As Bob McCreary’s shiny Kia comes to a halt, cats emerge from the wooden structures tucked in the corner of the parking lot. He goes to the trunk to get a jug of water and cracks open another can of cat food. Some cats are waiting patiently a few feet away. Some weave around his legs, waiting for a nice meal — and maybe a scratch behind the ears.
McCreary is a cat colony caretaker. Right now, he looks after more than 10 cat colonies in near his home in west end Toronto. Every day at approximately noon he loads up his supplies — paid for out of his own pocket — and visits each one.
“I just really like cats,” said McCreary. “A cat colony caretaker is just a person with a big heart.”
Esther Attard, acting director of Toronto Animal Services, said in an email that there are 250 registered cat colonies in the city.
Toronto Cat Rescue estimates there are 100,000 homeless cats roaming the streets. McCreary cares for about 50.
Watch a day in the life of a cat colony caretaker:
McCreary decided to become a cat colony caretaker after watching some neighbourhood cats gather around the back of a Rona store one day. He realized someone had been coming to feed them and was inspired to do something like that too.
That was over 13 years ago. Since then, McCreary has almost never missed a day visiting the cats before heading to his job as a concierge in a North York condo in the afternoons.
He ensures that these colonies have daily access to fresh water, food, and a functional shelter made from plastic storage bins. He also checks in to make sure the cats are healthy and don’t need any medical care.
Sometimes, related neighbourhood organizations will offer up cat food or other supplies, but McCreary said he most often misses out on the offers because of his work schedule.
“He spends a lot of his own money,” said Andrew Gagnon, McCreary’s husband.
“It takes a lot of effort. The shelters you either have to buy or make them. You have to work with the company or whoever owns the property to get their permission to set up shelters for the cats there,” said Gagnon.
“Once you start seeing them, you see them everywhere,” said Kim Hughes, the chair on the board of directors of Annex Cat Rescue.
She said that these “community cats” have typically either been lost, abandoned, or were born outside as a result of one of the first two situations.
“At the end of the day, it’s a community problem. And unless the community makes a concerted effort to solve the problem, it won’t get solved,” she said.
“The problem is, people don’t regard cats with the same sense of stewardship that they regard dogs.”
Community cats can be nervous around people, making it hard to get too close. However, McCreary has forged a bond with the over 50 community cats he cares for. Most will follow him and do not shy away from his touch or presence.
“They trust him. Anyone else shows up, and they’ll run,” said Gagnon. “I worry though. When Bob is eventually unable to do this, who will take over?”
Hughes would welcome more cat colony caretakers.
“But in an ideal world, we would not be where there are cats that have no home,” she said.
After McCreary finishes feeding the last colony for the day, he waves and says goodbye to the cats and returns to the car. The trunk earlier filled with clinking aluminum cat food cans and jugs of water is now empty.
It’s time to get to work.