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‘Busting at the seams’: Feral cat explosion in Smiths Falls cause for concern

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There is an exploding cat population in Smiths Falls, prompting a working group to help deal with the issue on a larger scale.

During the town’s committee of the whole meeting on April 8, fire Chief Rick Chesebrough spoke of the significant number of feral cats in town and some options to deal with them.

“If it’s not addressed immediately and aggressively, it only tends to expand,” he said, as more than 100 feral felines were identified. “We don’t have the capability of dealing (with them); the cost to the taxpayers is exorbitant.”

Mayor Shawn Pankow said it’s not a unique situation to Smiths Falls, suggested looking at it through a broader scope to come up with a solution. He said the humane approach is to provide these animals with proper veterinary care and house them until they can find a home.

“In many cases they never find a home, so if that’s the approach we need to make sure there is space,” Pankow said. “If we don’t get ahead of that, all of a sudden it’s 200-plus … Otherwise, what we see now is only the edge of the iceberg.”

The chief said their only option for an emergency situation is to take a cat to Ottawa, as the Lanark County Animal Welfare Society doesn’t accept animals in need of immediate medical care.

He has a different approach when it comes to abandoned buildings or ones slated for demolition, where some of these feral cats have taken up residence.

“If those individuals want to assist us in collecting these animals, that’s great,” he said. “If they don’t as a registered property owner, they should be responsible for the contents of that building. That’s an option we can take a look at … trying to work with the owners.”

The biggest hurdle is having a place to take them. LAWS has a limited capacity and there is no means in town of keeping the animals overnight, the chief said. “We can certainly provide food for them, but we have no other means. And these places (like LAWS or Furry Tales Cat Rescue) are bursting at the seams as well.”

The costs of driving a sick cat to a vet clinic, as well as the time and effort involved in waiting for results, are all borne by the taxpayer, the chief said.

The chief noted that they trapped 100 stray cats and transported them to LAWS in 2022; some required vet care. Last year, they picked up 15 dogs from Smiths Falls and Merrickville – all transported to the pound in Brockville.

Types of animal calls received included dogs and cats at large, missing or injured animals, bites or attacks, barking complaints, deceased animal calls, etc.

Top calls last year were for animal control, (tops at 28 per cent or 164 calls), followed by parking at 22 per cent (128) and property standards at 19 per cent (112).

Coun. Jay Brennan encouraged everyone to read the bylaw report to see what staff does, as it’s one of the toughest jobs in town. He said he had “no idea we had that many feral cats running around.”

WORKING GROUP

On April 9, a group of animal rescue volunteers, and members at large, met at the town hall in Smiths Falls with LAWS, Furry Tales Cat Rescue and Mel’s Farm All Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in attendance to help come up with a plan.

Donna Macrae, Furry Tales owner, said they had some good conversations.

“I found the meeting very open to discussing TNR (trap, neuter, release) solutions to the feral cat overpopulation in Smiths Falls. TNR is the best solution, in my opinion, as trapping, neutering and not returning to the area opens a vacuum where other cats will fill the gap. TNR and proper colony management avoids population explosion,” Macrae said.

“There was one particular site in question where there is thought to be 50 cats, many more in another location. If left to continue there will be hundreds of cats,” she said. “The group discussed ideas on trapping, neutering [and returning them to the site], as well as ideas for community feeders.”

Macrae said it’s early in discussions but it is recognized that there is a cat crisis in Smiths Falls and across the country and the town seems willing to pursue humane solutions. 

Kathy Hoyland from Lanark Animal Welfare Service provided information from a successful project in Toronto where they were able to reduce the feral population from 25,000 to 2,500 over an eight-year span with TNR. 

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