A county in southern Ontario is looking for help with thousands of stray and feral cats.
Norfolk County, on the north shore of Lake Erie, has a population of about 65,000 people and, according to the nearest humane society, an estimated 30,000 free-range felines.
In May, the county put out a call for proposals for a cat control program.
Only the Simcoe and District Humane Society (SDHS) responded to the call, but its submission was disqualified when the county determined it was incomplete.
Now Norfolk is hanging on to the $50,000 earmarked for the winning submission and waiting for a group to come forward with a long-term solution.
“Like any good program, you don’t just do it one year,” said Chris Baird, general manager of Norfolk’s development and cultural services department.
“You have to do it over successive years or make it part of an ongoing operation.”
Animal welfare groups make a distinction between stray cats, which are domesticated pets that have wandered away from home, and feral cats, who were born in the wild or have lived in the wild for a long period of time.
Feral cats often will form colonies that can number well over 100-strong.
And while there are volunteer “colony managers” who feed or provide shelter for these packs, finding permanent homes for feral cats really is not an option.
“Trying to domesticate a feral cat is nearly impossible because they have been roaming free their whole life,” said Alison Cross, a spokeswoman for the Ontario SPCA.
“And if you try to confine them, it creates quite a stressful environment for them,” she noted.
The OSPCA says the only “economically viable and truly humane” way to manage feral populations is to trap them, have them spayed or neutered, and then release them back into the wild.
The agency loans out cage traps for volunteers to capture homeless cats and bring them in for spaying or neutering.
It also works with a Toronto organization to offer training on how to care for feral cats as a colony manager.
Feral cat colony managers have to pay out-of-pocket for the animals’ food and veterinary bills, but the OSPCA does run a food bank of cat food that has been donated to them.
Cross called it a natural way to decrease feral cat numbers.
“We just let nature take its course, but we can assist it by reducing the number of litters produced each year,” she said.
Cathie Hosken, of the Simcoe and District Humane Society, said her organization deals with feral cat colonies all the time and receives 200-300 calls per month reporting large groups of cats.
“When we get calls, it’s not about five animals that need housing because their owner has passed away,” she noted.
“Our calls are for [groups of] 27, 35, 68.”
When there is room at the shelter, they take in some cats, she added.
But she said her agency is a strong proponent of the trap, neuter, and release method, and tries to help people in the Norfolk area get stray and feral cats fixed.
Mostly that means helping people find the most affordable option or finding ways to offset the cost, especially for those looking after large numbers of cats, said Hosken.
Spaying or neutering costs $60 at the OSPCA.
Hosken said the SDHS still is interested in helping Norfolk County with its preponderance of stray and feral cats, but would not comment on any future proposals that might be in the works.