The Comfie Cat Shelter in Orillia is seeking support, in part through a 50/50 raffle, after reaching capacity and pausing their intake of surrenders last week.
Shelter manager Matt Wimpory has been volunteering with the shelter for six years. He became president of the Board of Directors a year and a half ago along with taking over the role of shelter manager six months ago. When he first started as shelter manager, the facility at 112 Norweld Drive in Orillia was completely overcrowded, he said. They shut down intake immediately and got their numbers down from 246 cats to 100 over the course of three months. Since then, they’ve tried to keep the number of cats at about 130 to ensure the best possible care, which is why they had to shut down intakes again last week.
“We don’t like to get into a situation where we have overcrowding, because obviously, with a situation like that, too many cats, they start to get sick,” Wimpory said. “It’s just not a healthy environment, so we are very mindful of keeping the cats healthy and keeping the numbers at a sustainable rate.”
Comfie Cat is one of the few brick-and-mortar shelters in central Ontario. Many rescues operate on a foster-based system, so the shelter constantly gets calls from other organizations seeking a temporary home for both feral and friendly cats. Wimpory said they are sometimes able to get help from other agencies, but more often than not, they’re the go-to shelter that others call for support.
The team at the shelter is working to restore intakes as soon as possible, but the summer season often means a large number of surrenders as well as an influx of kittens. People who have cats to surrender are still encouraged to fill out a surrender application. The shelter will add each application to a waiting list that they will start working through as soon as intakes open back up.
Because the shelter doesn’t receive any government funding whatsoever, it’s run entirely by volunteers. The lack of paid staff leads to an inconsistent workforce, but they’re able to make it work thanks to help from the community.
“We are simply running on the good graces of the community and the incredible support that they offer us,” he said. “That is basically what enables the doors to stay open and the lights to stay on.”
With rising costs in so many areas of life, some families have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets, which contributes to surrenders. The shelter also sees a fair number of animals coming from the homes of recently deceased people as well as cats that are surrendered simply because the owners are no longer interested in caring for them.
Whatever the reason, surrenders are a heartbreaking, and common, part of the process for volunteers. Despite the psychological toll it takes, Wimpory said they would rather face the many issues that present themselves than have cats abandoned.
“We would rather struggle a bit and have to do things like 50/50 raffles and other fundraising initiatives to help the shelter [and] to feed all these guys,” he said. “We would rather deal with that than have the negative things happen to the animals out in the world by themselves.”
Thankfully, their team also gets to experience the joys of adoption. Though their process is fairly strict, it’s designed to protect the adopters, the shelter, and most importantly, the animals. Prospective adopters can visit the shelter website to see the photos and descriptions of all the available cats as well as fill out an application.
After the shelter team checks their references, they invite adopters to visit the facility and see which animals are a good fit for them. All of the cats are vaccinated, microchipped, and spayed or neutered to keep the cats healthy and slow overpopulation.
“Spaying and neutering is such a critical, fundamental part of what we do,” Wimpory said. “We will not let an animal get adopted out of our facilities that has not had that operation done.”
The only exception to that rule is kittens that are too young for the surgery, so the shelter schedules the procedure at a later date for adopters. Spay and neuter operations are just one part of the vet care necessary for their cats. Since animals of all ages and backgrounds come into the facility, veterinary bills are one of the many ongoing costs at the Comfie Cat.
The shelter went through the process of getting its lottery license after seeing the success of the Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital’s 50/50 fundraiser. They got the green light last week, so their first 50/50 raffle will have an early bird draw on July 14 before their first official draw on July 28. They plan to hold 50/50 raffles every month going forward.
“All the monies that come from this lottery are going to animal welfare,” Wimpory said. Those costs include medication, surgeries and other healthcare costs. “Our vet bill last year was roughly $114,000 for the year for our dealings with the animals, so the bulk of the money coming from this 50/50 draw is going to be to support our ongoing vet bill.”
Along with adoptions and raffles, there are lots of other ways to support the Comfie Cat Shelter. They accept donations of cat food and other supplies even when the shelter itself is closed. Their front doorway is always open, so anyone looking to drop off supplies can leave them there.
They also have a scrap bin for metal donations and a bin for donations of bottles and cans at the back of the building. Monetary donations are always a big help as well, and as a registered non-profit, the shelter makes sure to provide tax receipts for any donations over $25.
For people that would rather donate their time, there are a variety of volunteer opportunities at the shelter and their satellite location at Petsmart. They need help with administration, cleaning, feeding, socialization and more, and some of the roles are eligible for student volunteer hours.
Wimpory said that with all the calls they’re receiving, especially some from fairly far away, it’s clear that they aren’t alone when it comes to capacity issues. He’s proud to see the dedicated Board of Directors and volunteers doing the best they can to support cats in Orillia and beyond, and he can’t speak highly enough of his team and the excellent work they do.
“My goal is to make this the best no-kill shelter in central Ontario,” he said. “And we’re well on our way to having that achieved.”