Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Feral cat explosion

FERAL CATS: Local shelters strained by demands of feral, stray cats

Posted By GALEN EAGLE , EXAMINER STAFF WRITER

Updated 3 hours ago

They often roam in the periphery, but ask locals where to find the city's packs of feral cats and you'll get a litany of responses.
As the sun sets, the wild felines have been spotted behind many local businesses that serve or sell food.
Unfixed tomcats hunt Stewart, Brock, Hunter and Simcoe streets just west of the downtown core, looking for outdoor females that have been abandoned, lost or simply let outside without being spayed. The shrieks of mating and catfights can be heard throughout the late nights.

Tobin Court resident Margaret Neill told city council Monday about the pack haunting her north-end neighbourhood, chasing people from patios and depositing feces on rooftops, gardens and backyard decks. "We can't use our new deck. We can't have friends over for a barbecue. These cats are just all over the place," Neill said. "I think some of these cats should be put down."
Many frustrated residents would agree with Neill. City staff field many calls about the issue, urging the city to do something.
While euthanasia is often the easiest fix, it does not address the problem of overbreeding in the long-term, local experts say.
It also switches the blame from people to the cats, said Mary Werner, a board member and volunteer at the Lakefield Animal Welfare Society (LAWS).
"The feral cats, it's not their fault. It's the community's problem and the community has to solve it," she said.
City council has been talking about the issue for years. Most recently, council raised the idea to support a spay and neuter clinic to alleviate some of the overpopulation. It asked staff to investigate the possibilities, but a solution has yet to emerge.
Who would be responsible for the clinic and who would fund it remains unclear.
Lines of co-operation between the area's animal welfare organizations have historically been poor, admitted Dr. Kathleen Norman, of the Kawartha Veterinary Association.
"Unfortunately, there has been a history of poor communication," she said.
Meanwhile, the city approved a new eight-month contract Monday with the Peterborough Humane Society that doesn't include a spay and neuter clinic.
The board of the humane society has yet to replace its former general manager Brad Algar who left in February.
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As the number of stray and feral cats continues to bulge, placing more strain on the area's shelters, most agree a solution is needed and fast.
Norman makes no distinction between stray cats, former pets that have been socialized, or feral cats, cats born wild or cats that have returned to a wild state.
"To me the problem is one and the same -- it's overpopulation," she said.
That burgeoning population brings with it a host of concerns to the community, including the spread of rabies and parasites, she said.
"As a community we have to worry about spread of disease as well as overpopulation. It's two big categories that we are trying to address," she said.
Working with some dedicated volunteers, LAWS does help trap, neuter/spay and release some of the feral cats into the community. It also works with local farmers willing to house feral cats in warm barns. Those solutions only make small chips in the problem, Werner said.
The LAWS shelter has more than 100 cats but has a waiting list of nearly 400, she said.
"Hundreds of hundreds of babies are being born every spring and being left outside," she said.
Cities such as Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Calgary provide programs to trap, neuter, spay and release feral cats.
Those programs or clinics are operated either directly by the municipality, a humane society or a local board of health.
Norman said her agency would entertain the idea of cooperating with a spay and neuter clinic, but said the agency has to first fix its communication issue with the humane society.
The two groups are meeting this week to "throw some ideas around" and work towards some common ground, she said.
"The veterinarians in the Peterborough area are trying very hard to improve communications with the humane society," she said.
Mayor Paul Ayotte has supported the idea of a bylaw that would prohibit owners from allowing their cats to roam free.
The bylaw issue has been before council for many years, but no council has ever passed one.
"I guess councils of the past haven't had the wherewithal to pass the bylaw," he said. "I certainly agree that there should be something done."
Ayotte said he would support a spay and neuter clinic, but warned the costs would be high.
"I'd like to see (a clinic) done, but it's a pretty expensive proposition," Ayotte said. "It's getting serious enough, I think we have to look at it."
While there appears to be some support for a clinic on city council and many community groups are calling for one, until funding and commitment combine in a cohesive plan, the city's cat issue will just continue to grow, Werner said.
"Nobody is taking responsibility," she said.
geagle@ peterboroughexaminer.com

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