National Feral Cat Day, October 16, 2013


National Feral Cat Day 2013

It’s a quote that has been claimed by everyone from Churchill to Gandhi, Dostoyevsky to Truman, likely because it exhibits extraordinary wisdom: “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.”

Which means our society has plenty to answer for, especially when it comes to feral cats. Deeply misunderstood when they are thought of at all and often reviled when they should be pitied, feral cats – essentially displaced domestics that, for some sad reason (abuse, neglect, dislocation) find themselves homeless – live among us in staggering numbers.

It is estimated that the feral cat population in Toronto exceeds 100,000. Since cats are lousy at completing census forms, no one really knows how many itinerant felines urgently seek food and shelter wherever they can find it. But even if that number is overblown by half, it remains troubling, especially since feral cats multiply very quickly.

In five years, an unspayed feral female can produce 20,000 descendants. Grow that by neighbourhoods across North America, and a desperate picture emerges.

Certainly, “colony caretakers” – kind souls who voluntarily feed and monitor feral cats that bunch together in ad hoc groups or colonies – know the numbers are dispiriting, and not just for dispossessed kittens and cats on the loose but also for birds and other creatures in their path.

Perhaps most vexing: much of the feral cat problem could be solved simply by keeping all cats indoors, ensuring all are spayed/neutered and, especially, by collectively regarding cats as sentient beings every bit as worthy of our humane stewardship as dogs.

October 16 is National Feral Cat Day, a chance for organizations and individuals to start a dialog about how to solve the spiralling problem of feral cats in urban settings: how to implement trap-neuter-release programs to combat reproduction; how to manage ferals compassionately and effectively outdoors (in some cases, by bringing them indoors); how to dramatically reduce their numbers going forward through education and awareness.

“Feral cats are no different than other cats except that they were born away from people,” offers Annex Cat Rescue’s Marianne Premuzic. “As a result, their lives are very difficult; they are exposed to all kinds of dangers and they often don’t live very long. Their numbers are untold; when you start feeding them, they turn up.

“Cats were domesticated by humans all these years ago and we have an obligation to care for them. By doing trap-neuter-return programs, we are trying to reduce the feral cat population in Toronto. We would ultimately love to get to a situation where there are no outdoor cats… or as close to that as we can come.”

Some people believe cats will survive if abandoned. Wrong. Animal shelters euthanize thousands of stray cats each year, and many more die slow, miserable deaths from starvation, disease, accidents, abuse or attacks from predators.

Annex Cat Rescue routinely traps, spays/neuters, and vaccinates feral cats. Daily, volunteers leave water and dry food at designated feeding stations for outdoor felines. Small feral kittens are temporarily housed with foster caregivers and eventually adopted out as pets.

Along with multiple caring partners in the GTA, Annex Cat Rescue is committed to addressing the feral cat problem in all the above-mentioned ways for as long as necessary. But we cannot do it without your support, so please give generously. And spread the word. “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” We strive to make that our saying, too.

-Kim Hughes


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