Guelph Mercury Editorial -Mar 20, 2014

Guelph needs an affordable spay and neuter clinic

By Murray Tucker

We have too many feral and stray cats in Guelph.

Some people abandon their cats when they no longer feel able, or willing, to take care of them. Others either refuse or can't afford to have their cats spayed or neutered, and then irresponsibly let them outside, with the result that the population grows at an astonishing rate.

According to the Toronto Humane Society, a female cat can have up to 18 kittens a year. A 2012 report commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies indicates that at least 180,000 homeless cats enter shelters every year in Canada. Some believe this number is extremely conservative and that a more accurate number would be closer to 600,000. The same study highlights the fact that only 20 per cent of cats entering shelters are already spayed or neutered.

It's not a story with a happy ending. Canada's shelters can't save the huge numbers of lost, abandoned or feral cats brought through their doors. Only one per cent of these cats are reunited with their original homes, and only 44 per cent are adopted out. The remainder are euthanized or, even worse, end up in research facilities.

But there are solutions, and an increasing number of cities are taking advantage of them. In New York City, the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals is a coalition of rescue groups and shelters working collaboratively to find homes for thousands of New York's dogs and cats. Its admirable goal is "to transform New York City into a no-kill community by 2015, where no dogs or cats of reasonable health or temperament are killed simply because they do not have homes."

Toronto has a Feral Cat Awareness Day to educate the public about the importance of spaying and neutering their cats. It also offers affordable — or free — spay and neuter clinics.

The Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition (TNR stands for Trap, Neuter and Return) is a city-wide collaborative effort "to decrease the feral cat populations, improve the welfare of street cats, and decrease animal shelter euthanasia rates by strategically sterilizing colonies and communities of feral cats in Toronto."

The coalition trains colony caretakers, builds and provides shelters, and works directly with the Toronto Humane Society to reduce the population of feral and stray cats through TNR. Windsor, Newmarket, Barrie and St. Catharines also offer reduced cost — $65 — spay or neuter and $15 vaccinations through the Ontario SPCA.

What about Guelph? There are no low-cost options or TNR programs in our city. The fact that Guelph has a veterinary college makes this situation a travesty. Surely the Ontario Veterinary College has the resources to spearhead an affordable spay and neuter clinic for low income families and a free high volume spay and neuter service for ferals and strays.

A few years ago, OVC's veterinary students requested that the vet college help them set up such a clinic. Surprisingly, they were told that Guelph's veterinary businesses would ostensibly oppose it because it would cut into their bottom lines.

What kind of message does that send to our community, to new vets who understand the importance of community service, and to animal lovers who care for the strays and ferals in our city? I'll let you decide.

We need to expect more from the Ontario Veterinary College and from the vets who live and work in our city. It's time the OVC and Guelph's vets take the lead, rather than ignoring the problem. We need them to step up and be part of the solution.

They need to work collaboratively with all the city's resources, including the Guelph Humane Society, animal rescue groups, animal protection groups, colony caretakers, the city's animal services and the mayor to help home and/or improve the welfare of our city's feral and stray cats.

And I believe we all need to get involved and demand our city matches the best practices of other progressive cities, by supporting affordable spay and neuter options for low income families and free high volume TNR options for those who care for colonies of stray and feral cats.

Get involved; push your politicians and the Ontario Veterinary College to effect change. We're behind the times in Guelph, and yet we should be showing others how to proceed.

In the meantime, there are hundreds of homeless animals in shelters throughout the area. Now is the time to give one of them a better life. And that stray that is meowing at your door, one day he or she may end up being your best friend.

Murray Tucker is a member of the Guelph Mercury’s community editorial board.