The Star

Media: The Star, October 2011

Controlling the cat colonies

Nobody likes Morris, so he eats alone.

The feral orange cat — which looks uncannily like the former star of TV commercials — is timid and peeks out from behind a fence as another group of feral felines skitter around their benefactor, Robin Sarafinchan, who arrives one rainy afternoon with bowls of food in hand.

The 46-year-old office manager coaxes Morris from behind a piece of industrial equipment with a container of food just for him. He won’t eat while she is near but eagerly burrows into the bowl when she steps away.

The tomcat, one of few in the colony of about 20 feral cats at an east-end Toronto site that hasn’t yet been neutered, is a fairly recent arrival on the scene and the other cats haven’t accepted him yet, explains Sarafinchan, who has been helping feed and take care of this colony for almost three years.

These ferals are part of an astonishing animal ‘underground’ — the Toronto Humane Society estimates there are about 100,000 feral and homeless cats in the GTA, with hundreds of kittens being born every day. About 75 per cent of those feral kittens will die, the THS estimates, claimed by predators, disease, malnutrition and the elements.

But the numbers who survive in alleys, industrial areas, parks, ravines, parking lots, and little alcoves in the city — along with the many cats that are dumped on the streets, often near feral cat colonies if people are aware of them — keep the numbers burgeoning.

At the east-end colony where Sarafinchan ministers, along with her husband and two other helpers who help make sure the colony’s cats are fed every day of the year, she has managed to contain the population by trapping, neutering and returning the cats, spending thousands of her own dollars. Only a couple of males have not yet been neutered. The colony has gone from producing 35 kittens almost three years ago, when she first got involved, to three kittens last year, to none in 2011 “which is a huge triumph,’’ says Sarafinchan. Homes were found for all the kittens.

All the cats are named — there’s Hank, whose rotten teeth all had to be pulled but who still loves hard kibble; Jackson, who will allow some petting; Teddy and Tina, who both have matted dirty fur because they’re longhairs; and many others. The colony devours about six big cans of soft food and a large half bag of kibble every day.

These ferals, which have access to small, insulated winter shelters the volunteers have provided, have been here for years — longer than Sarafinchan has been coming.

“A feral cat in a managed colony such as ours could live for 10 years, but without food or shelter they live only a year or two,” says Sarafinchan, an articulate woman who does not meet any sort of stereotypical description of “crazy cat person” — though she’s come across people who think she is.

“People who don’t like animals are crazy,” she responds. “These cats are living creatures who are here because they were abandoned or owners didn’t have their cats fixed,” says Sarafinchan who admits the time and cost involved can be burdensome. “But I can’t just walk away . . . I know they’re waiting and they’re hungry. I’ve developed relationships with these animals.”

She says it’s not enough for colony caretakers to just feed feral felines; the solution is to get them sterilized.

The THS, along with Toronto Animal Services, which also has free spay/neuter clinics and has a trap-lending service, are part of the Toronto Feral Cat Trap Neuter Return Coalition which includes representatives from a number of cat welfare groups in the GTA. Caretakers who register the colonies they take care of — to date 135 cat colonies have been registered — can take advantage of the free sterilizations.

The coalition is hoping to map the city’s feral colonies and promote the TNR program to manage the wild cat population.

Spay-neuter clinic and cat shelter build

The Toronto Humane Society is marking international Feral Cat Awareness Day on Oct. 16 with a spay-neuter clinic, hoping to sterilize 50 feral cats which will break its own one-day record. THS veterinarians are volunteering their time for the event and will work with caretakers of feral cat colonies in the GTA who trap the cats, bring them in for the procedure, provide a space for convalescence and release the cats back to their colony.

On the same day, volunteers at the River St. location are building small shelters for feral cats, which consist of heavy duty plastic containers outfitted with insulation, straw and special entrances. They’ll be distributed by colony caretakers.

The THS has sterilized more than 500 feral cats and held 20 Trap-Neuter-Return sterilization clinics since last fall. It is part of the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition which includes Toronto Animal Services and animal welfare groups such as Annex Cat Rescue, Action Volunteers for Animals, Animal Alliance and Urban Cat Relief.

To participate in the free THS spay-neuter clinic, a feral cat colony caretaker must register the colony with the THS. The coalition of shelters and animal welfare groups are trying to map the feral cat colonies in the GTA and build strategies to address the issue and control the population. To date there are 135 registered cat colonies — sizes on average range from 10 to 30 cats. That’s considered only a fraction of the feral cat colonies existing in the GTA.

Toronto Animal Services has sterilized more than 500 feral cats since opening its TNR clinic in July 2010.

This entry was posted in MediaBookmark the permalink.