Paging Bob Barker: Feral cats in Montreal ‘hood at ‘crisis level’

See it on OpenFile Montreal HERE

Sean Martin is literally losing sleep over the stray and feral cat situation in St-Henri.

His first-floor apartment on Ste-Marguerite backs onto an alley that is popular with the local feline population. “I hear them in the alleyway at three o’clock in the morning, it can be really distracting when you’re trying to sleep,” Martin said.

“It starts with throaty moans then it escalates into yowling and hissing before it breaks out into kitty battle royales.”

Martin has gone so far as to name some of the cats and remove the burrs from their fur. His most frequent companion is a brown tabby called Ricki Lake. “He looks for affection. Unfortunately I’m allergic so I can’t give him what he needs,” said Martin.

Members of adoption and animal control organizations cite the Southwest borough as one of the worst places in the city for stray and feral cats. “I would say it’s crisis level in St-Henri,” said Alanna Devine, director of animal advocacy at the SPCA and a St-Henri resident herself.

“At any given time for about an hour I see about twenty different cats walk by my balcony and judging by their condition I can tell they don’t belong to anyone.”

Susan Mackasey, president of PetitPawz cat refuge, agrees. “It is a crisis. They come out more at night and circulate around a food source, you may see several together eating or travelling.”

Martin says in the 16 months he’s lived in the area he’s noticed an increase in numbers. “It’s going from bad to worse. There’s so many cats around all the time, none of them have collars on but there are people I know with good intentions who put a bowl of food out.”

Melissa Howells took those good intentions to the next level. She adopted local stray Shady last Spring, as well as a $1,700 veterinary bill for life-saving surgery to remove the cat’s uterus. “I only make $1,000 a month so there was some stress, but letting her die was not really an option,” Howells said. “I’ve seen enough animals die from neglect not to want to witness it again.”

Providers and practices

The Southwest borough is one of eight boroughs in Montreal serviced by the Berger Blanc, a city-contracted pound that faced allegations of animal cruelty and questionable euthanasia practices earlier this year. The pound employs a euthanasia model and animals that are unclaimed or can’t be adopted out, are eventually put down.

The Berger Blanc manages about 30,000 animals each year, nearly half of Montreal’s stray population. According to figures provided to OpenFile, about 1,000 of these animals were from the Southwest last year.

“If we get calls for St-Henri we tend to take those cases on because we don’t want them to go to Berger Blanc,” said Mackasey.

Two boroughs, Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Plateau Mont-Royal, elected to terminate their contracts with Berger Blanc following the claims of abuse. The city of Montreal responded by setting up a committee to review the current practices and recommend more uniform guidelines. Final recommendations will be available before Christmas.

Towards a kitty-less city?

For Mackasey, creating a committee is simply not enough. She says the government needs to do more, “We operate based on donations and money from our own pockets.”

Both Devine and Mackasey think the euthanasia model will not resolve the problem of kitty overpopulation. Instead they promote a sterilization option that entails trapping the cats, sterilizing them and then returning them to the borough they were found in. This way they cannot reproduce and over time the numbers will decrease.

Sterilization is exactly what Howells recommends not only for caught strays, but also pets. “So many cats around here are ‘owned’ but unfixed, which just leads to more strays,” she said.

There are approximately 1.6 million stray cats in Quebec according to Mackasey, and the cost of sterilization is between $120-150 for one cat.

St-Henri resident Martin also sees sterilization as a positive alternative to euthanasia: “Bob Barker said it best: have your pet spayed or neutered.”


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