October 3rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 40
Locals advocate for TNR for feral, stray & abandoned cats
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
stock photo
Pass Herald Reporter
In an area of Bushtown, Roxanne Michalski says she has trapped and found homes for 54 cats in just two years. But, with many unsterilized cats still wandering the streets, new cats keep coming in and it's hard to even make a dent in the feral, stray and abandoned cat population of Crowsnest Pass.

Feeling an absence of municipal action, a group of locals has been taking the initiative to try to slow down the population growth and find homes for some of the cats.

Michalski and a group of volunteers organized a bake sale fundraiser on September 29 to raise money for vet bills to vaccinate and sterilize cats, raising $2,000. Michalski and another volunteer, Danielle Loney, also started an online petition that aims to bring attention to the feral cat issue in Crowsnest Pass has garnered under 2,000 signatures, just short of their 2,500 goal.

Michalski has been working to trap, neuter and release the cats for approximately four ears. It’s her vision to have a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program instated for the Pass, what she advocates as a humane solution to the decades-old homeless cat crisis in Crowsnest Pass, a result of people abandoning their pets or letting unsterilized pets roam outside.

Michalski and other fellow volunteers receive calls about strays from residents all around town and have built a rapport with several vet clinics that examine, vaccinate and sterilize cats that they have trapped. Once a cat has gone through the vet, it is rehomed or released back into their “colony” - the cat population they lived with before they were trapped.

“I just do it because of the kindness of my heart to make sure that animals are treated ethically. They need to be handled humanely and they need to be vetted. People reach out to me because they have no one else. We just want these cats to live and a good lifestyle," she says.
She adds that finding a solution to the feral cat populations in Crowsnest Pass isn’t a benefit only to the cats, but has a community-wide advantage.

"I’m doing this for the cats and for the citizens of the Pass. It's for the betterment of the visual view that you see, for the chance to enjoy your own private yard,” she says.
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As Michalski explains, there are many concerns if inaction continues regarding the feral, stray & abandoned cat population. Not only do the cats undergo freezing cold temperatures in the winter, but weak and sick cats attract wildlife and, if the population is not controlled, it will continue to grow at exponential levels.

A TNR program would trap, spay or neuter and then rehome the cat. If they’re too feral or wild to adopt, they are let go back into a colony to survive a natural life. Colonies are monitored and managed by volunteers, so any new cats are identified and go through that same process. Feed stations are set up to control and restrict the cats to a designated area.

TNR programs can be established independently by a municipality or a group of volunteers, or a third-party rescue group can be hired to administer the operation. Along with a TNR program, Michalski advocates for proper education on sterilizing outdoor cats and stricter penalties for pet owners who fail to do so.

However, no matter which way you go, operating a TNR program comes with cost, mainly for vet bills, and it’s a cost that Councillor Dean Ward says has been prohibitive to the municipality.

“This has been a problem for a long time, but in the last couple of years, it has become much more of an issue. It is affecting residents’ quality of life and it's not a humane way for the cats to live, either. There is no question we have limited funds in this community, so we have to take the issues, prioritize them and deal with the ones that can be addressed without spending a lot of money that we don't have,” he says.

To try and address the complaints and concerns, Councillor Ward made a motion to direct Administration to look at a TNR program for the 2019 budget. He says the municipality recognizes the amount of homeless cats as “a significant Issue.”

He adds that the municipality would be open to partner and work with local volunteers and groups to “maximize the effectiveness of the scarce resources" of the municipality.

A lack of action on the part of the municipality has inspired some people to take matters into their own hands, but this has caused another type of conflict within the community.
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In an incident earlier this year, a Coleman local received tickets amounting to $750 from the bylaw officer for various offences, from setting wildlife attractants to allowing animals to run at large, allowing cats to defecate on property, failure to obtain license for cats, keeping more than the allowable number of cats.

The local says he had been feeding the stray cats at certain times of the day, without leaving food out permanently. He also provided a temporary shelter for cats that were giving birth or during extremely cold winter temperatures.

In addition to the tickets, he is now being evicted from his home.

“I don’t have much love for this [expletive] town anymore, none. I was doing something that I thought was going to be beneficial for this town, taking animals off the street and finding homes from them and you guys are jumping down my throat?” he says.

A neighbour living adjacent to this property, however, says that in trying to save, feed and shelter feral cats, it has attracted cats to the area that has caused a mess on his own property, to the point that it has been devalued.

The picture he paints is an uphill battle to maintain the cleanliness of his property. He has had to cover his garden and front porch in chicken wire yet even so, much of his deck and yard furniture have been damaged by the feral cats. Cat urine stains his windows and has burned brown patches into his grass. In a period of one month, he says he picked up 35 pieces of cat feces off his property. In the spring and fall, there are regular issues with skunks.

He says he feels “trapped” in his own house and cannot enjoy his property due to the filth surrounding it.

“We have been homeowners for 38 years and it's just now that we have to put up with this. I want to finally have a life and enjoy my yard like I did. I want to have a life,” he says.

Michalski says this is a product of inaction over many years and adds that it’s not only a municipal responsibility, but that the entire community should feel accountable.

“This isn’t a cat problem, it’s a people problem. We are all responsible and we need to act together. Municipal council isn’t excluded from responsibility, but each and every individual needs to step up to the plate,” says Michalski. “I think that the mindset here is that if you don’t see it, it’s not a problem. But it is a problem. You need to do something, not just pity these animals. We have to set examples for our youth that if you see something hurt, help it. You can’t just walk away and say, ‘not my problem.’”
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October 3rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 40
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