Will Feral: A Timely Rescue Story About a Cat Who Was Given a Chance

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Erin Cornelius is sharing her story of Will Feral the cat in light of the Winnipeg Humane Society‘s recent decision to reverse a policy that gives people who take cats to the shelter the opportunity to save the animals’ lives when they are in danger of being euthanaized for space or perceived unadoptability.

Erin rescued a skittish feral cat on a cold night, then brought him to WHS to be neutered and vaccinated, at which time the shelter made a point of letting her know he could never be tamed. Erin knew he’d be a goner if she left him at the shelter, so she picked him up the following day in accordance with the DNE (Do Not Euthanize) form’s provisions.  You can read Will Feral’s story in full below.

Formerly, if someone brought a cat to the shelter, whether it was their own cat, a stray, or a lost cat looking for its home, they could sign on to have the shelter call them to retrieve the cat if it was going to be put down. Craig Street Cats has been at the forefront of the effort to speak out against the recent change in policy and to bring the matter to the public’s attention. They say the change represents a huge step backward and away from practices that save the lives of animals, and that most people who turn in animals hoping they will be reunited with their families would be horrified to know that they had unwittingly gotten them killed instead.

See our story of March 4, Cat Group Raises Outcry Against Change in Shelter Policy, for more on the controversy, with radio and TV features that grant both Craig Street Cats and WHS the opportunity to present their perspectives on the situation.

Erin Cornelius posted her story to the Craig Street Cats Facebook Page to illustrate why she feels the WHS policy change is a terrible step for animals and the people who care about them.

Here is Erin’s story, followed by her thoughts on WHS and the policy change:

This is the story (or novel as it has turned out to be) of Will Feral, the greatest cat in the land (no disputes), who was rescued from certain death through the now dismissed Do Not Euthanize form.

In January of 2011, around 11pm, I was heading home from a concert. From what I recall, we had been experiencing very steady bitter cold. We were taking Portage Avenue and nearing Moray, when a flash of fur dashed across the wide street. Being so cold, we didn’t think twice before stopping the car. At this point, I couldn’t be sure that what we saw wasn’t a raccoon but I couldn’t take the risk.

I jumped out, sprinted across the street, and spotted a huddled lump in a residential back alley. It quickly fled when it realized I was approaching, but I was able to tell it was a kitty. The catch began! He jumped a chain link fence and landed in a fresh 3 foot pile of snow. The snow was so deep the poor guy jumped and jumped and continued to plummet deep into the snow. This detail was the only hope I had of catching him. He appeared exhausted and eventually switched from flight to fight mode. He was EXTREMELY feral and could not be handled in bare hands. Literally the most terrifying ball of cute I’d ever seen. He sat buried in snow, slashing and spitting with every ounce of fight he had. I removed my scarf and attempted to “cat nap” him. The fabric was too thin and my mittens were interfering, so I removed them too. Then I removed my coat, knowing it would be the only material thick enough to safely catch this poor babe. After many attempts, I finally managed to quickly and tightly bundle him in my coat and placed him quickly into the back of the van. By this time we were both totally pooped and my hands were on the verge of frost bite (a pain I had never felt before or since).

Some of you may see the next thing coming. Having no carrier or way to contain him while he rested in the back of the van on our way home, we again had to catch him within the van once we arrived. Sounds easy enough right? NOPE. Little bugger lodged himself under a seat and it took us over an hour to remove him, equipped with oven mitts and a carrier we had fetched from inside the house.

Then, he rested. I tucked him away in our “rabbit/animal room” with a soft bed and a rabbit hutch to hide, and plenty of delicious wet food. The next day, we brought him to the Winnipeg Humane Society. I knew the fate of a feral cat in the confines of the WHS. Having previous knowledge of the DNE form, I requested to sign it. It was never offered to me. I stated that I simply wanted this cat neutered and vaccinated and would build a feral cat shelter and provide food, water, and all necessities to the cat should it choose to stay on our property. I knew this would require bonding and trust, but was informed that he could NEVER, WITHOUT EXCEPTION be tamed and would never live happily as a house cat. I had very little experience with feral cats at the time, and trusted their advice. ONE DAY LATER, I was called to pick him up. With such a quick assessment, the now removed DNE form was his only life line.

While recovering from his neuter, he began to fall ill. His breathing was labored, his eyes and nose running profusely. I called Roblin Animal Hospital, who I had been using for years for my own cats, and made an appointment. They had no issues examining a feral cat and did so with much more care and understanding than he was given at the WHS, a place that presumably sees many feral animals. He did GREAT for his exam. He did not slash or attack anyone. He was being treated kindly and responded in the same way. We had him tested for feline leukemia and FIV.

The results quickly returned, and we discovered that he was FIV positive, a virus that compromises the immune system and allows minor illness such an an upper respiratory infection to wreak havoc. I couldn’t help but cry, despite only caring for him for under a week. This also left us with few options. I couldn’t knowingly release a sick animal back outside, especially with the risk of him infecting other cats. I swiftly decided he would be my project, and he would be tamed.

Weeks passed and he showed only a small amount of progress. Physically, he was drastically improving. His cold had been treated, his completely frostbitten paw pads were sloughing off and revealing adorable little pink toes, the tips of his ears fell off, his coat was looking healthier, and he was putting on weight. We sat together, simply getting him accustomed to my presence. I continued to condition him to the sensation of being touched and patted (using the mitts). Then one day, when I least expected, he leaned his neck suddenly and firmly into my hand. If you’ve ever tamed a feral animal, you know how this feels. It’s almost surreal, and your heart does a little skip. I removed the oven mitt and we had the most gratifying (and cautious) patting session.

Now, he’s soft spoken and sweet. Quiet as a mouse but as snuggly as a lamb. He has never bitten or scratched anyone since that day. He is the most well behaved of all my cats. He is the most appreciative and loving. He is also the only one that cares what I think, and he hates disappointing me. His “guilty face” melts all anger and frustration. He is a bed snuggler, and a morning greeter. He is my baby.


The removal of the DNE form will cost many cats their lives. Lives that would have otherwise been saved. In their formal response to backlash, the WHS has given little to no reason for this change:

“Our focus, efforts and attention must be to our animals. We must manage our funds with great care. Our animal intake staff must focus on the animals in our care and on providing customer service when dealing with the many tasks associated with our Animal Intake department. Therefore, clients can no longer select an option of being contacted if the animal is going to be euthanized.”
– How much time will potentially be gained through the elimination of the 5 minute phone call and the 24 hour animal hold? In almost all cases, the animal would not be euthanized within that time frame regardless. It also takes time, staff, resources, and money to euthanize an animal – a task that is removed when the finder is allowed to take them back. It also saves a life, a point that is being grossly overlooked.

“We are re-enforcing the fact that The WHS is to be considered a last resort.”
– A last resort? They are not given half a million dollars in annual funding from the city as well as hundreds of thousands more in private donations to operate as a last resort. At a time when any reputable shelter is taking steps to become “no-kill” or “less-kill”, they are ensuring the deaths of many more. They are redirecting animals to shelters who do not have nearly the resources or funding to which the WHS has access. These alternative shelters exist because the WHS is not effectively doing their job in the first place. Now, when a concerned citizen sees an animal on the street, they may skip catching the animal all-together, with the belief that it has a better chance of survival on the streets than behind the doors of the WHS.

“We do not believe in forcing guilt upon anyone who brings us a stray cat/dog or must surrender their cat/dog.”
– The WHS only called finders who had knowingly and intentionally signed the DNE form, knowing what that entailed. They REQUESTED that they be called. Simple as that.

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