Cornwall needs a trap, neuter and release program for cats, according to bylaw critics

A cat trapped by Roy and Cher's Rescue Farm in their catch, neuter and release program. Critics of Cornwall's proposed cat bylaw say a similar program is needed to curb the city's feline population explosion. Mary Jane Hill

According to a new city council report, Cornwall has a roaming cat problem, and although council proposed a new bylaw that might curtail the city’s feline population, not everyone is on board with the city’s methods.

Cornwall’s city council met on Monday to discuss the report, presented by the city’s bylaw department with consultation with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry branch of the OSPCA, in the hope of addressing the large number of cats roaming the city streets. According to the OSPCA, about one third surrendered cats in Ontario come from the Cornwall area.

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Some of the most notable suggestions in the report were to prohibit the feeding of roaming cats without ownership, keeping all cats indoors at all times, and mandatory registration and spaying or neutering of all cats.

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The report also suggested a cap on the number of cats owned — two cats per apartment and four per single-family home.

Carol Link, animal centre manager at the local OSPCA branch, says the proposed bylaw is a step in the right direction. As for the ordinance to make it illegal for people to feed roaming cats without ownership, she says her organization had nothing to do with it.

“That would be the city’s suggestion,” said Link.

Nevertheless, Link said that one of the reasons Cornwall has such a high roaming cat population is because people are failing to spay and neuter their cats.

For local cat rescue workers, the bylaw doesn’t scratch the surface of what they say is desperately needed in Cornwall — a trap, neuter and release program, in which cats are trapped on the streets, sterilized and then released back where they were found.

According to Mary Jane Hill, a volunteer cat trapper for Roy and Cher’s Rescue Farm, it’s the city’s lack of continuous funding for a trap, neuter and release program that has led to Cornwall’s fever pitch cat crisis.

“City council dropped the ball years ago,” said Hill. “We need money in the budget every year for this.”

Hill has been working with the Cornwall rescue farm for three years. She says Roy and Cher’s Rescue Farm trapped somewhere around 100 cats in 2017.

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Back in 2008, city council did institute a feral cat control bylaw, which granted the local OSPCA license to catch roaming cats, spay or neuter them and provide them with vaccination.

The program ran from the end of April 2008 to the end of December 2009, and cost the OSPCA $60,000, which they raised through fundraising.

The report noted that despite the program’s “measurable benefit,” it “was not sustainable long-term and the desired outcome was not attained.”

Cornwall Coun. Bernadette Clement said that she’s glad that the bylaw process has begun, but that she worries about the length of the process, which she says could take up to a year.

“What do we do in the meantime?” said Clement. “We need action now.”

Clement said that she wanted to hear more from council about how much it would cost to provide the OSPCA the means for a trap, neuter and release program.

“We’re not a rich city, but it doesn’t mean we can’t look at things.”

Several other members of the council were contacted for comment, including the mayor, but none but Clement responded.

Melissa Alepins runs Cornwall’s Tiny but Mighty Kitten Rescue. She attended Monday’s city council meeting and said she wasn’t pleased with most of what she heard.

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“Our feral communities are out of control and without sterilizing them they continue to reproduce at a very fast rate,” said Alepins.

Alepins, like Hill, said that the city needs to set aside funding for a trap, neuter and release program. She also said that the city should be putting more focus on a low-cost spay and neuter program for pet owners.

“I’ve reached out to all local vets in hopes someone would work with my rescue but had no luck,” said Alepins, who added that most vets wanted to charge between $200-$400 for a single surgery.

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Link acknowledged that the local OSPCA chapter appreciated the importance of the bylaw, but she didn’t see anything in the report addressing the management of the feral cat population, something she hopes the city will expand upon in the future.

“We need vet clinics, pet owners and the city to come together on this,” said Link.

When asked whether a trap, neuter and release program would address Cornwall’s cat woes, Link answered: “That certainly is one way, yes.”

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