Claws came out and teeth were bared at the Toronto Animal Services East Region office in Scarborough on Tuesday, as 41 feral cats were brought in to be spayed and neutered for International Feral Cat Day. (By the way, a warning to cat lovers: some of the images above, of cats waiting for surgery, may be mildly disturbing. But none of them are particularly graphic.)
The annual event started more than a decade ago. It was an invention of U.S.-based Alley Cat Allies, which was the first organization to promote humane feral-cat care—particularly the trap-neuter-return method of population control. Johanna Booth is a veterinarian with Toronto Animal Services and one of the organizers of Feral Cat Day in Toronto. She believes trapping and neutering isn’t just more humane than the alternative (that would be “trap and remove,” which is a euphemism for “kill”), but that it’s also more efficient.
“It’s more expensive to trap the cat, hold it for the mandatory five days, euthanize it and dispose of the body,” she said. “It’s much easier to neuter or spay a cat, ear-tip it, and put it back out.” Ear-tipping is when a trap-neuter-return organization clips off the tip of a feral cat’s ear, to make sure nobody tries to trap and neuter it a second time.
“Ninety to 95 per cent of these animals are in good health,” Booth continued. “So how can you justify killing a cat? So you get to the root of the problem, have them spay-neutered, and you don’t have the kittens.”
Feral cats are defined as the offspring of abandoned or stray cats, born in the wild. They can be socialized and turned into pets if they’re rescued at a young age, but older ferals are very much wild animals. The majority of cats in animal shelters are born to street cats, part of what Booth calls Toronto’s “overwhelming cat problem.” She says that it’s hard to tell how many feral cats there are in Toronto, but that 100,000 is considered a conservative estimate.
“There’s a lot of research and data on feral-cat populations,” she said. “Generally the number is your human population divided by six. In the GTA, that would be 400,000.”
Toronto’s Feral Cat Day was organized by the City along with a coalition of other groups that work with ferals, like the Toronto Humane Society and the OSCPA, as well as several volunteer-run cat-rescue groups. The day included some fundraising events, like a cat-toy sale, and the building of a dozen winter cat shelters out of Rubbermaid containers. Each one was lined with insulated foam and straw, and fitted with an entrance large enough for a cat, but too small for a raccoon. The feral-cat coalition has built more than 350 of them over the past two years.
Booth said that while Feral Cat Day was a success, she is hoping to see more cats come through.
“We were hoping for 70, but not everyone was successful in their trapping,” she said. “It was raining last night, and you never know who you’re going to get in your trap.”
She thinks we will see a gradual reduction in the feral-cat population due to the success of trap-neuter-release programs. In the meantime, she’d like to see the cats accepted as part of the city.
“It’s about educating people,” she said. “They’re part of the urban landscape. They’re healthy. Would you go trap raccoons and kill them?”