National Post

Media: National Post, August 13, 2010

Feral felines are multiplying in Toronto

By Ben Kaplan, National Post

The city estimates that there are 20,000 feral cats in Toronto, but Heather Brown of the Annex Cat Rescue says the actual number is more than 100,000. “This summer’s been crazy,” says Brown, one of 100 volunteers with the city’s most vocal cat rescue program. “People don’t stop to look at the cats in their alley, but the amount of feral cats on the street has increased significantly.”

Tim Fraser for National Post

Think he's cute? There's about 100,000 other like him roaming Toronto's streets. Tim Fraser for National Post.

Of course, as problems go, the “summer of the cat” is preferable to other warm-weather threats that challenge the city. However, Brown says the feral cat epidemic could have been licked years ago. So even though the city opened the Toronto Animal Services East Spay-Neuter Clinic this past Tuesday, a $200,000 reconstructed triage in Scarborough with surgical tables and anaesthetic machines, the feral cat population is currently much larger than it should be.

“If the clinic were opened 15 years ago, we wouldn’t have this problem today,” Brown says.

Eletta Purdy, manager of Toronto Animal Services, says the city’s demographic of unwanted animals has changed over the past 15 years. In 1995, half of the wildlife up for adoption in Toronto was canine. Today, 80% of our unwanted animals are cats. (We’re even taking in homeless dogs from Quebec).

“We have limited resources, but we’re focused,” says Purdy, who works with cats collecting, neutering or spaying them, and then releasing the city’s wild cats back where they found them. She sees this as a positive step toward feral cat population control. “The city’s definitely turned a corner,” she says, “but it’s also up to everyone to responsibly look after their pet.”

The cat population exploded this summer for myriad reasons. Partly, the warm weather is to blame. But just as importantly, these populations begin life when an irresponsible pet owner releases a domesticated animal into the wild. A female cat that hasn’t been spayed or neutered can become pregnant at five months old and deliver up to five kittens at a time. Each cat can deliver three litters during the warm summer months. Quickly, one disregarded kitten behind a shopping plaza or near a college dormitory can expand into a colony of 100 unwanted cats.

“We’re attacking this problem one cat colony at a time,” explains Purdy, who oversees four animal centres across town. “Here’s a message for all cat owners: To help reduce unwanted cats in your area, ensure your cat is sterilized.”

The cats on the streets are unlikely to have rabies, however both Brown and Purdy recommend using caution when approaching a wild cat. They bite and scratch and aren’t socialized to deal with people, but they are a population in need of our help.

“The life of a feral cat is a miserable existence,” says Brown, who personally looks after a colony of 150 cats in Regent Park. “We’re thrilled that this crisis is being brought into the light.”

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