When the cat’s a stray

An Ontario town is proposing a sanctuary for cats to deal with the growing feline population

When the cat’s a stray Last year, when Carla Leardi joined the Cat Assistance Team (CAT), a non-profit volunteer group in the small southwestern Ontario town of Amherstburg, friends wondered why. After all, Leardi, an owner of two dogs, doesn’t have a cat. But the fortysomething office assistant considers herself an equal-opportunity animal enthusiast. And she was quick to take on CAT’s biggest task: dealing with Amherstburg’s proliferating cat population—a problem that’s more than a little gross. “One gentleman,” says Nancy Greenaway, a board member of CAT, “complained because his very expensive hockey equipment had been sprayed.”

Leardi’s solution is a “cat sanctuary.” She’s proposing that CAT’s volunteers build and maintain a fenced-in site for the local herd. Each feline would get a “cat condo”—a small house, complete with linoleum floors, straw and a shingled roof. The plan, says Leardi, is more cost-effective than the $50,000 it would cost to trap and euthanize all the town’s approximately 100 wild cats. By comparison, neutering a cat costs about $200, shelter is $400, and food is about $5 a month. It’s also, she says, simpler than introducing and enforcing stricter animal bylaws. (She uses Ottawa’s Parliamentary Cats, a similar residence behind Parliament Hill, as an example).

In April, CAT met with the town council and requested a piece of land and $10,000 to cover start-up costs for a 20-cat colony—donations and fundraising will cover ongoing needs. The idea was well received, says Greenaway, and CAT hopes it will be approved soon. “People are starting to say ‘how can we help?’ ” she says. “And it’s not only the people that want to get rid of the cats and have threatened to poison them.”

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