The huge TV in Kristen Janssen’s living room is tuned all day to news of the invasion of Ukraine. She knows people there and she is worried.
Janssen, who lives in Indian Harbour, was medically discharged from the Navy in 2016 and began breeding and selling sphynx and Devon rex cats soon after.
“I was terrified,” she said, expressing her feelings when war broke out about two weeks ago.
“I have a military background, I’m a veteran, so for me it hits some things for most people, maybe it’s not because I see the seriousness of this a little more clearly. that is happening. The first thing I did was contact all the breeders and I said, ‘Are you safe? Are you in one of these areas? Do you need something?'”
For her business, Special K Sphynx and Devon Rex, she imported many of her “founding cats” from Ukraine, and being in the cat breeding business naturally leads to international networking.
“We just made these friendships, so we’re like extended family,” Janssen said, sitting on her couch as one of her Devon rex cats, a six-month-old child named Archie, climbs on top of her.
So Janssen sent a message to everyone she knew in Ukraine asking what she could do to help. Donating to the Red Cross is great, Janssen said, but she wanted to do something for her friends that would have a direct impact.
One of the breeders told Janssen that the best way to help would be to sell and find homes for the cats.
“It’s what they do for a living, they raise cats, so his solution was, ‘Help me find homes for these cats so I can evacuate them, reduce the number of cats I have to occupy myself, and if I have to evacuate, will make it possible if I have 10 to 39 and find safety,” she said.
So Janssen got to work.
Cats for sale
Three Ukrainian breeders provided information on 37 cats, and Janssen took to Facebook. On March 3, she posted on her Facebook page about the need to sell the cats. In three days, all the Devon rex cats were taken care of.
“It goes beyond wanting to adopt a cat,” she said. “These people who have reached out have not only adopted and given these adoption comments to these breeders, but they are making financial donations to support the gas, truck rental and crating payments to send them.
“Everyone is really coming together and doing their best.”
This means that breeders receive $28,000 in Canadian funds. Janssen said the money will help them buy groceries, pet food and anything else they need in case they need to evacuate.
The Facebook post was shared by other breeders, so buyers of the cats are from Canada and the United States, but most come to live in Nova Scotia.
- 19 cats arrive in Atlantic Canada.
- 14 will remain in NS.
- Five will go to N.B.
- Four are going to the United States
- The rest go to Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario
Janssen said two other Ukrainian breeders were grooming their cats for her to sell.
Help people by helping cats
More than a few people have commented online that Ukrainian breeders should leave their cats behind and go outside. Others said Janssen should focus on helping people instead of getting cats out of the country.
“My answer is, yes, on paper it looks like I’m saving cats and not people. But the reality is I’m saving cats from an unknown future, but I’m also giving to those people, breeders, their families and their close friends financial means to support them, their remaining pets and a way out if they have to evacuate because the financial resources are not there,” she said.
None of the breeders she knows are ready to go without their animals and as a breeder, Janssen said she can understand that.
“Don’t get me wrong, a lot of herders had to leave, they had no choice and they couldn’t bring their animals. I don’t want to blame them for making that decision because I’m not in that situation. … I don’t envy their decisions to be made at this time.
With the gratitude of Ukraine
Lyudmila Gritsishin, who lives about 110 kilometers from Lviv, Ukraine, said Devon rex cats have become her family and her life. She bought her first cat in 2016 and opened a cattery called MilaGree*s.
She used to live in Kiev, which was hammered by Russian forces, but recently moved to western Ukraine to be with her 87-year-old mother. She says it was a “happy decision” as her home is still intact.
“When I heard on the morning of February 24 that the war had started, I was not worried about myself, I was worried about my cats, because I had little kittens, adult cats and (cats ) pregnant,” she wrote in a Facebook Messenger Interview.
Gritsishin said she has a breeding program planned for a year and a half. She said she was very worried about how she was going to feed her cats as her country was under attack.
“And here, as our guardian angel, Kristen comes to our aid,” she wrote. “Kristen not only found new homes for our cats, but also gave us the opportunity to survive this terrible war. Now I know I can save my cattery, and five years of hard work will not be wasted.
“I will be able to survive and I will also be able to help other people who need help. I am forever grateful to Kristen for her help! She not only helped us, she saved our dreams!
Janssen sold six of Gritsishin’s kittens and three adult cats.
And now that many of her cats are on their way to their new homes, Gritsishin said she takes cats from breeders in Kyiv to help and bring them out as well.
“Thank you very much to everyone who does not remain indifferent to the horror that is currently happening in my beautiful country! Thank you for the support!”
Getting cats out of Ukraine
On Tuesday, a volunteer took 20 cats and eight people to wait in the long lines to cross the Polish border, Janssen said.
A Polish breeder on the other side picked them up at the border. Then another breeder brought them back to Warsaw where she will take care of them until they can fly away.
The other 17 cats will travel a similar route once the first group takes off.
All cats destined for homes in the Maritimes will remain with Janssen. A local veterinarian, Rhonda MacDonald of Timberlea Animal Hospital, volunteered to examine the cats after they arrived.
Even after all that work — responding to more than 3,000 messages in four days and falling asleep with her phone in her hand — Janssen said she wished she could do more.
“Honestly, I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough,” she said.
“I wish there were more, but I keep being told (Ukrainian breeders) ‘our families don’t help us that much, we can never repay the kindness we receive from Canadians and people of all over North America.