One unspayed cat: 3,200 kittens
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MONTREAL- As of May 1, a change in Nathalie Mainville’s nightly routine as an animal control worker in Verdun will introduce a new form of urban hunting to the southwest borough.
Timed to coincide with the spring breeding season, Mainville, who works the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, will be laying down newly purchased cages in Verdun’s back alleys and setting them to catch stray cats.
The bait will be Whiskas Temptations – a rare treat in these parts.
Come morning, one of Mainville’s colleagues will double back to collect cats trapped overnight and transport them to Montreal’s Canadian Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals where they will be sterilized before being released back onto the streets of Verdun.
Verdun’s plan to trap and sterilize 100 stray cats this spring is the borough’s response to what has become a growing problem throughout much of the Montreal region.
Rising numbers of stray cats in residential neighbourhoods are creating feline population densities never before seen in other Canadian cities.
As the situation stands now, the majority of stray cats picked up on city streets – whether by the SPCA, Berger Blanc or other pounds – are euthanized.
The Montreal SPCA is already grappling with more cats than it can handle, euthanizing up to 50 per cent of cats left there by their owners for which new homes cannot be found.
Verdun’s program ushers in a new way – at least, in this city – of dealing with stray cats.
The borough has entered into a partnership with the SPCA in an attempt to better manage the stray cat populations through sterilization and other local initiatives aimed at encouraging pet owners to be more responsible.
“We had to do something,” said Paul Beaupré, the Verdun borough councillor behind the initiative. “It’s hell, especially in the summer,”
In Verdun, like elsewhere, inner-city colonies of stray and feral cats have been blamed for dwindling songbird populations, cat-borne diseases that can spread to other animals, including pets, and public health concerns related to feces and spraying.
The idea behind a municipally-run trap-neuter-release programs is to prevent unaltered stray cats from giving birth to new generations of strays on the street and to gradually reduce their numbers more humanely through attrition.
On average, an unspayed female cat produces two litters a year with 2.8 surviving kittens per litter, and can produce a total of 11,801 cats in five years, according to data collected by the Bond Foundation for Animal Welfare, a Montreal-based charity that promotes low-cost pet sterilization.
It costs between $100 and $250 to sterilize a female cat or between $50 and $150 to sterilize a male cat.
In Montreal, however, trapping and killing unwanted strays has been the most common method used up to date. These programs have been largely unsuccessful because other unaltered strays simply move into the vacated territory and multiply more quickly because there is reduced competition for food.
Programs in other North American cities have shown that trapping and sterilizing stray cats has proven more successful in the long run, especially if coupled with other municipal initiatives to encourage responsible pet ownership, such as fines for failing to sterilize pets and mandatory licences.
Over the past decade, a handful of Montreal boroughs and suburbs, including Côte St. Luc and Côte des Neiges, have attempted to establish trap-neuter-release programs to control stray cat populations but the programs have been short-lived.
They have had to rely on a patchwork of volunteer agencies and private citizens to trap and transport the stray cats to private veterinary clinics willing to do the procedure at low cost.
More recently the borough of St. Laurent has had some success with a program it operates with a private animal welfare group, Humanochat.
Over the past five years, St. Laurent has put up the money – about $5,000 a year – and volunteers have all done the trapping and transporting of stray cats to Vanier College or one of several veterinary clinics offering low-cost sterilization.
In this way, St. Laurent has paid to sterilize about 350 stray cats living in industrial parks, along the CN rail lines and in open areas behind the IKEA on Cavendish Blvd. and apartment buildings and fast food restaurants on Côte Vertu Blvd.
However, neither this program nor any of the others have been municipally-run with initiatives that other North American jurisdictions have used to successfully manage problems in their cities.
Mandatory cat licenses, fines for failing to sterilize a cat and responsible pet ownership education, all recognized best practices and in use in other Canadian cities, including Calgary, a recognized leader in the field, will eventually be part of Verdun’s new program and others coming on stream.
Beaupré, the borough councillor from Verdun, said there will be public meetings and information packages sent out to explain the need for change before Verdun brings in any harder measures.
Those measures have yet to be determined, he said, bu could include mandatory cat licenses, fines for letting an unaltered cat roam and mandatory cat sterilization .
“We’re committed to improving the situation here,” he said.
Up until to this point, Beaupré said, the borough has had little success stopping what appears to be an endless flow of unwanted cats.
He said he has found boxes of kittens abandoned on his doorstep several times.
Last summer, Verdun animal control workers were called eight times because cats were left behind in apartments during the annual July 1 moving period.
Hundreds more – an average of 12 cats per week – are picked up by the borough’s animal control workers and brought to the SPCA and, if they remain unclaimed or a home can not be found for them, they can be euthanized in a matter of days.
Overall, he said, the situation is a little more humane than a year ago when Verdun was still using Patrouille GL Canine, a Terrebonne pound that uses gas chambers to euthanize animals.
“We’ve made very positive changes,” he said.
But he said there are still too many cats that owners have failed to sterilize and that are being tossed out on the streets and giving birth to kittens.
“We want to stop this cycle” said Beaupré.
Nathalie Mainville, the 33-year-old animal control worker responsible for implementing the program on the street said she can’t wait to load up her truck with the nine new cages Verdun has purchased and start trapping.
An animal lover since childhood, she said, the stray cats she sees on her nightly patrols break her heart. They are hungry, often wounded and sometimes banged up by cars or almost dead, the victims of poison.
“People have to learn,” she said as she inched her vehicle through a narrow Verdun alleyway off of Willingdon Ave. on a recent Friday night.
“An animal is for life.
“It’s not a game, something you play with for a month or two and then throw out.”
Eight different sets of cat eyes blinking in light of her headlights can be counted ahead.
There are stray cats hiding under parked cars and back porches. Others scamper up the wrought iron staircases as the vehicle approaches.
Still, she is optimistic that the program will make a different.
“It has to,” she said.
A few days from now, she expects to set her first traps in the alleys behind Verdun’s densely populated avenues.
After the cats in this area have been sterilized, she said, she will move the trapping operation to other parts of Verdun.
“I have a whole list of names of citizens who have complained,” Mainville said. “I don’t think they will mind if I put the traps on their properties.”
Who cares for the cats?
Chantal Jodoin gets up at 4 a.m. every day and rides her bike to a St. Laurent park where up to a dozen cats, homeless and hungry, await her.
She started the routine three years ago when she retired from St. Laurent’s Musée des Metiers et Artisans du Québec where she worked as a receptionist and a guide.
Now the 64-year-old Jodoin is one of the hundreds of unsung volunteers, mostly women, mostly middle-aged, quietly caring for the city’s homeless cats.
On a Saturday morning when most people were still sleeping, a Gazette reporter caught up with Jodoin at a small park near Côte Vertu Blvd. and Décarie Blvds. It was 5:10 a.m.
“Grisou always greets me first,” Jodoin said as a grey and white male cat scampered out from under some bushes. “He needs affection.”
Like many of the other cats that congregate in the park at night – during the day they hide beneath porches, garden sheds and other buildings – he was once somebody’s pet, she explained.
She hurried to fill a small plastic bowl with a warm mix of cat food and biscuits for him.
As in many municipalities, there is a bylaw in St. Laurent against feeding squirrels, raccoons, skunks and other animals, including stray cats.
But feeding strays has been tolerated since St. Laurent began paying in 2004 to sterilize stay cats local volunteers trap and transport to veterinarians before releasing back in the borough.
Still, Jodoin worked quickly and quietly, not wanting to wake up residents in the surrounding duplexes.
In the early-morning darkness, she filled half a dozen bowls, hiding them behind trees and beneath bushes.
Two kittens were deliberately poisoned this summer, she said.
Although she has three cats of her own at home, she said she just can’t help herself from helping these ones too. She has given all the cats she’s fed – a total of 33 over three years – a name. Marmelade, Patpatte, Goliath, Rosalie I, Rosalie II, Chocolat – and the list goes on.
“Many of them are fearful,” she said, pointing to two hiding in the bushes.
“They come out when I leave. You’ll see when I come back in an hour for the bowls. They’ll be empty.”
Read more: https://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Setting+traps+Montreal+stray+cats/2976174/story.html#ixzz0mpSKXqfC