A Regina man says he's saved hundreds of animals as an accidental, unofficial volunteer animal rescuer — no catchy 1-800 numbers, fancy equipment or superpowers required.
Matthew Wesley says many of the cats and dogs were returned to their owners, about 30 have been taken to the humane society and he's personally fostered around a dozen — including a cat stuck in the hood of a car last December he later adopted for good.
"All these people are reaching out to me on Facebook to come get this cat. And literally… I had COVID, I was bedridden," Wesley said of that particular rescue in an interview Wednesday.
The female tuxedo cat, which he named Panda Bear, was covered in dust, one of her ears was severely frostbitten and she wouldn't budge from the space under the car's subframe.
"I had to unhook a few vacuum lines to get my arms down there and I wasn't sure what to expect, if it would be a feral cat or I'd get bitten," said Wesley. "And it just turned out to be harmless.
"She's like the nicest cat I could ever possibly have."
The father of two said he's always tried to help animals he finds, but it became "busy all of a sudden" thanks to social media and the many animals he's spotted through his work maintaining rental properties for the last nine years.
"It just makes me feel good to get an animal to a safer place. It's kind of uplifting, like I did something good," Wesley said.
A Facebook group for lost pets in Regina is filled with dozens of posts and comments tagging Wesley for help.
"The one cat that I rescued off that three-story roof, it was the best feeling in the world. You don't know if it's going to be feral or run away," he said. "Then the cat just let me grab it.… it literally like snuggled into me when I was going down the ladder."
Another rescue cat even came back to work at Shawn's Property Management with him.
Wesley said he found Gracie in an alley behind the office, pregnant and with a painful hernia.
Once a vet fixed her up, she became the company cat.
"She has a great life living in the office, greeting people and being spoiled by four secretaries," Wesley said.
More and more animals in need: Humane Society
Wesley said that while he's more than happy to help, he's worried by the rising number of strays he sees, some of whom have been killed by cars, toxic substances or other injuries.
He said he's taken about 30 to the Regina Humane Society (RHS) in the last two years, and fostered around a dozen more himself when it was at capacity.
The agency, which saw about 3,700 animals come into its care last year, often doesn't have room for all of them and has to prioritize the ones most in need, marking and public relations director Bill Thorn said Tuesday.
"At times it's very difficult and challenging," he said, noting RHS's subsidized spay and neuter program is also "swamped."
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The city, like many around the world, has always had a "cat problem," but more dogs are in need of homes now, too, Thorn said.
He said it may be due to an increase in breeding as people scrambled to adopt dogs during the early COVID-19 pandemic then surrendered them, as well as the rising costs of food, medications and veterinary care.
"All of those things combined have unfortunately made it difficult for some people to look after their pets or retain them," he said.
Wesley said there should be more funding for free spay-and-neuter programs and more education around the dangers of allowing cats to roam outdoors, which violates Regina city bylaws.
He also encouraged drivers to look for signs that a cat crawled inside their car for warmth, like paw prints in the snow, and to knock on their hoods as a precaution.
"I always tell people to keep their money when I give their animal back," Wesley said. "I just want them to keep their animals safe."