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Cat overpopulation problem continues to plague Kamloops

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The Kamloops SPCA is trying to curtail the feral cat population by spaying and neutering them before releasing them back into the wild.

Cat overpopulation is an ongoing problem in the city. The B.C. SPCA in Kamloops took in 459 cats and kittens in 2021, compared to 430 last year during the same period, said Lorie Chortyk, communications manager with the B.C. SPCA, via email. The branch currently has 47 cats in care.

READ MORE: Kamloops SPCA sets sights on new programs to deal with cat overpopulation

Kamloops has the third-highest intake of cats among its 36 branches, after Quesnel and Vancouver.  The number of cats currently in care it is the fourth highest, after Nanaimo, Sea to Sky and South Peace locations, Chortyk said.

The SPCA has launched a one-year pilot program, and upon its succession will roll into a two-to-four-year program to create long-term change for cats. The SPCA is focusing on education, community engagement and increased spaying and neutering for both owned and unowned cats, according to an SPCA report to city council, Oct. 16.

Ashley Fontaine, manager of community engagement with the Kamloops branch, said there’s a number of factors that contribute to the cat overpopulation in the city and one of those is how people perceive cats versus dogs.

Cats aren’t seen to be as valuable as dogs, and lots of cats are abandoned for instance, when someone moves, she said.

There is mandatory licensing for dogs in the city, but not cats.

A lot of people are not spaying or neutering their cats which is also contributing to the cat overpopulation problem but one of the barriers preventing spaying and neutering are financial barriers and lack of education, Fontaine said.

Kamloops has grappled with cat overpopulation for years, she said, but didn’t have an exact timeline for how long the problem has been going on. Feral cat colonies have existed in Kamloops for years as well, she said.

The SPCA’s trap and release program involves community members that trap the feral cats and they are then spayed or neutered and released back into the wild. A low-income spay and neuter program will also be offered to people for their cats who meet certain requirements this fall or winter, she said.

The SPCA is unable to rehabilitate a cat that has been living in a feral colony for years as they’re unable to be domesticated, she said, adding feral kittens are able to be domesticated.

“What we’re doing now is preventative so hopefully something like a (cull) would never happen,” she said, adding the SPCA’s mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for animals in B.C.

Cats have a destructive impact on local bird populations, but they’re not listed as invasive despite rabbits being listed, said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of B.C.

READ MORE: Walking and hiking with cats growing trend in Kamloops

Cats are a concern because they’re not regulated in the same way in the province as dogs are, she said.

The SPCA has been pushing for more than the last decade for pet owners to commit to the lifespan of the pet and to ensure the pet can’t reproduce, responsible pet choices people don’t always make, she said.

The issue isn’t unique to cats. There are established feral rabbit populations across B.C. and the question is: “You’ve got this non-native animal that’s reproducing at high rates, out in the environment, having an impact on native species. Do you spend a lot of dollars… sterilizing them because we think that’s the right thing to do, or do you cull them in a humane responsible way?” Wallin said.

Back in 2018, one New Zealand town planned on banning domestic cats to reduce the impact to local wildlife, according to the New York Times.

“It’s a really complex question,” Wallin said.

“Does it make sense sterilizing the cats and putting them back outdoors? The good thing is it’s not going to reproduce new litters. Is it going to make a difference on the feral cat population? You’d have to get all the cat population to be breeding with sterilized animals and stopping more feral cats from being released…. The important part is don’t release them.”

One of the founders of a group of feral feline trappers, Jenn Breckenridge with Sammy's Forgotten Felines, said the issue is "frustrating."

"We're chipping away at an iceberg. The problem is we're a very small rescue and there's only so much we can do. Our goal is to focus on one colony at a time. In the meantime, there are several other colonies that are just expanding and growing and carrying on, so it's really tough. You're really just chasing your tail," she said.

The trio of volunteers, Breckenridge along with Jessica Blenkarn and Julie Ondang, are currently trying to capture a sick cat colony on the North Shore that Breckenridge estimates contains at least 70 cats. The cost to do so will equal around $20,000 in vet costs if the cats are healthy.

The group has been around since November 2019 and since its inception they've captured around 300 to 400 cats that have been rehomed, she said.

They decided to step in when they learned a colony two years ago was going to be caught and culled and managed to rehome all 82 cats caught from that colony.

It can be difficult to gain the animal's trust and decide if the cats can be housed in a regular home environment or in another safe place where they have access to shelter and vet care, she said.

READ MORE: The women who trap, treat and re-home the feral cats of Kamloops

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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