Feral cats ‘destroying town’

By Karen Fallon

Wendy Ouellette told council at its meeting on March 21, that the “infestation” of stray and feral cats within the town is causing the destruction of property because of spray and urine from the animals.

“Everywhere you look there is nothing but a feral cat,” said Ouellette. “In the summer all you smell outside is urine.”

“They are destroying our town and something needs to be done…I don’t want to let my son outside to play because of these cats,” she added.

Ouellette says that there are approximately 30 feral cats in the vicinity of her home on Seymour Street and the people who feed these cats are adding to a growing problem.

In a report prepared by Town Clerk, Brenda Percy she notes that traditionally only dogs have been regulated by municipalities. However, there are a number of municipalities in Ontario that have begun to regulate and license cats with varying bylaws.

According to the report the issue of feral cats is not an isolated problem and controlling feral cats has become one of the most controversial issues in animal control and animal welfare organizations.

There is no easy solution to feral cat control, notes Percy.

Although regulating cats may be seen as providing a benefit to the public, a program should also be cost effective, she explains. Most of the municipalities surveyed don’t carry out pro-active enforcement regarding stray or feral cats but rather act on a complaint basis.

Percy says that enforcing a cat by-law has a number of challenges including the fact that cats cannot be easily captured or secured because of their agility and ability to get into smaller spaces, quickly climb  and they are more apprehensive when approached by an individual.

Previously Chatham-Kent, in an attempt to address similar concerns, implemented a voluntary cat registration program whereby a cat owner could register and license their cat and purchase a cat tag for a nominal fee ($10). It was the intent of the program that the money generated would be applied to cat control initiatives.

The program, noted Percy, received minimal response with less than 10 owners volunteering to license their cat.

Those municipalities which have experienced some degree of success implement programs in which cat control forms part of an overall animal control program with adequate resources available, including the appropriate funding and staffing levels.

A stray cat is described as a feline which has an owner but is left to roam the streets and return home when it wants. Whereas, a feral/wild cat fends for itself when looking for food and shelter and procreates at will.

According to Percy’s report, feral cats exist in colonies which have high birth rates due to uncontrolled reproduction and also high death rates as a result of their life style.

Councillor Robert Pillon agreed that something “has to be done” and made a motion to send the issue to budget so that administration can present various options and costs to address the problem at that time.

“I sympathize with the folks who have feral cats entertaining themselves on their property,” says councillor Carolyn Davies. “But I also have sympathy for cats which have been abandoned by human beings who haven’t been responsible.”

Davies noted that the City of San Francisco in the US has been “very successful” in addressing its feral cat population by activating a “very aggressive” spay and neuter program, as has the City of Ottawa.

Once you spay and neuter you can start with attrition and work from there, she added.

Percy says that if the town initiates a comprehensive plan to deal with feral cats, it could result in residents from other municipalities dropping off cats in the community.

The City of Windsor, which is facing a similar problem, has asked staff to provide information on how to address the same cat concerns in that municipality, says Percy.

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