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