Abandoned felines need medical attention, food, homes

Raina Ercegovich is something of a reluctant rescuer.

She used to run a cat rescue in Cambridge about ten years ago, but shuttered her operation when she moved to Niagara in 2015, choosing to focus on her family. However, a desperate need to help local cats has brought her out of retirement.

As the administrator for the Facebook page, “The Heart and Hope of Lost and Found Pets in Niagara Region,” she has witnessed a great deal of animal pain and suffering, and has assembled a team of volunteers to help save feral cats at various locations in the peninsula.

At Sherkston Shores Resort, located on Lake Erie, Ercegovich said she rescued over 50 cats in 2021, abandoned by displaced trailer owners when Pleasant Beach Campground was sold.

Raina Ercegovich with one of her rescued cats. SUPPLIED

“The cats are roaming and breeding in the park. I can tell that they are related because a lot of them look the same. I use baited raccoon traps to capture them, and then set to work feeding and caring for them, with the hope of re-homing them,” said Ercegovich. “They need to be caged, quarantined, and taken to a vet. Having lived in the wild, many of these cats are unsocial, and that can be a problem. Established rescue programs often don’t want them, and the Humane Society is so full that it would likely put them all down.”

Her main impediment is lack of funding.

Vet care, like deworming and basic vaccinations, is about $300 per cat, said Ercegovich.

“That’s before any surgeries that might be necessary, and food. I don’t have a GoFundMe account. I’ve been doing it all on the Lost and Found Pets page, and having the money directly sent to the veterinarian, because I’m not set up as a non-profit organization. We do get a rescue discount and a good deal at the spay and neuter clinic in Windsor, so I try to make the trip with a dozen cats every couple of weeks. Volunteer drivers bring them back to Niagara, where I try to put them all in foster homes.”

Ercegovich reached out to Sherkston Shores to explain the scope of the problem, and request support.

“They told me that they couldn’t financially help with any of it, other than provide a raffle prize if we organized some sort of fundraising event. But I was allowed to continue through the winter trapping cats in the park.”

Derek Stevenson, the General Manager at Sherkston Shores, told the Voice that his office responded to an email asking for assistance with the cat issue, but has received no further response.

“We’re more than happy to help out if we can. I would encourage her to reach out again, so that we have a better understanding of the situation,” he said.

Sherkston Shores is owned by Sun Communities Inc. of Southfield, Michigan, a publicly traded real estate investment trust. The company has some 3000 employees, and registered total assets of over $7 billion U.S. in 2019, according to Wikipedia.

Ercegovich jokes that she has unintentionally become the feral cat lady of Niagara.

“I’ve just pulled nine cats out of Jordan, where there’s a massive problem. Same thing in Welland. How are these cats going to survive through the winter? The reality is if they’re not rescued, they’re going to starve. The cats are fighting for food, and as they fight, they’re passing around leukemia, which is deadly. If your house cat goes out there and it fights with one of these leukemia cats, your cat has a death sentence right there.”

Feline leukemia is a disease that only affects cats. It cannot be transmitted to people, dogs, or other animals, and is passed from one cat to another through saliva, blood, and to some extent, urine and feces. Kittens can contract the disease in utero or through an infected mother’s milk. The disease is often spread by cats that appear healthy.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Humane Society have developed feral cat support programs, in an effort to address an overpopulation problem across the province. “A ‘trap, neuter, vaccinate, return’ approach is the only economically viable and truly humane approach to feral cat population stabilization,” according to the organization’s website.

Information on Ercegovich’s cat rescue program are available at www.facebook.com/groups/151834051528598