RAPS is short for Regional Animal Protection Society, a registered charity and operator of a sanctuary which houses and cares for nearly 500 homeless or abandoned cats in Richmond, BC, Canada. The Neko Files is a celebration of the sanctuary and all those who live and work there.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Fergus, one of the FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) positive cats at the sanctuary, is a big guy. When Rita was brought in, Ann, one of the shelter staff, offered an apt description delivered with her usual quick wit:
"Hey, you want to see the cat that ate Fergus?"

Of course I did.

I learned Rita had been owned by an elderly lady of the type who tends to show love through generous offerings of food. My grandmother did the same thing with her last cat, Muffin, who by late middle age had grown so fat that if by bad luck she should capsize, she could scarcely right herself unassisted. Gentle suggestions that this unfortunate condition may be more a function of shrimp and cream than age appeared to be given little credence.

I found this apparent stubbornness hard to understand, particularly since my grandmother loves cats and was genuinely concerned about her poor Muffy. Vets find it hard to understand too, despite of perhaps because of coming across more than a few similar cases. Back in February, dolittler.com even featured a list of the top 10 excuses pet owners make for their obese furry charges.

Where did all this leave Rita? With an enormous girth for a start... The staff at the sanctuary have got her doing some slow but sure reducing. There are even signs on her cage advising of her restricted diet.

I'm reminded of the chapter in Winnie the Pooh where Pooh Bear eats so much honey during a visit to Rabbit's hole that he becomes solidly stuck in the front door when he tries to leave. It's only after a little waiting and a lot of tugging from Christopher Robin and the animals from the wood that Pooh finally pops free.

Rita in the Rabbit Hole, after E. H. Shepard
drawing by Claire

I omitted the other animals appearing in the original drawing because Rita doesn't like animals. Apparently, after spending her whole life with her devoted human and no other cats, she has no idea she is one.

Although generally friendly with people, her cage has to be lined with blankets so that she may be spared the offensive sight of a rabble of nasty felines and we may be spared the sound of her subsequent hissing and spitting at them.

As for the reducing, although her stamina for any stoutness exercise is still on par with Pooh Bear (likely to top out at almost one rep), I don't think it's just my imagination that she's just a tiny bit less round and a tiny bit more mobile when she grants me an audience in her cage.

She still falls over from time to time, but it's good to see her pick herself up.

Updated February 7, 2011: Sad to say, we lost Rita last weekend. What was thought to be another inner ear infection like the one she had a little while back turned out to be more serious, possibly even a brain tumor. RAPS staff made sure she didn't have to suffer any more.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


8 year old Shylo is Zoe's son and, like Leo, bears little obvious resemblance to his mother.

He's a pretty mellow guy, friendly without being obviously outgoing the way Zoe is. His clearest distinguishing feature is the always dilated pupil in his left eye. I'm told he was born that way. On the plus side, it does make it easier to find him among a number of other black longhaired cats wandering around the sanctuary!

drawing by Claire


Zoe is another of the 6 cats brought from the same home and, from what I gather, her former owner's favorite. If Daphne was the princess in this little group, Zoe was the queen.

When I started visiting my two at the shelter, I unfortunately threw off the balance of power a bit, with the little princess thinking that with all this attention she was now the favorite and should have a shot at alpha status. Zoe did not agree. Fortunately, their personalities being as they are, these disagreements never seemed to escalate beyond the level of claws-free slaps in the face.

Although around the same age as Snowball (9), Zoe is more outgoing and will sometimes come to greet people rather than waiting passively for them to come to her. She doesn't insist on being the alpha female in her new, expanded area of operation, but she gives the impression that she can hold her own.


Daphne (aka Lacey), Leo and Angel had all been fostered in a home with three cats already in residence. When they all had to be brought to the shelter, they were allowed to stay together.

Snowball is a beautiful white longhair with blue eyes. I hear she has a slight limp, which she was born with, but it doesn't appear to bother her and it's easy to forget she even has it.

Snowball has a really nice personality to go with her good looks. In spite of this, I worry that she's unlikely to be adopted - for the simple reason that she's 9. She hardly seems like an old cat, but many if not most people think twice about taking in and getting attached to an animal already approaching 10. And yet I had a cat live to 22!

After I took Daphne and Leo home, the other four cats were released from their small enclosure to join the general population of the shelter. I try to find and check in on them whenever I'm there. Snowball's taken the transition with good grace, still napping in soft places and purring when roused. This in spite of indignities such as being thrown up on as she had been one time I came to see her or having a chunk of fur pulled out by some bad tempered cat on another. And she needs a good brush.

And yet when I took the picture above, it was almost impossible to get a focused shot because she wouldn't stop purring and trying to climb in my lap for a cuddle. Most of them came out like this:

Updated October 4, 2010: Wonderful news - Snowball and her good friend Angel have been adopted together!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Looking at Angel is the only easy way to tell that Leo and Daphne are blood relations. She's got a black and white version of her mom's long coat and a mostly straight version of her brother's short tail. She also shares with Leo a streak of white along her back like some random mistake of a brushstroke. Angel's is more pronounced and against the black fur it gives her an appearance reminiscent of Penelope Pussycat from the Pepé Le Pew cartoons.

Personality-wise, I find Angel a bit hard to figure. She can be very good at feigning indifference, as if she'd sized up the human world and found it all a bit lacking. Granted, when I met her she had recently been taken out of the only home she knew and was living with five other cats in an enclosure the size of a large shower stall... Despite food and water, soft things to sit on and the presence of the cats she grew up with, I guess it's hard to blame her for being unimpressed with the whole situation.

I was very pleased to hear she was adopted shortly after I took her mother and brother home. I was very surprised to hear yesterday that she was back at the sanctuary again. She was to be a companion for an older cat and apparently intimidated that cat so much that it just wasn't going to work out.

Angel appears to be taking all this in stride. I went to visit her and she totally ignored me, being very much engrossed in the business of lounging. Next time I passed by, though, she changed her mind and decided a bit of attention might not be so bad. She even deigned to meow.

Updated October 4, 2010: Wonderful news - Angel and her good friend Snowball have been adopted together!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Certified Pre-Owned Cats

Some cats at the RAPS sanctuary can't be adopted out for reasons ranging from behavioural problems to simple incontinence. That still leaves a good selection of cats who would do well in a home, but I was surprised when I was told how few are adopted out, and most of those to volunteers.

True, the sanctuary is more of a long-term facility, with the most adoptable cats (including all kittens) being sent to the main RAPS shelter on No. 5 Road in Richmond, but even there it make take some time before they can be placed in a good home. My two were meant to go there, as were others, but there was no room.

Part of the problem has to be that so many prospective adopters are stuck on the idea of getting a kitten. I don't really get this to be honest. Is it simply the cuteness factor (admittedly high) or are people applying new vs. used car logic?

The Michigan Humane Society is currently taking advantage of used car the analogy in a clever ad campaign to promote the adoption of adult cats. Check out their ad and the article in The Consumerist.

Leo and Daphne (aka Lacey)

It’s funny, though perhaps not surprising, that volunteers don't ask each other "Do you have a cat?" That’s practically a given. It’s really more a question of quantity.

Me? Two.

If you’re wondering how a person can manage to choose two from the hundreds of cats at the sanctuary, I must confess I didn’t even try. When I was ready to adopt, I went to one of the staff for a recommendation. She already had one picked out: a pretty little 3 year old grey and white longhair named Lacey who would wriggle and purr at the slightest provocation. Great! Introductions were made and I loved her right away.

I told one of the other staff members and was greeted with a rather unexpected response:

"Um, er…"

Lacey came to the shelter with her 2 year old son and daughter. The daughter, Angel, was quite self-sufficient and not a worry, but the son, Leo, they could only describe as "very attached." My own description of him runs more along the lines of the cat equivalent of a 40 year old guy who lives in his parents' basement and spends all his time with online gaming. But yes, as a somewhat socially challenged mama's boy, who probably wouldn't fare too well on his own.

Leo is a washer and a hider. In a relaxed mood, he’s compelled to wash anyone who will sit still without swatting him. Less relaxed, he's saucer-eyed and looking for exits. When the cats in his former home were surrendered to the shelter, he hid so well that no one could find him for days.

Fortunately, I grew up with a cat who was also a hider (and a washer). Armed with a smile and a brush, I it didn't take long to make friends. Animals who spend their time grooming everyone else seem to appreciate having someone groom them for a change.

His other quirk is that he's a cat with a dogleg tail – there's a 90° kink halfway up with another little piece kinked the other way at the end. I'm told he just came out like that. Not sure how that happens… in utero squabbling?

Lacey, now called Daphne after totally ignoring me when I called her by her shelter name, could scarcely be more different than her son. She's a little princess, equal parts refined and capricious. It's actually amazing she's the well-adjusted one of the pair, since she was brought in to the shelter pregnant, taken home by a volunteer to foster her while she had and raised her kittens, only to have to be sent back to the shelter when the volunteer's circumstances no longer made it possible to keep her.

Perhaps the sure knowledge that she must be the deposed cat princess of some distant, forgotten realm helps her to maintain her dignity. This is the only explanation I can think of for why she responds to Your Highness more readily than any other name.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Neko neko - a note about the title

The “neko” (猫) in Neko Files means “cat” in Japanese.
No, I'm not Japanese, but my first experience with trying to help feral and homeless cats was during the two years I lived in Japan. The Neko Files is inspired by the RAPS cats, but in the background there is always the nameless neko that led me to seek them out.

800 cats?

In May of this year I started volunteering at the cat sanctuary run by the Richmond Animal Protection Society.

By way of introduction to the place, may I only say: 800+ cats.
The number is astounding, both logistically and in the sadder sense of making a person wonder how just this one part of Greater Vancouver alone can have so many unwanted cats. The latter is a tough one, and methinks a topic for another day. For now, picture 800 animals with 800 names - yes, they're all given names if they don't already have them - and 800 distinct personalities.

A question that often comes to volunteers, even relative newbies such as myself, is for more information about a cat. What's his name? What's his story? Why is he here? The first two questions can be hard for new volunteers to answer. The last is hard for anyone to answer.

This blog is a project to photograph and record the past, present and potential stories of as many of the cats as care to share.
The inspiration: Barbara Doduk's 24 hour blogathon in support of RAPS (check it out here:).
The goal: to continue in the spirit of the above, taking it beyond the 24 hour mark and out of the realm of reportage into some new, as yet to be defined form. Genre-bending, surreal, or just silly? We'll have to wait and see.