Originally published on OpenFile Montreal on January 3, 2012.
Kitty City: Montreal’s Trap-Neuter-Return programs in grassroots phase
When a stray cat took refuge under her car, Vanessa Anastasopoulos found herself caring for the abandoned animal and wondering what was out there to help animals in similar situations.
Her search led her to a small group of local Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) volunteers and a new calling. The Montreal resident is now spending both her time and money independently trapping and taking cats to the vet to be sterilized.
In the more than two months that she’s volunteered on her own or with small groups of TNR helpers, she’s assisted with the sterilization of 21 cats. “Basically it involves using humane traps, having them sterilized and then keeping them in a safe place until they are fully recovered,” the animal-lover said. “Then we release them back into their environment.”
Since sterilization costs are in the neighbourhood of $100 per cat depending if you’re working independently or with an organization, Anastasopoulos admits that she can’t afford to keep the work up at her current rate. With winter weather here, the loss of another caring volunteer is something the strays of Montreal simply can’t afford either.
Most strays survive on food from dumpsters and the generosity of citizens who feed them. “Montreal has one of the largest stray cat populations in North America. It’s an issue that just passes under the radar, either people don’t know about it or they don’t care,” Anastasopoulos said. “In Montreal people just abandon their pets.”
There is no formal network for these grassroots volunteers but there have been initiatives by not-for-profit organizations and city boroughs to increase funding and set up formal Trap-Neuter-Return programs.
In February 2011, Côte Saint-Luc set up a cat commitee with the mandate to provide TNR services for the borough, run educational campaigns in local elementary schools and set up a special hotline to report feral cats in the neighbourhood. Councillor Mike Cohen spearheaded the initiative and said it’s already garnered attention. “Cote Saint-Luc is ahead of the class on this issue,” Cohen said. “Other municipalities are taking notice of our progress and are contacting us, asking for advice in setting up their own initiatives.”
Shelley Schecter, a longtime volunteer and leader in Montreal in the area of TNR, serves as a special advisor to the cat committee and sees its creation as a badly needed step in the right direction. “There’s a real earnest effort to make this work, they are really on the right path,” Schecter said, but added that Côte Saint-Luc can’t do it on their own. She points to evidence of similar initiatives in Europe in the 1970s that demonstrate 70 per cent of the feline population needs to be neutered before there is a decline. “We’re nowhere near that number in Montreal,” she said.