Progress made but city’s feral cat problem remains

Dorothy Mathieson considers herself a bit of a Pied Piper when it comes to stray cats. She says she usually has up to eight of them following her around when she walks her dog.

Nestled in the neighbourhood around Kingston and Galloway roads, Mathieson’s house is a gathering place for feral cats. She feeds a colony of about 25 every afternoon with kibble donated by Toronto Animal Services.

“The lady next door started feeding them,” Mathieson said, “and next thing you know, you got half a dozen and all of them are having babies.”

Scarborough’s feral cat colonies are a problem, veterinarian Hanna Booth said. Booth, who is also board director at the Toronto Humane Society, added that Scarborough was the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition’s first target area identified.

“We worked as a coalition to spay [and] neuter them,” she said. “I think we have about 70 per cent of those cats done now, so that’s a big success.”

Booth estimated that there are, conservatively, around 100,000 feral cats wandering around Toronto.

“I would say that the situation [of feral cats in Toronto] gets worse every year,” Booth said.

On Oct. 2, the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC Toronto) held a screening of the 2008 documentary Cat City at the Centre for Social Innovation downtown.

“The most surprising thing that I learned [while making the film] was the suffering and the hardship that these cats were enduring,” said Justine Pimlott, director of Cat City.

Last winter, a new threat emerged: a couple of cats in a feral colony at the Scarborough Bluffs was killed by coyotes

Since the making of the film, the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition was formed by several cat rescue groups to help reduce the feral cat population in the city. Coalition volunteers use a method called trap-neuter-release (TNR) to catch the stray cats and spay or neuter them before being released back into the wild.

To help curb the problem, Booth recommends owners microchip their cats to easily locate them if lost.

Toronto Animal Services takes in about 8,000 cats a year, according to staff member Eletta Purdy. About one third of those cats find homes, the others may be euthanized due to overcrowding at animal shelters.

Booth said these organizations should not be blamed for euthanizing the animals. Rather, she said, the focus should be on “opening low cost spay/neuter clinics and educating the public about responsible pet ownership”.

In July 2010, with the help of Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, a free spay/neuter clinic was opened on Progress Ave. The clinic spays about 60 feral cats a month using TNR.

In September 2010, a second free spay/neuter clinic was opened at the Toronto Humane Society.

“The city is taking on a number of things that are going to improve the situation,” Booth said. “They’re passing a bylaw that’s going to [include] mandatory microchipping, mandatory spay/neuter.

“Two weeks ago, they passed a motion [where] you can’t sell pets in retail stores anymore.”

But there’s more to be done to tackle the feral cat problem, she said.

“Until [the feral cat population is] taken on in a large scale by the city, we don’t make much of a dent even with this coalition and these clinics.”

The Toronto Humane Society is holding a Feral Cat Celebration Day on Oct. 16.