Feral cats: Cleaning out the litter box

Photo By: Michael Bromby

Feral Cat in Oshawa

If you live in Oshawa, you may have complained about feral cats running through your backyard. Linda Power is an animal activist in Oshawa who wants people to understand the homeless cats that may cause you grief are just trying to make it through the day.

Power has lived in Oshawa for the past 12 years but grew up in Bancroft. As a child, she grew up with animals in her family home. The first animal she rescued was a cat named Fluffy.

“As a kid, I rescued everything,” says Power with a smile.

When she lived in Bancroft, she ran a dog rescue with her husband Jack. Over time, they slowly integrated cats. When she moved to Oshawa she began to focus on cats and how they were living in the city.

“When we came to Oshawa we were very involved in cat rescue. Part of cat rescue is TNRM (trap, neuter, return, and manage),” says Power.

In November, city council voted on a motion put forward by Oshawa Animal Services to have a TNRM program in Oshawa. The city approved a two-year pilot program which allows animal services to trap and spay or neuter the cat.

The cats are then returned to a colony and volunteers from Action Volunteers for Animals (AVA) manage the colony providing food and water. Under the TNRM, a feral cat is defined as unsocial and possibly aggressive, while avoiding humans.

The goal of the program is to reduce the number of feral cats. In 2016, Oshawa Animal Services received 16 complaints about feral cats and in 2015 it was 30. AVA was running small cat colonies in the city. Each feral cat brought into Oshawa Animal Services from these complaints were spayed, neutered and returned to the colony.

The city gave $4,500 toward the pilot project for funding of volunteers. Mayor John Henry says the community volunteers are what keep the program running successfully.

“The program has been working very well in Oshawa. It wouldn’t work if we didn’t have community participation,” he says.

Henry says part of the feral cat problem comes from students at Durham College and UOIT. He says they get cats during the school year as pets, then release them before they go home.

“If you had a cat don’t just release it and go back home, make sure that it’s properly looked after,” says Henry.

Power says she has been advocating for the TNRM program to be implemented in Oshawa for years.  She says it is needed because the public does not understand these cats are suffering.

“They are starving, they are often injured, they freeze to death in the winter and they need help,” she says.

Power has sent in letters to city council and has also attended city council meetings to voice her opinion.

“At first, when I would go to council meetings or have a letter on the agenda they really didn’t like me too much,” says Power. “But they’ve changed a lot and they’re willing to recognize that volunteers have been solving a huge and expensive problem for them and those volunteers need support.”

Power used to volunteer with AVA by fostering cats while attending to colonies. She doesn’t work with them anymore but she still visits three times a week to feed the cats with food she buys.

She says it is expensive but with new funding the food should be donated to the colonies by the city or the people in the community.

“Everybody wants to feed their cats but it’s usually a financial concern,” she says.

Power visits the colonies every week to provide food for the feral cats, and clean up garbage around the shelters. She says the public is not always receptive towards her actions.

“I have had my life threatened if I came back to feed the cats. I had people fight with me on the street because I was putting down cat food,” she says.

Power has worked hard to keep the cats safe. She says the city will not disclose the locations of cat colonies to the public because of potential vandalism.

“There are a lot of people who do not like cat colonies. If they know where they are often they will go in and take the food away and destroy the shelters,” she says.