While most Manitobans enjoy the warmer weather and relaxed pace that summer brings, Westman’s humane societies and cat rescue organizations are struggling.
Linda Desjardins, founder of Cats TNR and Rescue in Neepawa, said the problem of stray and feral cats has only gotten worse in the small town, located about 74 kilometers northeast of Brandon.
TNR stands for trap, neuter and return, a strategy that improves the lives of homeless cats and reduces their numbers. The cats are trapped, neutered or sterilized so that they can no longer reproduce, are vaccinated and then, if a home cannot be found for them, they are released.
Cats TNR and Rescue was founded in 2012 after the discovery of a population of homeless cats living in a nearby landfill. Run strictly by volunteers but governed by a board of directors, it operates with foster homes and a small shelter. Foster families care for and socialize rescued cats while they receive veterinary care, including injections, deworming, and mandatory neutering. The organization operates entirely through donations and fundraising for its operating expenses, including veterinary bills, food, and supplies.
Over the past 50 years, Neepawa has nearly doubled its population and is listed as one of the fastest growing communities in Canada. As the population grows, Desjardins said, so does the problem of homeless felines. The rescue currently has 100 cats in care, with many more up for adoption.
“The calls are continuous. Every day we receive messages from people asking us to take cats.”
Often it is not people who find homeless cats, but those whose circumstances have changed and are looking to find their pets. A woman phoned Desjardins a few days ago asking her to give up her cat because she was moving into an apartment that didn’t allow pets.
“I said, ‘If you have a pet, why would you move to an apartment that doesn’t allow it?’ And she said there were no apartments that allowed pets.”
Others, Desjardins said, don’t understand the kind of care cats need. They assume that cats can be allowed to roam outdoors and that they can feed by chasing mice and other rodents. These animals can actually make cats very sick, as they are often carriers of worms and other diseases.
Then there are cat owners who don’t give their cats a humane home. Recently, Desjardins had to rescue four kittens from a home where they were locked in a two-level cage with three adults and two teenagers. A volunteer from Cats TNR and Rescue was at home working and was appalled at the conditions the nine cats were living in.
“It’s just unreal,” Desjardins said. “It’s cruelty.”
Luckily, the cats owner agreed to get the others fixed.
Sometimes people can’t take care of their cats anymore, but don’t even try to find someone to take them out.
“Neepawa is just full of strays now.”
The problem has become so widespread that some local residents have even taken to leaving cat traps in their yards.
“They think it’s fine to trap a cat, take it into the country and put it down, but it’s basically a death sentence for that cat…cats depend on people. It’s why they are in the cities…they depend on people for their survival.”
The problem is not limited to the city. Desjardins said that while some people who live in the country are starting to sterilize their cats, not everyone is.
When Cats TNR and Rescue started, Desjardins said the city spent about $7,000 a year on euthanasia. Once the bailout was up and running, that amount dropped to $1,000.
But the problem, she added, keeps coming back. Beyond its full capacity, the organization only takes what Desjardins calls “emergency cases”.
“We are not alone. Every rescue, every shelter is just outdated, and I don’t know what the solution is anymore. It’s like putting a band-aid on a cancer…we’re never going to embrace our way of get out of this problem, we’re never going to stop it.”
The only way things will get better, Desjardins said, is for people to spay and neuter their animals. When they don’t, they contribute to the problem.
“Yeah, it’s expensive, but you can go out and buy an $800 iPhone, you can spend $200 on a meal or a party, but you can’t spay your cats? That doesn’t make sense to me. “
Tracy Munn, shelter manager and director of the Brandon Humane Society, said many cats are abandoned and become homeless because people value them less than dogs. She also cites the misconceptions people have about felines as contributing to the problem.
“People say, ‘Oh, I’m pregnant, I can’t keep the cat.’ I say, ‘Why can’t you keep the cat?’ Cats love children.”
Munn credits foster families who work with humane society with being integral to saving homeless cats and dogs.
“The foster people are phenomenal…we couldn’t have the number of animals we have if it wasn’t for the foster homes.”
Summer, however, is often a busy time, with some host families going on holiday. It’s not strictly a cat problem, though. Munn said some months the shelter is full of homeless dogs and other months with cats. Ultimately, it’s about being a good pet owner and being willing to take on the responsibility of owning a pet.
“Think long and hard before you have a pet. It’s a bit like a child. Once you have it, there’s no way to put it back.”
Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Brandon Sun