Hearts of gold, nerves of steel

C.B.N. women open thrift shop to finance shelter

Lillian Simmons lsimmons@cbncompass.ca
Published on February 6, 2013
Three Conception Bay North women have opened a thrift shop in Bay Roberts, where they hope proceeds from sales will help in the purchase of a shelter. The shop is run by 10 volunteers, including (from left) Janet Neil, Susan Deir, Linda Mercer and Mercer’s husband, Tony Smith.

Just two weeks after they opened a small thrift shop in Bay Roberts, three Conception Bay North women are amazed by the support coming in. If it continues, they figure they’ll make enough money to pay the rent — with a little left over to go towards realizing a dream.

The three have been friends for years and share a bond through their work with the SPCA. Now they have a common goal to found a cat shelter for the C.B.N. area.

Susan Deir worked with the

St. John’s SPCA for 22 years; 15 of those she served as special constable. During those years she’s seen some horrific sights.

“There are many, many,” she says softly, sitting in a small room at the back of the thrift shop.

Her longtime friend and colleague Janet Neil nods. “You could write a book,” she agrees.

While their partner, Linda Mercer, minds the shop at the bright, neatly stocked front portion of the store, Deir and Neil talk about how the little shop came to be. Mercer, who served on the board of the SPCA, is the shop’s accountant; her husband, Tony Smith, also volunteers at the shop when needed. The couple are active fundraisers for the SPCA.

“Janet, Linda and I have known for a long time that there was a need in the Conception Bay North area for a cat shelter,” says Deir. “We discussed it many times. But one day we decided it was time to stop talking and start doing something, so we met at Janet’s house and the idea of the thrift store was born.”

They immediately began looking at buildings and started a Facebook page.

“The response was tremendous, so we ran with it from there and now a couple of months later, here we are.”

Deir credits Neil with getting the ball rolling through her volunteer work. Some nine months earlier she’d started a low-cost spay/neuter program for residents, called Cat Concerns.

“It helps people like seniors,” Neil explains. “Maybe the only company they have is their cat and they can’t afford to have the cat spayed or neutered. Or it might be people who take in strays and maybe they’ve got their own cats, but would be willing to take another, or single parents who are finding it difficult.”

In less than a year through

her fundraising work, she’s been able to contribute towards the spaying/neutering of 40 cats.

But, she stresses, the program is only for people who truly need the financial help, and even then they are expected to pay a portion of the cost of spaying/neutering.

The women decided to use the name of Neil’s Program, Cat Concerns, for the thrift shop as well.

 “Typically I’ve felt that cats get the short end of the stick,” Deir says. “Everybody will look after a stray dog, feed it, call it over, pet it, but cats they shoo away from their door. And the people that do feed stray cats, it doesn’t take long before they will reproduce. So cats are a big issue and nobody seems to want to do anything about them.”

“There are a few cat groups in this area, but the problem is nobody has a shelter,” says Neil. “We need a physical building. I’d venture to say there are thousands of stray cats in the 68 towns on the Baccalieu Trail. There are good-hearted people who feed strays and all of a sudden they have kittens and it starts to get out of hand.”

With money left over from previous fundraising efforts, the women were able to rent the former Mom’s Take Out on Bareneed Road for their shop. They’re hoping eventually the profits from the store will aid in purchasing a building to use as a shelter.

They receive generous donations of items through advertising on Facebook and word of mouth.

“People have been so supportive,” notes Deir. “It’s funny because  they’ll come in with a bag of items or several bags and they’ll take a look around and end up leaving with another bag of stuff. And we’ve been hearing that people are happy that someone is actually doing something to make (a shelter) a reality.”

The store doesn’t have the space to accept large furniture or appliances, but takes household items, clothes, accessories, books and the like.

Cat Concerns Inc. is staffed by 10 volunteers, who work three-hour shifts, but more volunteers are needed.

The shop is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


In addition to store income, the women continue to fundraise towards their goal.

Their next event will be held at the Seaside Lounge in Spaniard’s Bay Feb. 16, sponsored by the lounge and Terry Lynch, instructor at The Music Studio. There’ll be live bands and taped music, and the women expect some of the students from the studio will be on hand to perform as well.

Cat Concerns will celebrate its grand opening during the whole month of February.

“Our prices are pretty low anyway, but we’ll be having specials,” says Deir. “We’re thinking of doing a week of book sales, then perhaps a clothing sale or a shoe sale.”

The good and the ugly

It takes a heart of gold and nerves of steel to deal with situations of animal neglect and abuse.

“It takes its toll on you,” Deir says. “When we get together and start talking, then you realize what you’ve been through and what you’ve seen. I shake my head and I wonder, and I’m sure Janet does the same.”

One particular instance from 10 years ago still haunts Deir.

“It was in the St. John’s area. The dog was at the end of his chain and had been there in the snow for three months, dead.

“I guess the temperatures preserved the body and when we sent it off to the pathologist in P.E.I., all indications showed that the dog had starved to death. This dog was tied on 30 or 40 feet away from the house, smelling all the kitchen smells, seeing the kids come and go. I can’t imagine what the poor little thing suffered.”

At the time it wasn’t something she allowed herself to dwell on.

“You have a job that you have to do, and you sort of have to watch your back too because you’re on somebody’s property telling them they’ve done something very wrong. So I guess some sort of instinct kicks in, you do your job and you can’t get emotional about it right at that moment.”

“And the fines were so miniscule,” adds Neil, who has volunteered alongside Deir for a number of years. “But they’ve recently been changed (up to $50,000) so that may make a difference.”

It hasn’t all been bad, and it’s the good stories that have kept them going.

“They make it worthwhile, and some of the most horrible stories turn around to be actually nice stories in the end. You’ve rescued an animal from a horrific situation and brought it back to what it should be physically and emotionally — because they suffer the emotional stress as well. And then the animal gets a fabulous home where it lives out the rest of its life.

“We know it will take a while to get to the point of a shelter,” Deir continues. “There are a lot of obstacles, money being one of them. But this is a start and with hard work, dedication and continued support from the public, we know we can make it a reality.”