More than 40 people attended a special Trap, Neuter and Release Training session at Côte Saint-Luc City Hall recently, facilitated by Shelley Schecter and Dr. Marlene Kalin. While the purpose was to get a team of volunteers in place in the hopes of launching a formal TNR Program in Côte Saint-Luc in 2011, there was a request from a number of residents of the Côte des Neiges-N.D.G. Borough to attend as observers as they wish to approach their mayor for support as well. Pictured below, Shelley and Barbara Hilliker give me some TNR pointers.
I chaired the meeting and explained that my initial objective is for Côte Saint-Luc to include funding in our 2011 budget for a TNR Program. This way feral or abandoned cats can be brought directly to the Côte Saint-Luc Hospital for Animals to be spayed or neutered. Dr. Kalin explained that only a select few individuals should serve as her main contacts. A team of volunteers will be put in place. Councillor Cohen said inquiries have been made with Canadian Pacific Railway for a contribution. Fundraising remains an option. Also, a licensing program for cats (probably outdoor cats) is also being considered. Revenue from this could also be directed to TNR. In addition, plans call for an education program via pamphlets, brochures, newsletter items, website posts and school visits etc. We would like to make cat lovers out of more residents and encourage adoptions.
Shelley Schecter described how the Trap, Neuter and Release process works. She referred to the organization called Alley Cat Allies and their website, which is www.alleycat.org. It is very comprehensive and includes a guide of how to conduct TNR. Shelley explained that Alley Cat Allies was established in the United States by two woman who understood that feral cats needs were not understood by animal control people, pounds and shelters Their only answer was to kill them. These two women believed that people of conscience can practice making a better life for homeless cats. Shelley said that there is an abundance of material that Alley Cat Allies will supply to you free of charge.
For a TNR program to succeed in CSL, the group must have two people to serve as organizers. All trappers would report to these people and they would be the contact between the trappers and the Côte St. Luc Hospital for Animals and the city.
The basic tools required to conduct TNR are cages/ traps (available at Canadian Tire for $80 each), bait (mackerel. tuna, chicken) , a towel and a blanket/sheet to cover the cage. Shelley brought along all of these tools, including two cages.
One does not just pick up any cat, you must know that the cat will be fed after it is neutered. Usually a citizen calls and says that they are feeding a cat or cats in their neighborhood. You ask them if they will be continuing to feed the cat after the sterilization. It does not make sense to neuter and vaccinate a cat for $70 or $80 and then let it starve to death. When someone calls, you bring them the trap and show them how to do it. If they are unable to do it, find out what time the cat comes to the house and you (the trapper) must do it.
The cats should not be fed before the trap is set. Ideally, the cat should miss a meal, but since this can be difficult, just don’t put out any food at the usual mealtime, but put some very smelly bait into the trap. Shelly usually uses mackerel. The bottom of the trap must be lined usually with a towel, not too thick or the trap will not close but thick enough that the cat does not feel the grid. Some people use newspaper, but Shelley says she has never been successful with that as the paper blows around in the wind. And the trap must have a cover that is large enough to cover the entire cage- a white sheet in the winter and a green cover in the summer. When setting the trap, be sure the cover is well secured so that it does not blow away in the wind.
Set the trap and put the juice from the bait down the towel until the end and put just a drop of fish inside another drop further in and a bigger amount after the spring.
Sometimes there is a problem and the spring doesn’t release. In that case you use a dish and lean it on the spring and when the cat eats the dish will release the spring.
Here is a crucial point. As you can well imagine-the cat is totally freaked out by being trapped. If the trap is left uncovered, you will further unnerve the cat. Once the cat’s cage is covered, the cat will calm down immediately. When Shelley sees people carrying uncovered traps with the cat running back and forth, she gets really annoyed. Keep the trap covered with the cat inside! Put the cage where it is hidden in the trees or hidden in its surrounding.
Now it is time to take the cat to the Vet, open every day but Sunday. The rules are as follows: only two people can have the task of delivery and pick up. If you need to use other people from time to time-be sure that they do not ask the vet a million questions-the two in charge get all the information.
One of the main trappers must be there outside the vet to meet the person who is bringing in the cat. Each cat requires a form. On the form will be the date, the description of the cat and where the cat came from. Take a picture of the cat and you can scan it onto her information sheet.
The vet will want to know the sex of the cat (we don’t always know), whether it is long or short hair, the color and age (they are usually about a year-year and a half) and the vet can figure this out.. Sign off that you have approved the cat to go in and then have some paperwork for the vet to fill out – the vaccines they are getting and the fact they are being neutered.
People who feed the cats can become very attached to them and want to call to find out about how they are. This is strictly forbidden. The contact with the people is done only by the trappers, they are not to call the vet at any time. Imagine if everyone calls what chaos it would be.
The cat is usually ready the same day or the next day. Pick up the cat and return him or her to the exact spot he she was picked up.
Do not put the cat anywhere, unless in a home, other than back where he she was found.
If the cat is put somewhere else, it will become disoriented, if it finds a place to feed, the colony may not accept it and the cat could perish.
Please tell the feeders that the cat usually stays away for a day or so, but will then return to resume feeding. You should also suggest that they look into getting a cat shelter so that the cat can be protected from the elements. The prices are from $35 and up.
One snag you will encounter. Trapping is not an exact science. It really does not take long for it to happen, but it is not a certainly. Cats are very wily and do not use the same bait if you go back to a place for a second time. They remember it. But if you reserve space at the vet, they are not happy if you do not bring in as many cats as you said you would, so in that case, Shelley says she would try to get more that the amount you are setting out to get and you can ask if you can squeeze in another. Better than none at all.
In the case of trapping kittens, you will need a net with a long pole or attach it to a hockey stick. If the babies are very young, you must leave the mother with them or get them all, which is not easy. The babies are usually on their own by seven weeks and you should get them socialize them and get them adopted. If you take them too young from their mother, it is very difficult to keep them alive. Kittens are very very delicate and they can just crash just like that.
You will come across feral cats, when I say feral, I mean, not socialized, and abandoned cats, cats that have either become lost or have been abandoned. Feral cats are not looking to get into your house. Shelters should be provided to people who will continue to feed the cats outside. There should be an effort to have abandoned cats, looking to come in and that are socialized adopted.
It was recommended that Dr. Kalin mark the cats in some way so as to identify the fact they have been neutered. She agreed that some kind of ink tattoo might work. The question was also asked about what would happen if some person’s outdoor cat was picked up and brought to the vet for TNR. Councillor Cohen said this is exactly why outdoor cats should be licensed with a tag. The vet would determine if the cat is neutered If not, it would contravene the cat bylaw.
A team is in place and hoping to begin work on a formal basis in 2011.
The Calgary Model
The city of Calgary is seen as a leader in responsible pet ownership in North America. The elements of their strategy that can be easily implemented in Côte Saint-Luc are the following: (1) in the short term, adopt a new bylaw to require licenses for cats, (2) use fees from cat licenses to contribute towards subsidizing the neutering of cats, particularly for low-income households or else to fund TNR programs
The Department of Public Affairs and Communications has researched “the Calgary Model.”
In short, (1) Calgary adopted a new bylaw to require licenses for cats and dogs, to create incentives for neutering pets, and to stop owners from letting their cats leave their properties. (2) Calgary raised money through new licensing and a rewards program card with the business community (not taxpayer funds). (3) It used these funds to create services including free pet neutering for low-income households, education programs, and an animal clinic. (4) It created an Animal and By-Law Services business unit that providing info on the city bylaws and is responsible for anti-graffiti initiatives and so on.
Note: The city of Calgary does not itself have a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. However, the Meow Foundation in Calgary does do TNR (http://www.meowfoundation.com/bins/content_page.asp?cid=375-464). The city focuses instead of pets.
The following are the guiding principles of Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw:
· Mandatory animal license for an annual fee (dogs: $52, $31) (cats: $30, $10) (vicious animal: $251)
· Fine of up to $250 for un-licensed pet that roams free
· Cat is obligated to wear an identification tag or have a microchip embedded under the skin
· Owners must keep their cats indoors or on their property
· Cats must stay on owner’s property (fine of $100 for cats found outside private property)
· Neutering of cats is not required but it is encouraged through message of responsibility, and incentive of a reduced licensing fee.
· The bylaw uses the term “animal” rather than “cat” or “dog” to address all animal owners equally and to alter the perception that cats are not as valuable as dogs
Through the animal licensing program, the city is able to provide a number of useful services that promote responsible pet ownership:
· Free cat neutering and spaying for low-income families
· Reuniting lost cats with their owners (by placing photos of animals on website)
· Sheltering and feeding lost cats in a vet-operated facility
· Providing foster care for lost cats to make them adoptable
· Educating cat and dog owners about Responsible Pet Ownership (through pamphlets, newsletters and school lectures/visits)
· Helping neighbours resolve animal-related conflicts (eg, cats in neighbour’s yard, etc.)
· Encouraging residents to report stray cats
· Funding a city-run Animal Services Clinic (to give emergency care for injured or stray cats and run spay and neuter program
The Calgary model appeals to residents because it is funded not through tax payer funds, but through:
· Licensing fees from animal owners
· A rewards card program (The card gives discounts on a variety of products and services at over 40 partnering vendors. By using the card just a couple of times, pet owners can recoup the cost of their licensing fees and give the city funding from advertising.)
· Many of the animal services (i.e. education, foster clinics) are volunteer-run
· The licensing program results in a very high return-to-owner rate for lost animals -- 86 percent for lost dogs, 49 percent for cats in 2009. Before the program started, only XX percent of cats were returned.
· Cats that are kept indoors reportedly live longer and healthier lives. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 12 to 15 years old while an outdoor cat averages from two to five years.
· More than 89 percent of animal calls are successfully resolved through voluntary complaints rather than enforcement options.
· 29 percent of stray cats were adopted to new homes in 2009.
The Calgary Herald newspaper wrote in its April 29, 2010 issue the following:
One doesn't have to go far to find outstanding reviews of Calgary's Animal Services. A quick search on the Internet yields multiple blogs and animal protection sites hailing the progressive thinking of director Bill Bruce and his team. Bruce is regularly invited to speak all over North America about his philosophy on protecting pets and their communities.
Calgary figured out that animal owners are the natural ally of cities in the fight against feral cats. They positioned animal licenses as a service from the city to pet owners -- a free ticket home if one’s pet gets lost. But not using regular taxpayer funds, Calgary has avoided public criticism from taxpayers who have other priorities. The city has also been successful at mobilizing volunteers, something which Côte Saint-Luc has experience in as well.