Hal­i­fax’s feral cat cri­sis

Un­do­mes­ti­cated feline fief­doms roam the city’s streets in stag­ger­ing num­bers—and we’re fi­nally do­ing some­thing about it.

The Coast - Pets Halifax - - Kitty Corner - BY JA­COB BOON

For­get greedy de­vel­op­ers and over­paid politi­cians, the most pow­er­ful force run­ning around HRM’s streets is its feral cat pop­u­la­tion.

Think about it for a minute: A re­search pa­per pub­lished in Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions found that as many as 3.7 bil­lion birds and 21 bil­lion small mam­mals are killed each year by cats, and that’s just in the United States. The vast ma­jor­ity of those deaths can be at­trib­uted to feral cats—non­do­mes­ti­cated felines nor­mally born from strays or aban­doned pets.

De­pend­ing on which es­ti­mates you go by, there are any­where from 40,000 to pos­si­bly 250,000 stray cats in the Hal­i­fax Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Those kitty colonies not only se­ri­ously en­dan­ger na­tive wildlife, but they also spread dis­ease and can prove a noisy nui­sance for res­i­dents who have to lis­ten to them fight­ing and dat­ing.

It’s got­ten to be such a prob­lem, that Hal­i­fax Re­gional Coun­cil re­cently stepped in and voted to in­sti­tute a five-year grant pro­gram to help solve the city’s feral cat cri­sis. The pro­gram will of­fer $50,000 an­nu­ally to the SPCA and Spay Day HRM to trap, vac­ci­nate and ster­il­ize feral cats.

It’s based off a suc­cess­ful pi­lot pro­gram that in 2016 fixed nearly 800 felines, which the SPCA es­ti­mates pre­vented the birth of over 54,000 feral kit­tens.

Each surgery costs about $60, and re­quires dozens of vol­un­teer hours to care for the an­i­mals pre- and post­surgery, as well as treat any med­i­cal is­sues be­fore re­leas­ing them back into the world.

Sim­i­lar pro­grams are al­ready widely used else­where around the globe, but their ef­fec­tive­ness is open to de­bate. Some wildlife groups ar­gue in­stead of re­leas­ing the cats, the an­i­mals should ei­ther be placed in lo­cal shel­ters or hu­manely eu­th­a­nized. But even with years of so­cial­iza­tion around hu­mans, feral cats don’t al­ways make for good pets. It’s also un­likely mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials will want to be on-record vot­ing for a cat-killing mo­tion.

But there’s an­other so­lu­tion Hal­i­fax hasn’t tried yet: Put the cats to work.

Now, yes, that’s some tired cap­i­tal­is­tic dogma we’re propos­ing to solve a cat prob­lem. Though it’s worth bear­ing in mind you can’t de­hu­man­ize a worker that’s not hu­man. But also, the fed­eral govern­ment suc­cess­fully drafted stray felines into its cat sanc­tu­ary for decades in an ef­fort to keep Par­lia­ment Hill free of non-elected rats.

Hal­i­fax—a port city un­der­go­ing a con­struc­tion boom—has its own in­fes­ta­tion is­sues. And now that we’ve lost our preem­i­nent “ro­dent con­trol of­fi­cer” on the wa­ter­front (RIP Erik, fac­ing page) maybe it’s time for some of these feral cats to earn their keep.

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