A CAT-SNIPPING BRIGADE
Veterinarian Dr. Marlene Kalin with Beauty and Michael Cohen, Côte-St-Luc city councillor, with Gidget. The two stray cats were sterilized as part of a city program to reduce the cat population and are available for adoption
From about March to November, Diane Liebling’s garage is brimming with caged cats that she captures in the wilds of Côte-St-Luc’s suburban neighbourhoods.
“I have a very understanding husband,” Liebling laughs “Of course, to do this kind of work, you really need somebody who is on board with you, and he really is.”
Liebling is chair of the Côte-St-Luc Cats Committee which, for the last seven years, has been working to stabilize the city’s feral cat population through a trap, neuter and release/adopt program. Volunteers take the program a step further by providing feral cats with food and shelter.
“We’re a small group of volunteers, but we need more,” said city councillor Mike Cohen, who commended Liebling ’s efforts — she has already trapped about 40 cats and rescued 11 kittens this year alone.
It’s not just volunteers who are needed, Cohen added, but more funding as well because, as the program expands, so do the costs.
“In Côte-St-Luc, we estimate that we have thousands of homeless cats,” he said. “Some say there could be as many as 10,000.”
Cohen, the councillor responsible for animal protection, helped found the group when former resident Shelley Schecter approached the council with concerns over the city’s booming feral cat population — a problem, Cohen said, that’s not limited to Côte-St-Luc.
Cats, often living in colonies, have taken up residence in the rail yards, behind restaurants, in the Meadowbrook golf course and in backyards. Cats are abandoned by owners, lost or simply born feral. Cat populations are quick to rise, as females can have two to four litters a year, producing two to four kittens each time.
Feral cats spread disease to fellow felines, whether they’re domestic or wild, and they can be a nuisance in the community. Beyond that, feral cats live extremely short, difficult lives scrounging for food and struggling to stay warm in the winter.
Côte-St-Luc requires outdoor cat owners to neuter and register their pets. However, it’s the unlicensed, unneutered cats that committee members are focused on.
Residents are asked to be on the lookout for and report unlicensed cats to the committee via a cityhosted hotline (514-485-6800 ext. 2287). The cats are then caught in humane traps so they can be dewormed, sterilized and vaccinated at the Côte-St-Luc Hospital for Animals.
The hospital offers the committee its services at a low- to no-cost rate. While being operated on, one of the cat’s ears is notched in a painless procedure so volunteers can keep track of treated cats. Cats awaiting treatment or recovering from sterilization are housed in Liebling’s garage.
Kittens and sociable cats are put up for adoption, but volunteers must first foster and help socialize them until a home is found. As for the rest, even after weeks in Liebling ’s care, they have no interest in humans. Those cats are released where they were trapped.
The committee provides volunteers with food that they can leave out for feral cats. The committee also offers residents handmade, insulated huts. Tucked away on people’s properties, the huts, constructed of plastic and foam, keep cats warm in the winter.
Over the last four decades, trap, neuter and release programs have proven more effective than extermination, explained Dr. Marlene Kalin of the Côte-St-Luc Hospital for Animals. Since 2006, she estimates that she has treated over 1,000 trapped cats in her effort to give back to the community.
“Trap and kill has been shown many times over that it is not a successful program,” said Kalin, noting that cats tend to gather around food sources. “You can trap and euthanize all the cats behind a restaurant, for example, but there’s a vacuum effect. Within a very short time, other cats come in.”
Trapping and neutering a single cat costs about $100, she said, whereas trapping, impounding and eventually euthanizing them costs about $200. Because trap, neuter and release programs have existed for some 40 years in cities around the world, there is plenty of data proving their effectiveness, she said. “From a cost perspective, trapping and releasing is the way to go as it is the most effective, longterm strategy to stabilize and reduce the size of the feral cat population,” she said. “It also improves their health.”
Yet to make a lasting impact, at least 60 per cent of the cat population must be treated. To do that, more funding and volunteers are needed.
Cohen said the committee gets about $5,000 annually from the city and, through fundraising events like benefit concerts and bake sales, that municipal contribution is matched. The money pays for cat food, supplies and veterinary services.
“We’ve been getting many more calls,” Cohen said. “As a result of that, our expenses have gone way up this year.”
There is hope, he said, that the sixth annual Cat’s Meow Concert will help replenish the committee’s diminished bank account. On Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m., the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra will perform in the Syd Wise Auditorium (5785 Parkhaven Ave.). Tickets cost $12.
Meanwhile, Cohen said surrounding municipalities need to do more. There are similar programs found throughout the province, but there’s not enough, he said, especially in the west end.
“More municipalities need to do this,” he concluded. “There should be trap, neuter, release/adopt committees in all municipalities. This problem with homeless cats is not just in Côte-St-Luc. It’s everywhere.”
Veterinarian Dr. Marlene Kalin and Michael Cohen, the Côte-St-Luc city councillor responsible for animal protection, enjoy some time Gidget, a stray kitten that is available for adoption at the Côte-St-Luc Hospital for Animals.