Clawing away at the feral cat problem

Photo by Dan Koehler

A feral cat in the backyard of a home near Simcoe St. S in Oshawa.

If you live in Oshawa, or the surrounding areas, chances are you have seen a cat or two wander past your house during the night.

Although you may think it’s a stray or possibly a neighbour’s pet, in reality there are wild, also known as feral, cats roaming the streets in Oshawa.

Even with the amount of feral cats wandering around Oshawa, the issue is still relatively unknown.

“Far more education needs to be done,” said Oshawa city councillor Rick Kerr.  “I’ve heard varying projections of 2,000-3,000 thousand cats.”

According to the Action Volunteers for Animals (AVA), feral cats are either born in the wild and grow up without human interaction, or they are released by their owners at a young age.  They often look for shelter around homes and can cause quite a mess on garbage day.  These cats are social to each other and often live in colonies.

According to the Toronto Cat Rescue (TCR), there are an estimated 100,000 feral cats in Toronto, but groups like the TCR and the AVA are working to get this number lower.

One of the ways the AVA is working to lower feral cat populations is through a program called TNR, which stands for trap, neuter, and return.

Feral cats are trapped and brought to a veterinarian where they are fixed and micro-chipped before being returned to where they were found.  They also have their ears docked so they can be recognized as already fixed.

“If there’s a colony of cats that are feral and can’t be adopted they (the city or residents) contact us and we will TNR them,” said Denise Harkins, president of the AVA.  “You do want to be able to re-home a lot of cats, but feral cats can’t be re-homed.”

According to Harkins, the AVA starts by targeting pregnant, sick, or tame cats that have a chance for adoption.   But the end goal is the same for all of them.

“You can’t always get exactly who you want first but no matter who gets into your trap that’s who gets fixed,” said Harkins.

Coun. Kerr supports the idea of a TNR program but thinks it should be called TNRM, with the M standing for management.

“A lot of studies that say it works but there are just as many that say it is ineffective,” said Coun. Kerr.  “Unless you do a number other of measures with it, it has been unsuccessful in as many areas as its been successful.”

He wants to see residents receive certified training to start managing feral cat colonies. Managers would feed and monitor the cats while the city is able to keep track of population.

Coun. Kerr supports the idea of a transport program where managers would bring feral cats to the Humane Society of Durham Region.  They would then send them to the Toronto Humane Society to be fixed before returning them to the colony manager.

He also wants to see a change in City bylaws regarding feral cats.

“Change the responsible pet owners bylaw to include a separate listing that specifically defines feral cats as separate and different from stray domestic cats,” said Coun. Kerr.  “All they (the city) have to do is enable the citizens to do what they’re already doing with a couple of wrinkles to make it more effective and I think we have the potential for a very effective solution.”

Coun. Kerr hopes to bring the matter to council soon but it has been pushed back as the City deals with designated-driving services and Uber.

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Dan is a second-year journalism student at Durham College, who enjoys writing about music, the environment, politics, and opinion pieces. He also hosts a show on Riot Radio and works as a volunteer technician. Dan loves spending time at his cottage and has a wide array of unusual pets, including reptiles and arachnids. In the future he hopes to work for a radio station while doing freelance photography.