Friday , 19 January 2018

Why Care for Feral Cats?

N@ here –

Susan Mackasey runs the Montreal cat rescue PetitsPawz.   We are also fortunate to have her as our resident cat blogger here on MontrealDogBlog. Through the month of November (in conjunction with a radio endorsement on Virgin Radio),  PetitsPawz will benefit from a 10% donation from online sales of MultiMenu products. When you sign up here, make sure to enter the code “NAT” in all caps in the “Reference” tab to make sure your donation goes through! The funds will go directly to her Catch and Release program as well as purchasing winter shelters for feral cat populations.

Montreal’s stray cat situation is out of control and this is a much needed project.   Education about the significance of sterilization is key.  Here now – everything you need to know about why we must support programs like this for feral cats.

How many stray cats are in Montreal?

There have been several different estimates. It has been reported that there are over 1.6 million strays in the province of Quebec. Several boroughs, such as Cote St. Luc have reported over 10,000 strays in their borough alone.

What is the difference between a stray and feral cat? Why should we even bother feeding/sheltering them through the winter?

A stray cat is a homeless cat that is usually approachable and is accustomed to people.  Stray cats were either lost, or were abandoned by their owner (i.e. moving day many people move and leave their cats to survive outside on their own).

A feral cat is a cat that is basically wild and has not had much, if any, human contact. An example of this would be if a stray cat has kittens and these kittens are not exposed much to humans, they become wild. Then they have kittens, etc. and we then have a feral colony that is virtually untameable.

I believe in feeding ferals and strays for several reasons. My main concern is for their well-being. Abandoned and feral cats have a hard life out there; I think they deserve a bit of kindness from us humans.

Sterilization, however is of paramount importance. Some people argue against feeding them, and say it encourages reproduction and will result in larger colonies. In fact, feeding bans are ineffective. Efforts to get rid of feral cats by starvation fail because cats are survivors and will find food in dumpsters and other places. In some cases feral cats become dependant on their caregivers for food and feeding them definitely makes their lives easier.

Not feeding feral cats causes them to roam and makes them more susceptible to dangers, such as getting hit by cars, etc. It makes them much more visible and people who don’t like cats see them as a nuisance.

Feeding and sheltering in conjunction with catch & release is very effective. Cats tend to stay in close proximity to their feeding stations, and therefore are less of a nuisance to people who do not want them scavenging around their neighbourhoods.

Sheltering makes their lives a whole lot easier, as they have to try to survive our -40 degree winters. Though they are resilient, it’s a hard life out there. If we are going to intervene by sterilizing and vaccinating, then I believe we should give aftercare in the form of food and shelter, wherever possible.

Why do we need a catch and release program?

Catch & Release is the only humane and proven solution to controlling the cat population. With catch & release, feral cats are sterilized & vaccinated and then returned to their colony. They live out their lives without multiplying, so gradually the colony dies out naturally.

Why should we vaccinate stray cats?

Vaccinating strays helps to build their immune system, making them healthier and less likely to spread diseases among themselves, humans (i.e. rabies) and neighbourhood pets. All of the cats we take in are vaccinated for the major viruses, including fiv, feline leukemia and rabies.

Can’t we just euthanize the stray cat populations? Won’t that fix the problem?

Euthanizing cats is completely ineffective (unless they are ill) for several reasons.  Firstly, there are inadequate animal control resources, often just 1 or 2 control people. They can’t possibly make a dent. A catch & release program would attract many volunteers, giving us the ability to trap more cats and implement a humane solution.

Furthermore euthanizing cats is ineffective in and of itself, because of the well-documented vacuum effect. Ferals form colonies around food and shelter sources. If cats are removed from the environment (i.e. trapping & euthanizing), other cats simply move in to take their place and continue to breed. Sterilization, on the other hand will decrease the birth rate of the population. Catch & release controls the reproduction, keeps the cats healthy and stops the spread of disease.

What should I do if I find a stray cat?

If the cat is approachable, you may want to find out if the cat is lost, asking around your neighbourhood, calling the SPCA and notifying shelters to report that you have found a cat.Also, look out for lost cat posters & flyers. If you bring the cat in your house, make sure that it does not mix with any of your own cats, until the cat has been tested and vaccinated. If you decide to keep the cat as your own, you should bring the cat in and get it tested for fiv (feline aids) and feline leukemia. These are 2 very contagious and deadly viruses. If the cat tests negative, the cat should be sterilized and vaccinated.

If you are not planning to keep the cat, you can call a shelter to see if they can take the cat, though many are full. The SPCA also puts cats up for adoption with an option that they can call you so that you have the opportunity to take the cat back if they are having trouble placing it, so that it will not be euthanized.

If the cat is wild, then you may want to consider the catch & release solution. This can be done on your own (with a special humane trap) or in conjunction with organizations that specialize in catch & release programs.

Can a feral cat become a pet or will it always be wild?

Truly feral adult cats are very difficult to domesticate though in some cases it’s possible with a lot of patience. Some ferals can eventually be petted, but they tend to hate being in enclosed areas, so they often do not adapt well to being kept indoors. Ferals can actually live quite happily outside, if they have food, shelter and have been sterilized. Most feral cats do not make good house pets.

Can cats really survive our harsh winters in these shelters?  

These shelters are absolutely amazing. They are designed and built by my friend Cathy Mann. She makes them with home insulation material and fills them with hay. The engineering of them is well thought out, as the cat enters what looks like a little hallway and then turns left, which is the sleeping quarters (filled with hay). No wind or snow enters the shelter. The ferals I care for spend as much time in the winter inside them, as they can. They saunter out to eat and then go right back in.

Have you had a successful catch/release program before? Do other cities? Does it really work?

Yes we have sterilized several colonies throughout Montreal, over 50 cats in all. I have a fantastic vet who is used to dealing with ferals and we have established a really great system that causes the cats and the staff who handle them, the least amount of stress.

The future goal is for a funded, large-scale, well-organized program serving the entire island of Montreal.

Two examples of our efforts:

Verdun, Quebec

Catch & release of a colony in Verdun

– Originally 7 adults and 15 kittens in 2007

– All kittens placed for adoption

– All adults sterilized

– 2010 there are 5 adult cats – sterilized.

– Potential for this colony to have grown to well over 120 cats

Lasalle, Quebec

– Originally 6 adults, 4 six month old kittens and 4 twelve week old kittens

– Adults and six month olds – sterilized

– Twelve week olds – placed for adoption.

– Currently 10 cats

– Potential to be over 120 cats

There are many successful programs in the U.S. and Canada:


– 12 year old catch & release program practiced with municipal approval and cooperation in Newburyport, in Massachusetts.

– In 1992, after attempts to eradicate the approximately 300 cats living on the town’s waterfront had failed, the municipality agreed to allow a TNR (catch & release) project.

– In 1992 through 1993, a private organization, Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society, trapped all of the cats and kittens.

– Twelve years later, there were 17 cats left representing a drop of 94% from the 300 cats present prior to the initiation of TNR.   (Source: Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA, Inc.)

New Jersey

– 98% of feral cats sterilized

– 5 years ago, 856 feral cats in about 71 colonies in Morristown, New Jersey

– Currently 206 cats, all but 17 cats have been sterilized  ( Source: Prince Georges Feral Friends, SPCA, Inc.)

Also, interestingly, the Bahamas has a huge stray dog problem. Very disturbing. They implemented a catch & release program about 10 years ago in Grand Bahama and I personally saw a tremendous drop in the stray dog population (at least 75% drop).

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  1. Hello,
    I would like to know your opinions on feeding and housing feral cats.

    There is a feral cat issue in St Henri.
    I have built houses in the alley for the stray cats. I have a growing concern because where there were only a few kittens, now there are 6 adults. I have been feeding the cats every morning for 2 years but have been unable to trap them.

    One of my neighbours is quite upset , because I live on the top floor of my apartment and she lives on the ground floor,and has a garden where the cats can freely enter. She had been feeding and trapping the feral cats,and had successfully reduced the population to almost zero.

    I understand that she is upset, but I feel so bad for the cats.

    So I would like to know what is your stance on supporting a feral colony? I would like to continue feeding the cats, but also to defend my position when my neighbours confront me.

    Many of the cats are sick, have worms and are unapproachable. They have gotten used to me, but I still cant catch them. THey continue to have litters , too!
    How can I help without upsetting my neighbours?

    Thank you

  2. Hi,
    i saw they kitty shelter that Cathy Mann made and i was wondering if it is possible to get my hand on one of them, cause we have stray cats roaming here and they have kittens here too and i want the kittens to survive the winter…please contact me

  3. Is there a place to purchase the cages besides the internet.

    I also make cat boxes but with left over wood as well as styrofoam. Would be interested in getting the plans to build Cathy’s boxes.

  4. Hi there,
    I was wondering if you can help me with some stray cats near my friends house, that her neighbor is feeding. One young one now looks like her paw is hurt, she is limping and holding it up, I feel so bad for her. I made 2 cat houses for them. I was there today at my friends house and checked on the houses and gave them some warm water. They all swarmed Over to the warm water, they just loved it! I guess they don’t get to drink much… How can I catch them, where do I get the humane traps?? I called the new SPCA ouest and they said they do not help with stray cats. I feel helpless and really would like to help these poor things! They come close, but not enough for you to get them.
    Thanking you in advance

  5. I live in Decarie/Cote Ste Catherine area of Montreal, built a shelter for our backyard feral cat, but where to get hay? Any ideas? Thanks!

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