Cat colonies is a major problem in many urban areas, and the Greater Toronto Area is not spared from pressing issue. A cat colony is a group of cats living together and they can be found in both urban and rural neighbourhoods. Feral cats are those cats that are wild, semi-ferals are those cats that are not completely wild and are somewhat used to humans. In the GTA, one of the most common calls rescue groups get are cat colony concerns and it usually comes from a concerned resident or business owner when they find many cats roaming in their area.
This story is about a colony that we helped rescue in Scarborough. The size of this colony consisted of 8 cats which is not a very large colony but it still required an immense amount of effort, resources, time, vetting costs and volunteers to accomplish. We hope through this story, we can help educate the public on what they can do to help prevent the development of cat colonies as its often caused by human action. We also want to help the public learn how to identify a cat colony and what are the correct steps to take if you do come across a cat colony or you have created a cat colony in your backyard.
This October, we were contacted with an urgent situation. A concerned family in Scarborough called us due to increased sightings of cats in their backyard. The cats appeared used to humans and were coming daily begging for food. As the weather got colder, they began hiding under the bbq. We went and canvassed and what we found was a situation much worse than we had thought.
There was a growing colony of cats due to continual feeding from residents and there were cats of all ages, from kittens to adults and although they appeared healthy, we were very concerned the females could be pregnant or would soon get pregnant. This colony was on the brink of exploding. We knew we had to step in to help. We knew we had to step in to help so we started trapping and bringing in these cats in to assess them. To our surprise, many of them were actually friendly and none were completely feral.
In total we rescued 8 cats from this colony: Munchie, Abbey, Snappy, Toffie, Willow, Duffy, Super Puff and Wonder Puff and based on their numbers, we believe this colony is about 1-1.5 years old. They all had fleas and ticks which must have been highly uncomfortable underneath their very long hair. They were all underweight and malnourished. Duffy, whom we believe is the Mommy of the colony was the most sick and suffering from a severe bladder infection. She was in a lot of pain when we brought her in and we rescued her just in time. If we hadn’t brought her in when we did, she would have succumbed to her infection and died.
Willow, the Daddy was very underweight and he has a badly decaying tooth so he will need to go in for dentistry as soon as possible. The whole colony has visited the veterinarian, and the ones old enough have been spayed and neutered, vaccinated, deflead and dewormed. Munchie, Super Puff and Wonder Puff are all very friendly and adoptable. In fact, Munchie already got adopted through Rescue Angels and Super Puff and Wonder Puff (see below) will soon be ready for adoption through them as well. The other 5 cats will remain in foster care to be further socialized. As you can see, colony cats often suffer from disease, sickness, malnourishment, starvation, frostbites, injuries, and other hazards. Not to say the least, street cats live a perilous and very difficult life.
Normally, if cats are too feral, they are re-released after they are fixed and this is called TNR (Trap-Neuter/Spay-Release) and Toronto now offers this service for free via The Toronto Humane Society (THS)and Toronto Animal Services (TAS). The OSPCA does offer a discounted rate for some municipalities. The toll and stress on rescue groups dealing with cat colonies is immense. It takes massive effort and coordination from volunteers to deal with cat colonies including veterinary and supply costs. We often encounter many unexpected situations, sometimes uncooperative residents even.
How Are Cat Colonies Created? Cat colonies are commonly caused by human negligence and/or “kindness” unfortunately. It often starts with unspayed/unneutered cats who have been allowed to go outside. They could be pets, or stray cats, or cats that are born in the wild. Often when these cats locate a food source, they will start to conglomerate. Often the food is coming from “kind-hearted” people who feel badly for the starving cat(s) and starts feeding them. This often attracts more cats to the area and the cats start to mate and breed. The food sources keeps them alive, and they continue to proliferate, often at a very rapid rate.
To not spay or neuter your cat and/or to feed stray or wild cats with no intention to bringing them to get spayed or neutered is a recipe for disaster.
Cats are amongst one of the most fertile species and often what starts as one cat, ends up as tens or hundreds of cats. To give you an idea of the highly reproductive capability of cats, if two mature cats were left to mate (and their offspring survive), they can create 12 cats in 1 year, 66 cats in 2 years and up to 2000+ cats in only 4 years.
The best ways to prevent a cat colony and to manage a colony is:
#1 – Start off with your own pet(s). Always spay and neuter your cats.
#2 – Never feed animals without the intention of contacting a rescue group immediately for help as you will create a colony in no time
#3 – If you start seeing strays or cats regularly in your area, contact a rescue group immediately
#4 – If you are able to take a more active part in helping these cats, there are free workshops on teaching you how to manage a colony and the whole Trap-Neuter/Spay-Release (TNR) program. We highly encourage people to take this course especially if a cat colony resides on your property because once you do, you can be a registered colony provider and that allows you access to free or discounted spay/neuter clinics in the Greater Toronto Area. You can also see how it is often very rewarding to care for a colony especially if they can return to the area they came from once they have been spayed/neutered.
#5 – If the cats continue to remain on your property, you will need to continue to care for them and provide food and water. We also highly recommend placing winter shelters in the winter to help keep them warm. You can contact Toronto Street Cats to order winter shelters.