Cat owners in Brock Township are reminded to keep their cats indoors, on their property or on a leash.
Discussion about the issue during the March 26 protection to persons and property committee meeting following the receipt of a letter from a Cannington resident.
Richard Howting wrote the Township asking if council could consider “funding appropriate measures” to alleviate the concern of a neighbour feeding and sheltering cats.
“The periphery of my house resembles and smells like a giant litter box. Cats squeal and fight at all hours disturbing me. I have approached animal control who tell me they are aware of the situation but are powerless to effect any remedy due to space and budgetary constraints,” reads Howting’s letter, in part.
“With the impending construction of a medical facility, a new business set to open, and the charm of small town living in close proximity to the GTA, Cannington is poised for ecconomic growth and development. Stray cats roaming and defecating at will do not create a positive impression. Nor is the real risk of toxoplasmosis easily contracted doing routine yard work or by handling the cats safe or attractive,” he continued.
Sarah Beauregard-Jones, supervisor of bylaw enforcement and animal control, addressed the matter at Monday’s meeting.
The first point she addressed was the classification of cats at large.
Stray cats have homes, she says, but have wandered from their owners’ properties. By letting their cats roam freely, the pet owners are breaching the Township’s animal control bylaw.
“No owner of a dog or cat shall, knowingly or not knowingly, allow the dog or cat to run at large within the limits of the Township,” states the bylaw.
Stray cats can be housed at the Township’s animal shelter until they are either reunited with their owners or adopted out, as per the bylaw. However, feral cats are a different story.
Feral cats live outside and have had little or no human contact. They can be dangerous to handle, said Beauregard-Jones, and often carry diseases that can put domestic cats at risk.
“A feral cat is wild by nature. It’s very, very similar to a raccoon, a fox or a coyote, said Beauregard-Jones.
“They do not do well in a shelter environment.”
When a few feral cats were brought to the shelter last year, other cats being housed contracted an serious illness and were put down as a result. So, Beauregard-Jones said, it’s best not to bring the wild animals to the shelter, although at this time she acknowledges the lack of alternatives.
“Do we have a problem in Brock with feral cats? Sure. Every municipality in Canada does,” she told council.
The difference is the bigger municipalities, such as Toronto, have more money to spend to address the problem. They can pay the high vet costs and for staff to spend time managing the situation. That’s not the reality in Brock, according to Beauregard-Jones.
However, in smaller municipalities such as Georgina, a number of rescue groups have stepped up to help. In Peterborough, a group called Operation Catnip! has provided trap-neuter-return services to more than 703 cats (196 colonies) as of January of 2018.
“These people fundraise, they trap the cats and they take them to the OSPCA who (neuters cats) for free,” said Beauregard-Jones.
“We simply don’t have the resources in Brock. We don’t have any rescue groups. We don’t have the time, the transportation, the staffing, nor a facility large enough to accommodate these animals…No one in the community is willing to step up.”
Beauregard-Jones recognized a few individuals in Sunderland and Beaverton have previously participated in the OSPCA’s trap-neuter-return program and that has made a big difference. In Cannington last year, another person followed a similar route, which is helping to manage the cat population.
Unless cat owners in the community start complying with the bylaw, however, the trap-neuter-return program may not have much of an impact on the problem written about in Howting’s letter.
“People are not supposed to let their cats out but they do,” said Beauregard-Jones.
Those cats often contribute to the problem spoken about by Howting as even an owned cat will indulge in food set out by community members and will naturally need to defecate somewhere.
As for restricting the feeding of cats, the Township has not prohibited such action.
Such a bylaw would be complex, according to Beauregard-Jones, who told council they would need to consider the rules for feeding cats versus feeding birds and other animals.
Thom Gettinby, the Township’s CAO/Clerk, says enforcement is a whole other concern.
“It’s one thing to have the by-law on the books, it’s quite another to devote staff resources to deal with the folks who feed wildlife,” he said.
Beauregard-Jones understands the frustrations of Howting and others like him but says there is little the Township can do at this time. Already Brock does more with cats than many municipalities, she says, pointing to the City of Kawartha Lakes which does not manage cats at all. Furthermore, her department cannot afford to spend all their funding on wild cats.
What they have done and will continue to do is educate the public and offer support for those who want to help address the issue. However, Beauregard-Jones told council the responsibility falls primarily in the hands of the cat owners and community members.
“The only way to stop feral cat problems is the community gets in place a group of volunteers and they start a program that we can assist with. We continue to educate. Other than that, it’s going to be a problem that persists for a very long time,” she said.
For more information about the OSPCA’s trap-neuter-return program, click here.