Canadian Animal Task Force executive director and co-founder, R.J. Bailot, says feral and stray cat populations in southeast Alberta could become an increasing concern for municipalities if not addressed through initiatives like trap-neuter/spay-release.SUBMITTED PHOTO.

Original Published on Jul 06, 2022 at 11:24

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

An online petition advocating for the implementation of a feline trap-neuter/spay-release program in Medicine Hat has regional animal advocacy organizations’ support and the city’s attention.

Hatter Audrey Skoog posted the petition – addressed to city council – online Sunday evening in the hopes councillors would take action on what Skoog describes as an extreme feral and stray cat overpopulation issue.

“There’s just cats everywhere,” Skoog told the News. “All the rescue (shelters) are full, they’re constantly needing foster (homes). And it’s not getting better. It’s not like we’re having situations where the shelters are emptying and then we’re able to fill them again.”

Skoog, a longtime animal rescue organization volunteer, says feline overpopulation has resulted in a constant capacity issue for animal shelters.

“We can’t have a fully robust (animal rescue) program as long as these cats are over-running the city,” Skoog said. “And the problem is you can’t adopt your way out of an overpopulation situation. There’s only so many humans in a city who can adopt.

“But if you go into these (cat) colonies and you trap, neuter and release, it reduces the size of the colonies. It’s a humane way of managing feral and semi-feral cat populations.”

Skoog says she recognizes neuter and spay procedures aren’t cheap, but says the long-term benefits will outweigh any initial costs.

“We’re going to have those costs, regardless whether we are euthanizing (or) expanding shelters,” she said. “But, in the long term, if you actually control cat populations, it costs less over time.”

R.J. Bailot, executive director and co-founder of Canadian Animal Task Force, a Calgary-based non-profit which specializes in TNR, agrees with Skoog.

“There’s many benefits to TNR,” Bailot said. “It basically allows you to have a healthy, stable population – something which is manageable.”

Bailot says other benefits include an overall improvement in the health of feral populations and reduction in disease, as each cat trapped is seen by a vet and vaccinated before being released, a re-balancing of small animals populations which have been over-hunted by stray cats, and an opportunity for friendly cats to enter adoption programs, while not overcrowding animal shelters.

Medicine Hat SPCA shelter director Tom Carney has long-believed Medicine Hat would benefit from a trap-neuter/spay-return program.

“There is a cat overpopulation problem in Medicine Hat for sure,” Carney said. “Our shelter is jam packed. We don’t have any sort of room. Right now, I would say we’re at approximately 99.5% capacity. And we’ve started taking wait lists for both dogs and cats.”

Carney, joined by his team and several other local rescue organizations, has previously requested the city implement a TNR program, but nothing ever came to fruition.

“We did approach the city a few years ago,” Carney said. “But with the way the (Responsible Animal Ownership) bylaw was written, the city was not able to endorse a TNR program at that time.”

Carney is hopeful for the future however, as he has recently been in contact with city officials who are reexamining the potential for a TNR program in Medicine Hat.

“We’re reviewing the program,” Dave Young, special projects manager with the city’s public services division, said. “We will have some amendments we will have to do to the Responsible Animal Ownership Bylaw No. 3935 to allow for the release of animals.

“It’s a project slated for later this summer or early fall. (That’s when) we would be taking the matter to council.”

In the meantime, Skoog is drumming up community support with her petition, which has well surpassed the initial goal of 200 signatures and is now edging toward 500.

This item reprinted with permission from The News, Medicine Hat, Alberta