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This cat loving volunteer has a soft spot for the brawlers

In this week's Helpers profile, we meet Colleen Fera-Grisdale, who has been volunteering with The Animal Assistance Group for more than 10 years
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You may know Colleen Fera-Grisdale from her social media posts about cats that are available for adoption. Photo supplied

Colleen Fera-Grisdale’s first love was Bree, a fluffy Collie who had been a part of her family since birth. Since then, Fera-Grisdale has devoted much of her life to helping animals; particularly those who’ve been abandoned or mistreated. 

When she first learned about The Animal Assistance Group (TAAG) more than a decade ago, she jumped at the chance to volunteer. TAAG began in 1986 when a group of local women — Marg Macreath, Gladys Bennett, Betty Breed, Eleanor Dunn and Christa Dilanzo — joined forces to help people with the cost of getting their animals spayed or neutered. Since then, TAAG’s mission has evolved into finding safe, loving homes for animals and preventing them from being unnecessarily euthanized. 

The charity takes in cats and dogs in need and connects them with foster homes until they can be adopted into their forever homes. They will also transport the animals to Sault, Mich. and cover the cost of having them spayed or neutered. Additionally, they cover vet bills for animals that are sick or injured. The organization is 100-per-cent volunteer-run, and funded mainly through donations from generous community members. 

Fera-Grisdale is a board member who also serves as TAAG’s foster care coordinator. She helps to train volunteers and conducts home visits to assess if a prospective home is a safe and appropriate environment for the animals. She gets messages every day from people who are for whatever reason (illness, moving into long-term care, etc.) unable to care for their pets anymore. For these emergency situations,TAAG volunteers work around the clock to find them foster homes until they can be permanently placed. Fera-Grisdale has helped hundreds of local cats and dogs find safe, loving permanent homes. 

“We take in a lot of strays, and animals that have been neglected. So we'll see them in very, very bad shape,” she says. “I mean, sometimes it's tough when you do this sort of thing. You see a lot of bad stuff. But people open up their homes to take in these cats or will donate money to help a cat in need. When an animal has been abused, they will sometimes take a lot of time to come around, Our foster homes will take the time and work with them to get them adoptable.”

“A lot of my favourites were cats that were [found outside]. Big Tom cats. They come in and they’re all beat up from fighting, they just look so tough. But they’re always the biggest, sweetest sucks you’ve met in your life. We had this cat called Rebel — he was in really bad shape — he eventually got adopted by one of our volunteers. He is the sweetest cat in the world. It’s just amazing.”

Fera-Grisdale also crafts posts for social media; alerting people to the individual pets who are looking for homes. The stories are told from the animal’s perspective, accompanied with a photo of them.

“We just find that it really helps people get to know the cats and their personalities,” she says. “And it's made a huge difference.”

And if the animals are comfortable in a store environment, TAAG places cats in Pet Smart, Pet Food Warehouse and Paw'n Pet Food & Grooming — vastly improving their chances of finding a forever home. 

For Fera-Grisdale, the best part is when “[the adopters] contact me, and let me know how the cats are doing in their new home. They send you pictures — it makes it worth every minute that we put into it, for sure, to see them sort of flourish and become healthy and happy.”

“I think the thing with animals that gets me is — they’re dependent on us,” she says. “They don’t really have a choice. I’ve always believed that if you can just live your life kindly, and help in whatever way you can, it’s hugely important. It really makes an impact. Even if you just do one kind thing a day, I really believe you can change the world this way.”

Want to help? TAAG is always looking for foster homes, food/supplies collection and distribution, fundraising, and donations to cover vet bills/pet food. You can contribute directly to their GoFundMe here or visit here for more information. 

Know a helper in the community we should feature? Email tiffythompson@gmail.com with your tips.