The Ontario Feral Cat Project is struggling with an increasing number of cats that require a home.
The project’s Ontario shelter is running out of space, causing volunteers to take some cats home. But the numbers keep increasing even as resources stay limited.
“We currently have cages stacked on top of cages because we’re just full. There’s not one more inch to put another cat in here,” said Amy Kee, who has been a volunteer at the shelter since 2011. “Our volunteers are getting burnt out. They’re exhausted.”
The project started out as a “trap-neuter-return” project in 2009 but soon added a shelter because there wasn’t a place for stray or surrendered cats.
Kee said most of the cats that ended up at shelter had been abuses at the hands of their owners or were rescues that were malnourished and starving when they were found.
“This has probably been our worst year ever of animal abuse, animal abandonment,” Kee said.
She explained that in certain areas in Ontario, people are putting out antifreeze to kill the cats. She heard from several tenants that their property managers are putting a bounty on dead catsand hiring people to poison community cats and dispose of them in the Snake River. This was reported to the police along with several other incidents but Kee hasn’t heard of any actions taken against the property managers yet.
Kee joined the cat group after it helped her spay a neighborhood cat. She felt so grateful that she decided to volunteer.
The most important thing that people can do to keep feral cats from populating is to “spay and neuter them,” Kee said. “People contact us constantly saying, well, you know, we had an accidental litter. There is no such thing as an accidental litter.”
Experts say that cats can get pregnant at four months old, so most vets recommend getting them fixed when they are three to four months old.
Kee advises people to get in touch with the shelter or veterinarian to learn about spaying or neutering services. The shelter does not fund such services, however.
The shelter has several programs that people can contribute to in order to help with the increase in feral cats. While the traditional adopting and fostering programs are available, people can sponsor a cat for $100, including the chance to name the cat.
Every Saturday, the shelter hosts adoption events from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. During these events, new cat owners go home with a litter box, a scoop, a water dish and a toy, so that they can get their new pets set up right away. Kee has recently been setting up raffles during these adoption events “to try to encourage people to come in and see what we do and meet the cats.”
But they hardly get more than a couple of people who show up, even as the number of inbound cats keeps increasing.
The shelter gets assistance from PetSmart with the adoptions and sends the retailers cats who need a home, but “with this extreme heat, people aren’t going out and shopping for a cat right now. So adoptions have been a little slower there as well,” Kee said.
With the increasing number of cats, the responsibilities of the volunteers also increase.
“We do cat care in the morning and again in the evenings. We go through their cages, feed the cats, clean litter boxes, sweep up their cages. I mean, we just take care of them,” she said.
Despite the challenges, what keeps Kee going is seeing the goodness in the world. When the shelter has struggled with resources in the past, people donated food and money, and at times paid the vet bills for the shelter.
As the volunteers at the shelter struggle, Kee requests the community to contribute in any way they can, including coming down to the shelter, which is at 84 N.W. 2nd St in Ontario, and volunteering for a few hours a week. “We see a lot of the ugly that happens, but we also count our blessings so many times,” she said. “Not everybody can adopt another cat. We realize that. But maybe people can reach out to someone else and help get one of these babies into a loving home.”
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