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Out of sight, but not out of mind

Animal advocates return to city hall with new agenda: reducing the feral cat population

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

After a successful 2015 that saw changes to the city’s leashing and tethering bylaws, Oshawa’s animal advocates are back at city hall, this time looking for council to implement a trap, neuter, return (TNR) program.

Denise Harkins from Action Volunteers for Animals and Martin Field stressed the importance of a TNR program for feral cats to members of the corporate services committee.

“It’s the best thing you can do for your dollar,” Harkins said.

In recent years, issues posed by feral cats and their blooming populations has forced many cities into action, and with euthanization practices becoming widely condemned by members of the public, municipalities have been searching for answers to the growing problem.

If left unchecked, a feral cat colony starting with only 12 cats could explode to more than 11 million in eight years as the cats breed and the group expands exponentially. It’s believed there are more than 100,000 feral cats roaming the streets of Toronto, according to numbers from the Toronto Cat Rescue.

In Oshawa, Harkins says there are approximately a dozen cat colonies in Oshawa, which genereally consist of only a couple cats, but can expand into the hundreds. Several small colonies exist in the city’s downtown, with another group calling a ravine off Beatrice Street and Mary Street home, while another roams Lakeview Park.

A TNR program does exactly what the name suggests and then some.

Not only are the animals safely trapped, neutered or spayed, then returned to their colony, they are also vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped before being put back in the neighbourhood. The program also uses a practice called ear-tipping, in which the cats have a small portion of their ear surgically cut to mark them as being part of the TNR program.

Multiple municipalities face issues with feral cats as many of them, having been born in the wild, are not tame and therefore not deemed adoptable. Instead of housing these animals in city shelters, municipalities such as Kingston, Toronto and London have all opted for TNR programs.

“In the last five years, TNR has almost become mainstream” Harkins says.

For Field, the program also plays a role in educating people on the issue and aids the public in understand the problem posed by feral cats.

“Feral cats are very shy in nature, so you don’t really see them,” he says. “Once residents understand what TNR is…and what the benefits are…then I think the anxiety will become diminished substantially once they understand what the objectives are and the city has taken control.

“If the colonies are left unchecked, we would be facing a far greater problem, I believe.”

The bylaw change recommendations were referred to city staff for a report, although no timeline was provided on when it would come back before council. Direction was also given for staff to consider working with Whitby and Clarington in implementing such a program.

“This is a cross-border issue,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond.

Currently, Oshawa’s bylaws have no provisions for TNR practises.