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More cats than cash: Port Alberni cat rescue operates on a shoestring

Valley Cats rescues more than 100 kittens and cats per year
A volunteer bottle feeds a young kitten in August 2021. Valley Cats took in 43 kittens in a short period of time in summer 2021, taxing their foster homes. (PHOTO COURTESY VALLEY CATS)

Valley Cats — Alberni Cat Rescue started with one cat in need of help.

Now, three years later, a small group of volunteers rescues more than 100 kittens and cats per year.

Port Alberni’s cat rescue started when one person noticed a cat from a feral colony behind Cokely Wire. She and another compassionate person trapped the mother cat, had her spayed and released her. They put out a message asking for someone to foster the kittens they found, and Kat Dwolinsky answered.

“I reached out and said I would take a couple of kittens,” says Dwolinsky. “A couple of days later someone said ‘who wants to start a cat rescue,’ and I said sure.” Dwolinsky and fellow volunteer Kelly Johnsen are now the two principals behind Valley Cats, with a small core of volunteers and 16 foster families bolstering them. Dwolinsky coordinates fostering and adoptions while Johnsen looks after the website and fundraising side of things.

READ: QUINN’S QUIPS: Animal rescue comes at a price

As is typical of most rescue organizations, Valley Cats operates with few volunteers but a tonne of passion for animal rescue. There are always more cats than cash, Dwolinsky said. “Financially, we stay afloat. It’s just to sustain; it’s not enough to move forward with new programs or to put any ideas we have into action.”

The Alberni Valley has several feral cat colonies but Valley Cats doesn’t have the volunteers, fosters nor funds to deal with them all. “We have three pretty big colonies out in rural areas. We would love to start neutering these cats,” she said. “That’s where the money part comes in.”

They have a trap, neuter and release (TNR) program and will trap a cat, pay to have it neutered or spayed then release it back to the area where they trapped it. They do this as funds are available; that translated into 20 cats this year, Dwolinsky said, all around the former Somass Sawmill site. She wishes they could do more. Neutering a male cat costs the organization between $170 to $200, and spaying a female between $240-$260. Then there is recuperation time, feeding and for kittens, acclimatizing them to humans. Valley Cats also supports foster families by paying for supplies.

Dwolinsky is hoping that a new volunteer who is versed in writing grant proposals will help them successfully apply for grant funding so they are able to do more.

The 100-plus Women Who Care-Port Alberni branch heard a proposal to support Valley Cats with one of their quarterly donations, and Dwolinsky is grateful to the members who have taken the time to learn about their organization. Bosley’s by Pet Valu is a big supporter of Valley Cats, as are local veterinarians.

Rescue organizations work independently of the SPCA in B.C. but adhere to the same standards of care that the SPCA expects. Valley Cats works with the CARE Network from the west coast communities of Tofino and Ucluelet as well as Kitty Cat P.A.L.S. from Courtenay.

Dwolinsky said they have applied for charitable status.

This year has been a particularly busy one for kittens. Dwolinsky and other volunteers visited a colony discovered near the end of Beaver Creek Road, and rescued several kittens from that property. In late August/ early September they had 42 kittens out for foster.

Fortunately the number of kittens born will slow to a trickle now that cold, damp weather is setting in, and volunteers will have some breathing room until next spring.

Valley Cats has a Facebook page ( and a website ( for more information or to make a donation. Adoption forms are available on both sites.

Next week: Ziggy’s Rescue isn’t all cuddle puddles of puppies. It’s often hard work, and sometimes, says owner Laura Snoek, it’s heartache.

A mother cat nurses her litter of kittens in a wire kennel in July 2021, under the care of Valley Cats - Alberni Cat Rescue. One unspayed cat can give birth to as many as 16 kittens in 12 months, with multiple litters born in a year. (PHOTO COURTESY VALLEY CATS)

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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