The first municipally funded feral cat spay and neuter clinic in Canada has officially opened its doors in Scarborough.
The free clinic is trying to reduce the feral cat population across Toronto. Scarborough Centre councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker estimates 20,000 feral cats roam the city, but admits it could range up to double that amount.
On Friday, Aug. 13 the councillor joined veterinarian Ester Attard for a tour of the $600,000 facility, which operates out of 900-square-foot addition to the existing Toronto Animal Services shelter at 821 Progress Ave.
"The myth that a feral cat is a happy cat isn't true," said De Baeremaeker. "It's not a happy life. It's a harsh and horrible life."
The average life span of a feral cat is about three years. During that time they live and reproduce in colonies with other feral cats, but quickly succumb to the perils of danger or disease. Many die from sickness or poison, are hit by cars or hunted by other wild animals.
Spaying or neutering prevents more kittens being born into such harsh conditions, which De Baeremaeker thinks is an easy sell regardless of a person's opinion of cats.
"Even if you don't like cats, you should still love this program because it keeps the cat population down."
The clinic offers its services for free, but does not neuter strays or house pets. Attard explained a feral cat is not the same as an unfamiliar feline that might saunter between suburban backyards looking for a handout.
"A feral cat is a wild animal that cannot be handled and is not socialized with people," said Attard.
They avoid contact with humans, so it can be difficult to capture and operate on an entire colony at the same time, Attard explained during the tour.
The shelter is associated with several feral cat organizations, including the Toronto Feral Cat Project, which can provide assistance in catching and transporting the cats from anywhere in Toronto. Before bringing in colonies for neutering, each individual must register online at www.feraltoronto.com, attend a special workshop and then book an appointment with the clinic ahead of time.
Attard has already completed 35 operations since the clinic opened on July 27 and has set a goal of about 1,000 animals each year. It takes about one day for the cat to recover before it is released back to its colony. To prevent cats being caught twice, each one has a tip cut from its ear to indicate it has already been spayed or neutered.
The clinic is De Baeremaeker's pet project and he is proud to have fought for the city to invest in what he feels is a "precedent setting" pilot project for Canadian cities.
"We are the first municipality to do this...if it is successful, I can see other cities copying the model," said De Baeremaeker.
He was also proud to say the $600,000 price tag on the clinic was covered by a condominium development near the Scarborough Civic Centre, which had to pay a community improvement fee under Section 37 of the Municipal Code. The operations themselves are paid for by public donations at a cost of about $200 each and the staff are paid directly by the city.
The clinic is looking for monetary gifts or donations of old clothes to line cages.
More information about this program can be found at toronto.ca/animalservices or by calling 416-338-7279.