Victoria St. John recently held a holiday fundraiser to help with her animal-rescue efforts.
As a little girl, Victoria St. John wanted to know what it was like to be a cat.
So she went outside and slept in the cat box.
The founder and director of the St. John Feral Cat Fund, referred to by many as the “cat lady,” rescued more than 300 animals this year. And while the non-profit organization consistently runs at a deficit, St. John has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I’ve always rescued animals.”
Born in South Carolina, St. John moved to the Ausable area when she was four or five.
She and her sister Amelia followed animals around from as far back as she can remember.
“My parents would send us to the store to get milk and eggs, and we were trying to rescue cats,” St. John said.
She once found a cat in a dumpster and brought him home. Her parents said no, but she found ways around them.
At 12, she found feral cat colonies in the Port Douglas area and stole milk and ground beef from the refrigerator to feed them.
At 13, the family moved to Ellenburg and St. John and her sister snuck cats in through the bedroom window.
“I just thought they were suffering.”
When her parents left she would feed them in the shed.
Once, her parents backed over a cat. The animal was suffering and St. John drowned it.
She knew then she was going to devote her life to making a difference for animals.
The devotion turned into an idea when she found two feral cat colonies she fed every pay check. Her sister helped her build her first shelter.
“I think that was the start of it.”
In 2002, the media ran articles on her efforts and she raised nearly $1,800 and opened a business account, naming St. John Feral Cat Fund after her father.
“In 2004 we incorporated and became a non-profit,” St. John said. “I operate out of my house, and we have four board members.”
St. John Feral cat Fund is not a shelter.
“I don’t believe in shelters,” St. John said. “It’s like a prison, where you hold animals in cages until they can be adopted.”
Instead, the Town of Plattsburgh resident uses foster homes for a short time frame and “better adoption.”
“I think I have taken one cat back in 10 years.”
The non-profit advocates non-lethal feline population control and raises awareness by providing the public with information on feral and stray cat issues, including controlling populations within colonies through Trap-Neuter-Return. Under that management plan, stray and feral cats living outdoors are humanely trapped, evaluated, vaccinated, sterilized and ear tipped for identification by veterinarians.
“We are adoption partners with PetSmart,” St. John said.
She receives 75 to 100 complaint calls in a week. She fosters constantly, but it is more than she can handle. St. John works seven days a week, with little time for friends beyond cats. There are some volunteers but no paid employees.
“We just keep going from problem to problem,” she said. “We can’t catch up and are constantly doing fundraisers.”
The toughest part of the job is walking away from situations that are legal but not ethical, such as when she came across 17 dogs chained to barrels. Of course, St. John doesn’t believe in leash laws.
“Go chain your kids up,” St. John quipped. “Why are we chaining something?”
The reward is taming a feral cat, connecting with it and offering the animal a chance at happiness.
“You do what you think is right,” St. John said. “But we can only do so much.”