After running The Forgotten Ferals (TFF) feline welfare program for eight years, Donna Cowie-Ducharme of Kingston has announced that she will be stepping down from the organization. “This has to be one of the toughest posts I will ever do as my heart is broken in so many ways to have to admit to myself for my own health and mental state, that this year will be my last lifesaving year. with TFF”, Cowie-Ducharme said in a Facebook post last week. “It’s a bittersweet moment, excited to have more quality time with my family but very painful to know that so many gentle savages will be left out in the cold.”
The local animal welfare advocate started TFF after noticing an increase in the number of feral cats near her workplace in Napanee. “I managed to get help, I tricked them and sent them away because they were sterilized. The kittens were socialized and adopted. It was then that I realized how many sick and hungry savages frequented local businesses and my journey on a mission to help them slowly evolve into The Forgotten Ferals,” Cowie-Ducharme said in an email to Kingstonist.
After the launch of TFF, Cowie-Ducharme began rescuing feral cats, working to provide neutering and neutering services while ensuring safe homes for them forever. However, things were not always easy for the volunteer, who had to face many challenges on her own and assume a large part of the costs on her own. “It was very difficult financially to have to buy food [with] every paycheck, maintaining a food supply to keep cats healthy. I remember praying for a miracle and was very grateful when the office staff came together to present me with bags of food whenever they could.
Cowie-Ducharme continues: “I built winter shelters that [the cats] frost during extremely freezing winter temperatures. Every night I worried about those poor cats who had nowhere to go and [were] wanted by anyone.
Although Cowie-Ducharme was on her own throughout the early years, she noted that the program was able to attract volunteers and partners as the organization grew and expanded its services. “Over the years, volunteers have come and gone, but [it’s] basically a handful of [people] that ensure the proper functioning of the organization. TFF has foster homes, someone to pick up weekly trash, weekly laundry and food donations.
Cowie-Ducharme also noted that her organization’s popularity on social media has allowed her to spread her message and raise awareness of the needs of Kingston’s wild cat population. “We also have around 2,600 followers on Facebook. Our website allows people to see who we support, who is up for adoption and the…online documents required…to adopt or apply for help.
The Forgotten Ferals has also had the support of partner businesses and organizations in Kingston, such as Pet Valu and other pet stores, who have donated food and other products and promoted the organization. “Pet Valu has been our rock by providing space for our adoption events and housing our available cats in their store enclosures. Fundraising through the store is shared with TFF… and [are] so appreciated.
“We are fortunate that the City of Kingston has included TFF in its [Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return] (TNVR), making funds available for sterilization [and select vaccines]… This is a shared resource with other rescues, [offered on a] First come, first served [to] a maximum of $25,000 per year. However, while the City provides funds for rescued cats in the Kingston area, Cowie-Ducharme noted that this does not apply to many of the felines in her care: “Most of our cats and kittens are rescued from areas outside the Kingston area where they have no support.
For eight years, Cowie-Ducharme took on many responsibilities in managing a large rescue operation, while working full time, which “took its toll”, she acknowledged. “So many daily demands with very little downtime. This requires constant monitoring of sick cats and kittens, emails, voicemails, foster requests and all volunteer requests. The constant cleaning of my own personal space and trying to find room to store the equipment needed to execute the rescue – with no funding available for the rescue to take place from anywhere other than my home and the families homes of reception.
In her Facebook post last week, Cowie-Durchame noted that the past year has been difficult, as she explained her decision to step down. “Last year was [an] continuous struggle to manage and live in the world of rescue and it has come to that point in my life where I need to let go and be grateful for the many years my dreams have come true with the support of each and every one of you.
After spending many years as one of the city’s most dedicated cat rescue volunteers, Cowie-Ducharme reflected on some of the struggles she faced throughout her career at TFF. “The most frustrating problem I have is that people are ignorant [about] the pain and suffering that these cats go through… The refusal of people who do not deem it necessary to spay or neuter, those who continue to breed knowing that rescues have to close due to heavy consumption.
One of the primary goals of TFF has always been the overall reduction of the wild cat population, which can be partially achieved with the help of TNVR. However, Cowie-Ducharme argued that these efforts would be better supported by stricter regulations from various governments. “The only way to solve this problem is [by handing out] severe penalties for those caught throwing cats and [by implementing] a rule that you cannot own or sell a cat without it being spayed or neutered or a pre-booked appointment to do so. It’s that simple…”
Following last week’s announcement, many people took to social media to express their appreciation and thanks to Cowie-Ducharme and the TFF. Jennifer Allan, a local animal welfare advocate and expert, called Cowie-Ducharme’s departure from the program a “huge loss” to the community. “It’s definitely going to create a gap because a lot of these organizations are at their limits…There’s only so many hours in a day that people can put in the kind of work that it takes.”
In the past, Allan has partnered with and supported the TFF. Earlier this year, the former owner of Urban Paws provided TFF and another organization with $6,500 worth of cat food. Allan said groups like the one in Cowie-Duncharme provide vital services to an “underserved area” of the city. “These organizations [play] an extremely important role which I think is often undervalued, or people are simply not aware of the importance of the problem… and the magnitude of the help needed.
Earlier this year, Cowie-Ducharme received the First Capital Honorable Achievement Award in recognition of his “contributions to the Kingston community.” As the volunteer prepares to leave work, she noted that TFF’s future is uncertain with no dedicated volunteers to replace her. “I don’t have anyone who has expressed an interest in continuing with The Forgotten Ferals.” However, before officially retiring, Cowie-Ducharme mentioned that she would first find homes for the “approximately 85 cats” TFF currently has in her care.