Cold kitties, cold winter, cold shoulder?
Cats are wonderful pets, and people love to gush over them at home, or now on College St. with hot drinks and the company a bunch of cat-loving strangers.
While there has been much awwing and tongue-clicking in local media about the latest feline-fed entrepreneurial ventures, we don’t often take the time to remind ourselves of the scope of the problem that surrounds cats that aren’t as fortunate. It is estimated that well over 10 million cats and dogs go missing every year in the United States and Canada alone. According to Toronto Cat Rescue (TCR), a non-profit volunteer cat adoption charity, there are over 100,000 stray street cats in Toronto alone. That’s a population bigger than U of T (all three campuses) and OCAD students combined.
To put this number into perspective, the Toronto Humane Society only receives about 5,500 cats a year, not all of which end up being adopted. Feral cats are not the cuddly puffs of fur we expect them to be even though they look identical to their domesticated cousins. The compassion and good nature of Torontonians who want to bring cold, lonely strays into a loving home often don’t understand that they are wild animals. Forced domestication can be emotionally draining both on the cat and the owner who longs for a feline fairy tale ending.
Moral controversies aside, euthanization is little more than a band-aid solution to reducing the number of feral cats in the city. Acts of charity from Torontonians such as providing food and clean water for feral cats also solves little. The problem lies in the biological desire cats have to reproduce.
According to TCR, ferals who have not been fixed have on average 2.5 litters of kittens a year. TCR implements a system known as Trap-Neuter-Return (Manage), or TNR(M), to curb the growth issue. It involves capturing strays for the sole purpose of neutering them, giving them 24 to 48 hours of recovery time, and releasing them back into the streets. This allows strays to live out the rest of their lives in peace without contributing to the epidemic they unfortunately find themselves in.
When charities are dealing with such high numbers of strays, the role we can play as pet owners is largely one of responsibility for our pets, and not only through locked doors and necessary surgery. Toronto runs a “chip truck” program that will microchip your cat and provide an updated rabies shot for $25, or $10 if you already have a pet license. If you find a stray cat, veterinarians will scan it for free. The majority of microchipped cats end up making it back to their owners.