STELLARTON – Throughout the day, Sylvie MacKenzie of Rutherford Street in Stellarton sets out some food for the feral cats in the neighborhood.
“I don’t really like the word feral,” she said. “I call them ‘work cats’ since they take care of the rodents and vermin in the community.”
Since the summer, MacKenzie has been trying to gather funds to get these cats fixed. It’s part of a trap-neuter-return (TNR) system that sees the animals spayed and neutered and returned to the wild.
“We’ve been able to get about 14 of the cats spayed and neutered, almost all the cats in the colony.”
The surgery costs about $100 and the donations have come through private citizens.
This problem of growing feral cat colonies is not limited to Stellarton: a group with a chapter in Pictou is also dealing with an increase in the feral population.
Though MacKenzie and a few others in the community feed the cats, they don’t take them into their homes. The spayed cats continue to live outside where she believes they can and should be allowed to thrive, without the fear of repopulating.
Mayor Joe Gennoe of Stellarton is sympathetic to MacKenzie’s cause but can’t commit town resources to the effort. He questions whether the end result for the cats is any different after the surgery.
“It’s great [MacKenzie] is taking them in to be fixed, but they’re still being released into the community, starving, and into freezing weather.”
The effectiveness of TNR programs has been debated for years in numerous urban and rural centres from coast to coast. While robust TNR initiatives can help slow the growth of cat populations, a small group relying on private donations may have a more difficult time stemming the tide.
Small programs may not have the funds to deal with any diseases or parasites the cats could have.
In this case, MacKenzie says the TNR cats the she feeds don’t have diseases, though there are at least three other colonies of feral cats in Stellarton whose status is unknown.
The cost of the surgery and need for donations, a growing feral cat population, and the potential of diseases and parasites, make for an uphill battle for MacKenzie.
“These cats can be helpful to us in the community,” she said. “We just need to help them out too.”