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

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ISAAC OL­SON

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.”

JOHN MA­HONEY

JOHN MA­HONEY

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.

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