There’s no doubt in Cailey Seymour’s mind that her purpose in life is helping animals, and now she’s doing just that with Dorset Rescue Kittens.
Seymour grew up cottaging in Dorset and plans to move back full time after completing her veterinary technician program in Guelph this spring. As a child, she would help rescue cats from feral colonies in Dorset while also assisting with wildlife rescues for everything from raccoons and squirrels to bunnies and ducklings. Once she even secured vet care and rehomed a stray puppy while visiting Costa Rica at just 16 years old. Two years later, she volunteered at an elephant orphanage, which is where she realized she wanted to dedicate her life to saving animals. In mid-2020, she continued on that path by founding a rescue, and it all started with baby Blue.
“One morning I woke up and my friends who actually adopted my first foster kitten… the kitten that started all of the kitten rescuing for me four years ago, [they] contacted me about baby Blue,” Seymour said. ”Baby Blue was about five weeks old when she was rescued and she was literally just found on someone’s doorstep.”
Blue and the birth of Dorset Rescue Kittens
Because of her age, Blue required around the clock care with bottle feeding and stimulation every two to four hours for nearly a month. Seymour raised her alongside her pet dog and rabbits as well as a baby chick she was fostering for the Guelph Humane Society. Once Blue was ready, Seymour rehomed her with a retiree, who sends frequent updates about Blue and her brother Fig. More and more calls about stray and feral kittens have been coming in ever since.
“Once I hit about 12 kittens in my home, I realized that I needed to start fundraising for medical bills because obviously vet bills add up and, of course, we needed to find them homes, so I started my Facebook page,” Seymour said. “That’s pretty much how the rescue was born, and it just kind of took off from there.”
The rescue is completely volunteer run and operates through donations and adoptions fees alone. It costs $450 to adopt a pair of kittens and $250 for a single kitten, though they only adopt out single kittens to homes with another cat to ensure proper socialization.
From June to December, Seymour rescued 50 cats, and that doesn’t include a group of adult feral cats that were trapped, neutered and released. In the first two months of 2021, her team has already rescued over 30 cats and Seymour expects the total for the year to be well over 100.
“I just think about those 50 cats that we rescued in 2020 and every single one of those cats would have been living in an outdoor situation now,” she said. “They might not have made it. Seventy five per cent of kittens born in the wild don’t even make it to the age of two and that’s a terrifying statistic, but feral cats are faced against so many things.”
The colony of cats she helped rescue kittens from as a child is still there in Dorset, so one of her goals for the year is to fix all the adults and rescue the kittens to avoid future litters from being born outside. She’s proud of the progress they’ve made, but many of the challenges they faced in the early days of the rescue still remain.
“At that point I had no foster parents, no volunteers, no financial support and to be honest, at this point, we really don’t have a lot of that anyways,” Seymour said. “It’s really me behind the scenes of almost everything.”
Building the team
Seymour arranges all the veterinary care, does administrative work, and runs their social media accounts and website while also handling the adoption process for all of the cats. She’s spent dozens of hours driving across the province for vet services and personally cares for several cats at a time, often taking in neonatal kittens that require a great deal of attention.
Her partner Thomas helps out with the website as well as driving and dropping off supplies, but aside from him and a few volunteers, the rescue only has about 10 foster homes to support their operations. Now, as her return to Muskoka gets closer, Seymour is in desperate need of fosters in cottage country.
“Because I live in Guelph, I need my foster homes close to me, so right now, the majority of them are all students that live near me and are doing online school, but we need foster homes in Muskoka,” she said. “We have almost none right now, and when I move back up there full time in a month, I’m going to need people close to me to foster the kittens.”
Seymour is looking for foster families within about 45 minutes of Dorset that have access to a vehicle. Though donations of supplies from foster families are welcome, the rescue supplies food, litter and toys and arranges all vet care for the cats, so fosters mainly need a spare room where the cat can have a quiet space to get used to their new environment.
Previous experience with cats isn’t necessary and other pets in the home are fine as long as they’re up to date on vaccinations, she said, so the most important thing is offering a patient and loving home.
“Fostering is a great thing for people who love animals that don’t have 20 years to commit to them or who don’t have the financial means to provide for them because we do provide everything they need,” Seymour said.
For those who want to help out but can’t take in a foster, they often need volunteer drivers to help transport the kittens as well as volunteer trappers to help get them to the rescue. They could also use help with marking materials like photos and videos, fundraisers and even handy projects like building cat trees or winter feral cat homes, so all help is welcome. No matter what role a volunteer plays, they’re contributing to a better life for animals across the region.
“It’s really just a beautiful experience to see the kitten develop, and then be able to find them a forever home where they get everything that they want, but they’re also giving back to the people who adopt them,” Seymour said.
Getting what they need, and giving back so much more
That was exactly the case with Scotty and Tessa, a pair of kittens that spent four months at the rescue due to their shy demeanor. Once Seymour felt they were ready, she considered the options carefully and selected Judy MacEachern and her husband as their new forever family.
“I followed the Facebook page for a few months, and reached out to Cailey after we had to euthanize our very senior cat,” MacEachern said. “There were many back and forth messages where I shared our story, and Cailey was able to assess our home. She suggested Scotty and Tessa based on their personalities and our family.”
The cats were shy, but MacEachern and her husband have always been cat people, and after saying goodbye to their cat of 20 years, they were ready for some new companions, no matter how timid.
“[The MacEacherns] were very very committed to socializing the kittens, and they were okay with the fact that they were shy,” Seymour said. “When I showed up to their house, the adopter started crying and then I started crying because we had had the kittens for so long and I was so worried that we wouldn’t find the right match for them, but it was the perfect match.”
Seymour cautioned the adopters that the cats may hide in the carrier for a few hours, if not longer, when they first arrived at their new home.
“Cailey communicated realistic expectations,” MacEachern said. “However, they came out of the carrier within 20 minutes and stayed out. Of course, they were shy at first, but they have adapted much faster than any of us predicted.”
The couple has had Scotty and Tessa for six weeks and the kittens have adjusted well, even becoming little celebrities amongst the family through their appearance on video calls. MacEachern believes their smooth transition is due in part to the advice Seymour provided throughout the process, and they continue to provide her with updates and photos. Seymour receives updates from adoptive families nearly every day, and her network of animal lovers continues to grow.
“I adopt these kittens out to these people and then they become my family,” Seymour said. “The kittens were my family and then their adopters become my family because they always keep in touch with me, so it’s beautiful when the adoption happens, and then it’s beautiful for the rest of the cat’s life because we do stay in touch and we do keep that connection.”
Seeing cats flourish and get adopted out is wonderful, but it can’t continue, especially on the same scale, without financial support, Seymour said. Caring for each kitten costs hundreds of dollars and since the feral cats they help don’t bring in adoption fees, much of the cost is coming out of Seymour’s own pocket. With few donations coming in, the rescue is in critical need of more funding. Every donation goes directly to vet bills and, in turn, helps save the lives of more cats.
“We can only do so much, and the more people we have helping us foster and more people help with finances, the more we can do,” she said. “I’m one person and it’s going to take way more than just myself and the few people that I have helping us now to help the feral cat population and rescue all of these animals, so I really look forward to the future and I hope that we can come together as a community.”
To become a foster or volunteer with Dorset Rescue Kittens, or to set up a donation drop-off, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit their website, Facebook and Instagram pages for updates, and click here to see the rescue’s Amazon wishlist. Donations can be made through e-transfer to email@example.com.
Dorset Rescue Kittens is seeking a veterinary clinic in the Muskoka area that is willing to work with the rescue at a low cost. If you can help address that need, please contact the rescue at firstname.lastname@example.org.