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Why stray cats are on the rise since the pandemic

The current presence of stray cats appears to be on the rise. No particular city is spared from this issue, including one of Hamilton’s closest neighbours – Brant County.

Local Facebook groups are littered with posts about spotting lost pets or community (stray) animals roaming the streets. Concerned users post about friendly cats turning up in their yards with no sign of owners – these felines are often the result of “drop-offs”.

A man bends down to pet a community cat (or stray).
Community cats show up and are often too friendly to have had no owners in the past.

“Stray, dumped, unwanted, unspayed and unneutered cats have always been an issue in Brantford and many other towns and cities,” Brantford resident Ellen Russell said. “It has become more apparent with the online lost and found sites. While they may be incredibly helpful, they speak of the need for more action. Rescues are overwhelmed, overstressed and underfunded.”

Local cat rescue Hearts to Home Feline Rescue and Sanctuary has seen a dramatic increase in stray cats in need. Managing director, Pat Kawamoto spoke about the recent rise of “community cats” and broke down the issue into three parts.

Demand for animals during the pandemic and the presence of backyard breeders has been a major issue. People began breeding and selling animals, but once the demand declined, those same people became over-run with animals and often ended up locking them out or abandoning them on country roads.

It may have cost someone little money to adopt their new kitten in the beginning, but the price of vaccines and the price to spay or neuter a cat will run a pretty penny when all is said and done.

The pandemic undoubtedly caused inflation and supply issues throughout the country and the veterinary care division has been hit hard. A lack of working vets and supplies means that it’s been difficult to keep up with demand.

“We’re dealing with inflation,” Kawamoto said. “The cost of food and veterinary care is going up because demand is up and supply is down. So this inflation has wreaked havoc on a lot of people that now can’t afford care and want to surrender (their pets).”

The lack of Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programs is one of the final reasons for the increase of strays. Animal control used to be run by the Brant County SPCA, but the city has since given the contract to another animal control centre, one that doesn’t utilize TNR.

If you can collect a minimum of 75 per cent of an area’s community cats and spay or neuter them, then you can start to manage the population. If you euthanize or remove these cats from an area, it simply doesn’t work because other cats will move in.

“If you remove so many of those cats, then all you’re doing is freeing up resources,” director of animal care at Brant County SPCA Nadine Dwinnell said. “So that will encourage more breeding and you will have cats moving in from outside that colony because now you’ve opened resources for them.”

Animal rescues agree there needs to be more TNR programs available but until then, they suggest that folks avoid feeding community cats (to discourage more breeding) and that they consider all of the costs before committing to an animal.

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