The exact numbers aren’t known, but volunteers with local cat rescues in Kingston and the surrounding rural regions say the area’s feral cat population numbers in the thousands.
Heather Patterson started For the Love of Ferals 18 months ago, hoping to make a difference in the size of the cat population and the felines’ quality of life.
Patterson says the condition of some of the situations she’s encountered is heart-wrenching.
She says a white cat that was saved still sticks with her.
“She was paralyzed and she was literally just dragging her back end with her babies homeless,” Patterson said.
She says if the animals aren’t spayed or neutered, the number of cats living outdoors without a home will only continue to rise
“A female could have up to 21 kittens,” she said.
That’s with three or four litters in a year, and Patterson says those kittens could have litters of their own at only four to six months of age.
Patterson has assembled a small team of about a half-dozen people who help her trap, fundraise and deliver cats to homes or other rescues.
Patterson also relies on colony caretakers.
A caretaker looks after a feral colony of cats, after Patterson and her team have the population under control by spaying or neutering every cat in the group.
Dermot Butler is one of those colony caretakers.
He got involved soon after trying to help a pair of felines that showed up on his property.
“Two kittens showed up one day, and they were kind of thin and they were hungry so I fed them,” Butler said.
After about a year, Butler says the number of cats he was trying to care for ballooned from two kittens to 24 cats.
“I was going nuts. I mean, I couldn’t afford the food half the time,” he said.
For the Love of Ferals helps Butler with food, and his colony’s population is now down to 10 cats.
WATCH: Eastern Ontario’s rising feral cat colony population
Patterson says the key to that success is a program called Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return, or TNVR.
Homes are found for the cats and kittens that are socialized to humans, while the remaining ones are returned to where they were found outside.
The colony eventually dies out over the lifespan of the cats.
It was a similar scenario for Janny Maas.
She says she’s never bought a cat, but the animals have been showing up on her family farm for decades.
Her colony is now under control thanks to For the Love of Ferals and the TNVR program.
Roughly 10 cats live on her property as barn cats, but prior to Patterson’s intervention, Maas says the number was much higher.
“I think we had about 35,” she said.
“We spent a lot of time spaying and neutering them, taking them to the vets but we could never get ahead of it.”
Patterson says her group is able to make a difference in cases in which her group intervenes, but the number of feral cats in the region is too large for local rescue organizations like hers to completely get under control.
For the Love of Ferals is just one of a number of cat rescue organizations that say to truly tackle the issue the region needs a high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter clinic.