Self-dubbed as “a servant of cats and words,” Irene Plett is an author and cat advocate from Canada. Irene has a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and Youtube channel dedicated to cats. Through these various forms of social media, you’ll find information on how to understand cats, help community cats, and support the no-kill movement. Join her in a conversation about cats!
ALLISON: When did you get your first cat?
IRENE: I was a young teenager. My family visited someone who happened to have two kittens. My brother and I adored them and were thrilled when we were allowed to take them home. “Mietz” was a sweet, sensitive, blue-eyed beauty. Her white fur was marked by red points that showed some Siamese ancestry. Her sister was a red tabby.
ALLISON: How many cats have you owned in your lifetime?
IRENE: I don’t think of cats as being owned, but can count nine who became “my” cats. There were also many dear ones who passed through my home on their way to rehoming or rescue. One was a pregnant tabby whom I persuaded to come in out of the snow in Prince George, B.C. I had “Mietz” spayed and rehomed to a single mother and her daughter. My sister and her husband adopted two of the four kittens. Trouble and Mischief (or Missy) were suitably spoiled for their long lives. My current resident kitty is Cassie, a playful four-year-old with special needs, from the RAPS Cat Sanctuary in Richmond, B.C.
ALLISON: What is your earliest memory of a cat?
IRENE: It was actually a traumatic memory. One day I looked out the window into our backyard to see a pack of dogs surrounding our cat. I alerted my family, who chased the dogs away. Later I saw the cat, lying in her basket, with a gouge out of her side, a clean wound about the size of a quarter. That was the last time I saw her. For a long time I was fearful of dogs, until I connected with my love for them as animals.
ALLISON: What ways have you volunteered to help with cats?
IRENE: I’ve had a lot of different roles as I learned about various needs. I fostered several cats. I used to visit a shelter weekly to socialize cats. I trapped some cats in need and helped other trappers, by driving and checking traps. I’ve also helped with fundraising. Now most of my work is writing. At one time I joined Wikipedia to correct misinformation about cats. I created articles on some notable Canadian cat rescues, and a fun article about an American cat circus that also rescues cats. But Wikipedia is a moving target that others are always changing. Eventually, I wrote my own blog as a resource listing to share information freely.
ALLISON: Why did you start to blog about cats?
IRENE: I wanted to help people who were struggling with their cats. I created listings of cat rescues all across Canada. I wanted more people to support these groups and reach out for help with their own cat problems. Cats with behavior problems like aggression or peeing could have a second chance at life if information is readily available. Cats might not be abandoned if there is a safe alternative, and if a strong bond can be forged with their family. At the same time, we can be reminded of all the reasons that we enjoy and love cats by sharing our experiences.
ALLISON: How have you used social media to help cats?
IRENE: I’ve shared my own photos and videos of rescued cats to help them get adopted. I don’t know if it was a factor, but “Blue” (mentioned below) was adopted soon after my videos showed his sweet nature in the face of adversity. I love sharing new initiatives, like a unique pet store in Quebec called Elliott & Lily, where adoptable cats roam freely in a space designed for them. Focusing on Canadian cat rescues, I have an annual survey of the fans’ favorite. Top votes went to VOKRA (Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association) until TinyKittens took over this year. It’s another great local rescue with international appeal.
ALLISON: What has been your most memorable moment as a cat advocate?
IRENE: There are so many! My first time trapping was to help a feral cat named “Mama” in White Rock, B.C. I knew her caregiver from a writer’s group. She was thrilled to learn about our rescue, as the city didn’t deal with cats and didn’t know about our work. She said it was tragic that this ebony cat would have litters of kittens who’d then disappear. After Mama was trapped and returned after surgery, I set up for a tame grey cat with a badly infected tail. “Stumpy,” aka “Blue,” also entered the trap quickly. The dead part of his tail was amputated, and he was soon adopted. Mama is still thriving, and is even starting to come indoors to be fed.
ALLISON: How have you grown as a cat advocate?
IRENE: I’ve discovered that I enjoy helping cats with special needs. My 26-year-old tortoiseshell, Missy, was actually a Guinness World Records candidate for the World’s Oldest Living Cat before she passed. She was completely deaf. If she was asleep, I learned to avoid startling her by gently shifting her bedding. My orange tabby, Kringle, also grew deaf, on top of other challenges, but I learned to connect with him in a special way by practicing intuitive animal communication. After he passed this year, I sought out an older cat with special needs. Cassie is a sweet cat with wonky back legs, an enlarged heart, and recurrent urinary infections. I recently learned how to walk her on a harness, so that she can enjoy the healing properties of being in nature.
ALLISON: What have you learned about cats by advocating for them?
IRENE: Learning never ends! Cat behavior can be so foreign to us that there’s always room to grow. I read a fascinating book by our premier Canadian cat behaviorist, Daniel Filion, of Montreal, Quebec. All to better understand “notre petit compagnon” (our little companion)! After I reviewed the book, the author wrote that new research had already changed how he views some issues. I liked his analogy of a cat peeing by the door as similar to humans setting up a “no trespassing” sign. But Filion said that’s no longer current. Thanks to the advent of GPS, science has shown that cats are not territorial–a fundamental change that challenges much of our understanding about cats.
ALLISON: Who have you met through networking that has most influenced you?
IRENE: Many rescuers have inspired me. Maria Soroski personally rescued my former cat, Kringle, whom I adopted after fostering. She taught me how to trap cats. Along with Karen Duncan, Maria co-founded VOKRA, Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association. They started the rescue to bottle-feed kittens and improve the save rate in their city. They then discovered that they needed to sort out the mothers too. That led to learning about feral cats. Karen and Maria were wise to find help and develop a powerful model that takes in over 1,400 cats a year through a network of foster homes.
ALLISON: Give a tip to aspiring cat advocates.
IRENE: Listen to your cat! Communication with animals is a powerful, often untapped source of intuition that anyone can develop.
It’s okay to say no. Many cat lovers feel compelled to keep going even when it’s damaging to their health. If the work becomes a compulsion, hoarding situations can even arise. Rescuers who became hoarders probably never intended for the cats to suffer, but they couldn’t say no or see another way of looking at the situation. There are others you can reach out to. Connect with like-minded people and ask for help. Take time to listen to your intuition.