2014: The Year of the Cats

As 2014 draws to a close, one word comes to mind: cats. This was the year of the cats for us. During the last few months of 2013 we noticed a significant number of community cats hanging around our yard. As the weather grew colder, it became obvious that these cats were looking for food, water, and shelter. These were not cats that had been let outside by their caregivers but, rather, these were cats who had nowhere else to go. This was, to say the least, distressing. We later learned that there were some situations in our neighbourhood (abandonment, hoarding, etc.) that led to the spike in the number of community cats hanging around. At the time, however, we weren’t sure what was happening but began putting out food and building shelters. We started to get to know some of the cats, the ones that came to our house the most frequently.

First there was Ollie and Ernie. We had been feeding them for a while and they started coming regularly, like clockwork each morning at 6am. Ollie, a little tuxedo cat, was friendly almost from the first moment we met her, but Ernie was quite afraid of us. Very early on in January we brought Ollie and Ernie in to the house. Our 14 year old house cat Jenny doesn’t really like other cats, so we weren’t sure how this would go. We put them in the basement to quarantine them (not sure what we were dealing with) — not ideal, but at least they were out of the polar vortex temperatures.

Miss Jenny wasn't so sure about all the other cats who were hanging around in 2014.
Miss Jenny wasn’t so sure about all the other cats who were hanging around in 2014.

The day Ollie came in, it was one of the coldest days of the year and temperatures were around -20 C. I looked out the window and saw her stuck in a snowbank, crying her head off. She had dove from the fence to escape pursuit from one of the unfixed male cats in the neighbourhood and could not get out. By the time I got to her, she was soaking wet and shivering. After Ollie was in the house, her pal Ernie started spending a lot of time near the basement window. I’m convinced they could see each other and it wasn’t long before Ernie was also inside.

Ollie and Ernie have adjusted very well to life indoors.
Ollie and Ernie have adjusted very well to life indoors.

We couldn’t get near Ernie for the longest time, even after she was inside. Yes, we discovered that Ernie was a SHE when we noticed her ever-expanding belly. We managed to get her up and out of the basement and in to a bedroom just hours before she gave birth to four beautiful kittens. We still call her Ernie (the name stuck!), but her full, official name is now Miss Ernestina Maria.

The kittens were born in March, and they were a true delight. It was wonderful watching them grow and explore the world around them. Luckily we found people willing to adopt these kittens, and they are all doing well in their new forever homes now.

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Throughout the spring and summer a big fluffy cat we named Tom started coming around regularly. Poor Tom seemed to always be getting in to scraps and scrapes, and one morning he showed up with a pretty nasty war wound. He had a bump on his head about the size of a small apple and it was swollen and bloody. Of course, he wouldn’t let us get near him. It was that day that we decided we needed to do something for Tom and the others, so we worked with our neighbour, Allyson, to organize a fund-raiser for the community cats of our street. Allyson was also providing food and shelter and comfort to as many cats as she could throughout the cold months of 2014. We decided to hold a yard sale and bake sale in July, an event to raise money to help get some of these cats off the street and in to their forever homes — they all needed spaying/neutering, and many needed medical attention. The event was a great success, not only in terms of the amount of money raised (way beyond our modest expectations), but also in terms of bringing neighbours together to talk about the problem.

Throughout the rest of the year we upped our efforts to get the community cats off the street. The money raised was a big help, but it wasn’t nearly enough to deal with the scope of the problem. We also received generous assistance with the spay/neuter procedures from Niagara Action for Animals. Many kind people also donated cat food to the cause.

All in all, we were able to help 10 cats from our community this year, 3 are still with us and the rest have been adopted out to their forever homes. All of them are doing very well. We also heard through the grapevine that the hoarding situations near us have been “dealt with” — I’m not exactly sure what that means (although I have some guesses). I hope the cats that were removed are ok. I wish we could have helped more of them.

Over the last few weeks we have breathed a sigh of relief each time we look out on freshly fallen snow and see an absence of paw prints. I know that there are hundreds and hundreds more animals in need in Niagara so I’m not resting too easy, but I’m glad that for the moment things are a bit better for the community cats in our neighbourhood. I was also glad that we were able to help these 10 cats and would do it again in a heartbeat, but will also be quite happy if 2015 doesn’t bring quite as many cats to our doorstep. It was an intense year–if we weren’t actively taking care of them, we were talking about them, worrying about them, or raising money to help them.

Come for Congress, Stay for Niagara VegFest

Our campus is getting ready to host the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences later this month (May 24-30), and I am looking very forward to seeing colleagues who are coming to Niagara from across the country. I will be participating in a few panels, and will also be part of the group hosting the Social Justice Research Institute reception. There is so much going on during Congress!

For those of you traveling to Niagara for Congress, I invite you to consider staying on an extra few days to take in the Niagara VegFest weekend festivities.

Things get started on the 30th of May with the Niagara premiere of the award-winning documentary film, The Ghosts in Our Machine. We are delighted that the film’s Director, Liz Marshall, and the film’s human star, Jo-Anne McArthur, will be in attendance for the screening. They will be joined by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House for a Q&A after the film. You don’t want to miss this!

The official festival kick-off party takes place on Saturday, May 31st at Mahtay Cafe. The party will be hosted by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House. There will be live jazz (The Shea D Duo), delicious snacks, and beer and wine from Niagara College.

Then, on Sunday, June 1st, the 3rd annual Niagara VegFest takes over Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. There will be over 70 vendors/exhibitors, food trucks, speakers, workshops, live music, a “family zone,” as well as beer and wine from Niagara College. Admission is free and all are welcome!

Best Birthday Present Ever!

I turned 40 at the end of June, and in the weeks leading up to my birthday many people asked me what I wanted for my birthday. “It is a milestone birthday,” they said, “you need to celebrate in style.”

What I want more than anything is for us humans to stop hurting and exploiting other species. This is why I was absolutely thrilled to received a very special gift from two very special people–a fundraising campaign in honour of my birthday. All funds raised will go directly to Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. I believe in the important work that Sanctuaries such as Cedar Row do. The rescue, advocacy, and education work that these organizations do is crucial. Places like Cedar Row are also peaceful, wonderful places where you can rub a pig’s belly, cuddle a chicken, and come face to face with a cow. I volunteered at Cedar Row’s open house in June, and over and over again I saw people making thoughtful, compassionate connections between their interactions with these ambassador animals and other aspects of their lives.

A huge thanks to all the wonderful people who donated to this fundraiser! Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday by helping a cause that is so near and dear to my heart.

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Enjoying some time with Chickpea at Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary.

Niagara VegFest News

Great news on the Niagara VegFest front! We have received funding from the City of St. Catharines. This will help us continue to build and promote the festival for 2013. A huge thanks to the City’s Cultural Investment Program for this grant.

It may be a cold and gloomy day in Niagara today (apparently it is Blue Monday), but before we know it, Niagara VegFest will be upon us! We are working away getting things ready–much excitement here at Niagara VegFest headquarters! Registrations are starting to come in, the list of speakers is nearly finalized, and we are busy working on other plans for the festival. Stay tuned!

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Niagara’s First VegFest

Saturday June 2nd marked the first ever VegFest in the Niagara Region. I was part of the organizing committee for this event and while we were hoping the day would be a success we simply could not have anticipated the overwhelming response to the festival. Doors opened at 10 am and by about 10:30 we realized that we were going to be seeing some pretty large crowds during the day. The final attendance tally was 1250! This completely exceeded our expectations and at times things got a little crowded. However, everyone was in good spirits and took it in stride. As one of my colleagues remarked, “yeah, it was a little crowded, but it was exciting! It made you feel like you were really part of something.”

We had 30 fabulous exhibitors and vendors who ended up selling out of most everything by the end of the day. We had 4 generous sponsors who stepped up and took a chance on a new festival–a huge thanks to Kindfood, Sestres Coffee Shop, The Naked Sprout, & Bamboo Natural Food Market for their help in making the Niagara VegFest a reality. Thanks also goes out to VegFund for awarding us a grant to help put on the festival. We also were incredibly grateful for the assistance of Niagara Action for Animals and all our fabulous volunteers. What a day! I think more than anything what I took away from Niagara VegFest is just what an amazing community we have here.

I was also so impressed with all of our speakers. Marni Wasserman kicked off the day with a session on green smoothies, and even made enough to give samples to the audience. After that we had Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House speak on the subject of food activism (one of my favourite topics!). Our third speaker was Chef Douglas McNish who talked about the path that he took to become a vegan chef and cookbook author. (note: Doug sold out of books at the festival–they are a huge hit! Make sure you order one!) Our fourth speaker was local athlete Jennifer Hintenberger, who just happens to hold some world records in kettle bell and who also happens to be vegan. She talked about how she overcame numerous illnesses because of her plant-based diet and I love how people like Jennifer help to shatter the myth that vegans are weak–she is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met! (for more on Jennifer’s story, check out her appearance on this week’s Our Hen House podcast). All of these speakers were so compelling and talked about the many benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. They were funny, engaging, and informative, and I was so honoured that they all so enthusiastically agreed to be part of Niagara’s first VegFest!

We closed the day with a screening of Vegucated, a fabulous film that is getting great reviews all over the world. We had a great audience for the screening and many people have since asked me where they can get a copy of the film for their own collection. It is a must see!

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to the festival and helped make it the success it was. Plans are already under way for the 2013 Niagara VegFest. Stay tuned!

Update: check out Our Hen House’s episode featuring Niagara VegFest!

Niagara VegFest

So, I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. Life is busy.

One of the things that is keeping me busy is planning (with my awesome VegFest planning team!) the first-ever VegFest in Niagara.

Mark your calendars for June 2nd and come celebrate the many wonderful things about a plant-based lifestyle at the Niagara VegFest. There will be delicious food, workshops, vendors, exhibitors, prizes, a film screening, and some absolutely amazing speakers!

Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House were recently named “Indie Powerhouse of the Year” by VegNews, and you can catch them at the Niagara VegFest!

photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

We are also so excited to welcome Douglas McNish to the festival. In addition to speaking about his role as a vegan chef at places like the Windsor Arms, Douglas McNish will also be doing a signing of his new book, Eat Raw, Eat Well.

Douglas McNish

We will also be joined by the ever-amazing Marni Wasserman. You don’t want to miss her healthy living, plant-based demo.

Marni Wasserman

pARTners for change

Last evening was “pARTners for change,” a fund-raiser in downtown St. Catharines. The event was a joint initiative between the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and OPIRG-Brock, and money raised goes to support student scholarships and community programming through OPIRG’s downtown InfoShop.

We are still tallying everything up, but I certainly felt that the evening was a success. So many wonderful pieces of art in the show/sale (thank you to all the artists who generously donated work), and so many wonderful folks who showed up to enjoy the evening.

Good food, good drink, good company, good deals, good art, and two good causes!

We hosted the event in two spaces – at Pan and at the OPIRG InfoShop. The two locations are just a couple of minutes apart on foot and our lovely antler-wearing student volunteers did a great job of making sure everyone knew where they were going.

Our organizing committee needs to meet and take stock of how things went, but I sincerely hope that this will become a regular event.