnesses, including feline leukemia.
“We called him Itty Bitty Bo Bitty. What I do now has always been about him, and for him,” Bell said.
“He was a little black cat which is why my logo for Mount Forest Country Cat Rescue, is a black cat.”
Bell has 10 rescued kittens currently recovering in her home.
“My foster home has five. I can’t take in too many at a time. I will put them up for adoption after they are fixed or after whoever wants them makes the commitment to have them fixed. I make sure of that. The commitment has to be there,” Bell said.
The bigger problem, Bell says, is a lack of spaying and neutering that causes the homeless cat situation to explode.
“It can get out of hand on you in a hurry, especially when it comes to barn cats. Worldwide there are just millions and millions of homeless cats. That’s why I help them, because there are just so many of them,” she said.
Bell says various organizations offer spayed and neutering programs available at low cost.
“There are free programs out there, but people need to put effort into it, and look for them,” Bell said.
“If cats were spayed, this all stops. People need to make the commitment. It’s not costing them anything.”
“The Guelph Humane Society ran a free clinic for those living on a low income. These clinics are there or people can contact a rescue group that will help find one.”
Bell wants people to know that they do not have to abandon their cats out of desperation.
“There are places where they can turn them in. And there’s no criticism. It’s for the cats,” Bell said.
“When I can’t take a cat right away, I try to find help at other local organizations, including Pet Patrol, New Hope, or the Arthur Cat Rescue.”
“A lot of the bigger rescues receive donations. But, for me, on my own, it can be difficult. A lot of the money comes from my own pocket,” Bell said.
Anyone who would like to donate to Mount Forest Country Rescue and TNR Group can visit here.
“Some people don’t understand that some cats need a certain kind of food depending on their situation. A bag of kitten food lasts only a week. It can be hard to keep up with that.”
Right now, Bell says she is focused on finding good homes for her rescued kittens.
“I’m sure some people call me crazy cat lady, but I don’t care what they think. I am just one person doing all I can,” she said.
“A friend from another rescue says ‘you can’t look at the big picture. Because if you do, it will drive you crazy. You just have to look at what’s in front of you’, which I what I’m doing,” Bell said.
Bell’s own beloved cat, Philly, was rescued.
“We got this call about six newborn kittens. I took them, she said.
“Philly was blind from ocular herpes. And the other two also lost one eye and his brother had his eye scraped. I fostered them. Philly had to lose both eyes. I kept him.”
Ever since, the two have been inseparable.
“Philly loves me, and I love him. Everyone loves him. He’s a big grey and white cat. He also had no teeth. So, he has no teeth and no eyes. Poor Philly, but he knows where he is. And he knows he’s loved,” Bell said.
Even if it's just one or two cats, Bell says knowing that she is making a difference for them, makes it all worth it.
“As for these abandoned kittens, I will come back for them,” Bell said.
“It is hard to say goodbye. I can’t save them all, but the few that I can, it makes their life that much better.”