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Feral Cats: Are They a Problem and What Should Be Done?

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Depending on who you ask, the Town of Niverville may have a cat problem. A multitude of feral cats roam free in the area, much to the delight of some and the chagrin of others.

Indeed, the people of Niverville have strong opinions about these cats. It’s a hot topic on the community’s social media pages.

Pellet Gun Attacks

Niverville resident Laura Ode has a heartbreaking story. Ode’s cat escaped from her home a few months ago. While searching for him, she met a woman who had been monitoring the feral cat situation in Niverville for almost three years. This woman had given all the local feral cats names, and her main concern was a cat she had named Birdie. For two years, Birdie had given birth to litter after litter of kittens.

“Some people would take the kittens away from her each time, and poor Birdie was deemed feral so they left her all alone,” says Ode, who took on Birdie’s cause. “This would cause her to go back into heat and the cycle would continue. I set out to capture her and at least get her spayed. I spent weeks tracking her and found a spot where she would come to eat. Food, a camera, and a trap were set up, but she was very skittish and did not go into the trap right away. My first attempt, I ended up with a young male cat. I took him in and had him neutered, vaccinated, and treated for a skin infection. He stayed in my garage for three days afterwards to recover and was released back outside.”

On Ode’s second attempt to catch Birdie, she came upon a young female cat who was believed to be one of Birdie’s kittens. This kitten had also had a recent litter, and Ode took her to get spayed and vaccinated. She ended up in a foster home.

“Word got out in the neighbourhood and it turned out someone was feeding Birdie and her kittens in their backyard,” Ode says. “We teamed up and managed to trap all five kittens and Birdie. Her kittens were at least eight weeks old, so I brought Birdie in to get spayed.”

At the veterinarian’s office, it was discovered that Birdie had been shot with a pellet gun at least six times. The vet suspected that the pellet wounds were about a year old.

“Poor girl had to feed kitten after kitten and likely wandered through someone’s yard to hunt,” Ode says. “Just imagine how painful it must have been and no one to help her.”

Samantha Simao tells a similar story. Her cat, called Chickapea, was a rescue from the Winnipeg Humane Society. She tried valiantly to keep Chickapea indoors, but as a former feral cat he was continuously trying to get out.

“It kind of became odd,” Simao says. “He would disappear for long periods of time—weeks, months—and then show up in surrounding towns… Kinda like somebody was picking him up and dropping him off outside town. Last winter, he came home and after a couple days I noticed he wasn’t doing super well. That’s when I found the bullet hole in his shoulder and we ended up having to take him to the emergency vet.”

At that point, Simao decided it was best to rehome Chickapea so there would hopefully be no chance of him getting shot or forcibly relocated again.

RCMP Jurisdiction

A Niverville resident who prefers to have her name withheld says that she has seen a local man shooting at small animals.

“[My husband] and I have seen him sitting at his patio door shooting at something near his garden,” she says. “I wish I had videoed him. The worst part is he doesn’t kill them, just wounds them.”

Another resident, this time from the opposite side of town, mentioned that he too had seen a man in his neighbourhood shooting at small animals.

Pellet guns are subject to somewhat complicated laws regarding what is and isn’t considered a “firearm.”

Nonetheless, causing injury to an animal is illegal. According to The Animal Care Act of Manitoba, “No person shall inflict upon an animal acute suffering, serious injury or harm, or extreme anxiety or distress that significantly impairs its health or well-being.”

Therefore, Niverville mayor Dyck strongly recommends that anyone who has knowledge of a crime like this should call the RCMP.

“The Town has not been notified of any firearm misuse in the community,” reads a statement from a town representative. “The enforcement of firearm matters is under RCMP jurisdiction and if any community residents are aware of the misuse of firearms, and by whom, those details should be shared with the RCMP in St. Pierre immediately.”

Both of the anonymous residents who came forward to The Citizen have provided the name of the person they saw harming animals. That information has been passed along to the RCMP.

The St. Pierre RCMP didn’t respond to requests for information.

Illegal to Roam Free

Although it’s illegal to harm animal, it’s also illegal to let one’s cat roam free. The Animal Care Act goes on to say, “Except when permitted by a by-law of a municipality, no owner or person in charge of an animal shall allow it to run at large.”

The Town of Niverville does not have an exception to this provincial law. Niverville’s bylaw 819-20 states, “No owner shall permit his cat to run at large in the Town of Niverville. When a cat is found running at large in the Town, its owner shall be deemed to have failed or refused to comply with this section of the By-law.”

Dangers of Free-Roaming Cats

One particular conversation about cats on the Niverville Community Group on Facebook generated nearly 100 comments from residents expressing a range of points of view.

“I used to not mind [the cats] but we now have one near our house who likes to come right onto our deck in front of our patio doors and torment our inside cats,” says Chelsea Brown of Niverville. “They would actually try to fight each other through the glass. I ended up having no choice but to buy a frosted film to cover the bottom half of my patio door window because the fighting would keep us up at night and we would have to physically chase the cat out of the yard in the middle of the night. Now one of my cats has started attacking his own reflection because he is paranoid that it’s the other cat.”

Similarly, Bill Gordon says that he’s had to replace his window screens twice recently because a neighbour’s cat kept trying to get into his home through the windows.

“My wingman Maui is an indoor cat,” says Gordon. “If he goes outside he’s always on a leash with me beside him. He’s also licensed with the town. Having to replace my screens costs $16 apiece. Cats outside don’t bother me, until they damage my property.”

Another local homeowner, Michelle Anderson, agrees.

“Ultimately, it is dangerous for the cats to be outdoors, particularly given some have been shot with pellet guns but also because unattended animals get into things that aren’t good for them,” says Anderson. “I believe in responsible pet ownership. I would no more allow my dogs to run free than I would a cat. I care too much about my pets to endanger them. They’re members of our family and they’re cared for as such. This just can’t include letting them roam free.”

Several people pointed out that they dislike having cats loose on their property because they have a tendency to defecate in gardens and flower beds. Cat faeces can be dangerous to human health, since it often contains different bacteria in addition to toxoplasmosis and intestinal worms, both of which can be especially dangerous to immunocompromised people and pregnant women.

Finally, John Robichaud pointed out that, with the exception of humans, cats are the biggest threat to natural wildlife.

“They have directly contributed to the extinction of numerous species of animals in North America,” Robichaud says. “I don’t agree with shooting them with pellet guns, that’s simply cruel, but cats don’t belong loose outside and heavy fines should be levied against owners.”

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) would seem to agree with Robichaud.

“Outdoor domestic cats are a recognized threat to global biodiversity,” reads an article on the organization’s website. “Outdoor cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild and continue to adversely impact a wide variety of other species… The ecological dangers are so critical that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists domestic cats as one of the world’s worst non-native invasive species.”1

An Opposing View

There are also many people on local social media who support allowing free-roaming felines. Several people simply noted that they enjoy seeing cats around town and that their children like watching them as well.

“I think cats should be allowed outside if they are licensed with the town,” says Diane Kroeker. “That way, the cat can have the freedom that we all enjoy to sit in the sun and wander around the yard… The cats are needed to deal with the crazy number of rabbits. I can’t even have a garden as the rabbits eat everything! As soon as our cat stopped going outside, we had mice issues instantly. We also trained our cat to poop in a particular spot outside so clean-up is easy and the neighbours aren’t dealing with it. Spayed/neutered cats that have a good home do not wander and mostly just hang out on the back deck with the family. I don’t think that should be illegal.”

Another resident, who prefers to remain anonymous, felt similarly.

“My neighbours have several cats and they let them out daily and they come home every evening,” says the anonymous resident. “I am very grateful to have their cats roaming free, as we live beside a field and in almost 30 years we have never had a mouse in our house!”

This view is also shared by Leslie Bardal.

“I love free-roaming cats… no mice, rabbits, or such around our yard,” Bardal says. “The dog owners do way more visible damage by not picking up after their dogs on sidewalks and public spaces than cats. I mean, those of us who grew up on a farm or rural property know the benefits outweigh the risks. We never got sick, Grandma weeded her flower garden and never got sick. We have one on our street, the nicest cat ever, we love him, and we haven’t had rabbits, mice, or squirrels since he moved in! No complaints here.”

Animal Control Officer

One possible reason for the problem of feral cats—or at least, a reason why the situation hasn’t stabilized or improved—is that Niverville doesn’t currently have an animal control officer. There hasn’t been such an officer for some time.

In the past, Niverville’s animal control officer could be contacted directly. The town’s website now indicates that the procedure for reporting animal issues has changed; concerned residents must either call or email the town office.

Several Niverville residents say they have indeed called or emailed about cats in their neighbourhood, but they either don’t receive a response or continue to see the same cats around their property.

Mayor Myron Dyck admits that the animal control issue has been difficult recently. He says that the town’s long-term animal control officer retired less than a year ago, and the process of finding a new one has been exceedingly difficult.

Dyck remarked to The Citizen that a significant number of municipalities in Manitoba are currently without an animal control officer. He then indicated that a neighbouring municipality is taking the lead to find one for the greater region, including Niverville.

However, The Citizen reached out to that neighbouring municipality and they weren’t able to confirm Dyck’s statement.

“We are not looking for an animal control officer, nor am I aware of other municipalities who are,” replied the CAO for this municipality.

A council member for another nearby RM was similarly confused. “Are we spearheading an initiative? No. That’s interesting information and not quite accurate because we’re very content and I wasn’t even aware that there was an initiative taking place.”

It remains unclear at this time whether anyone is actually searching for a new animal control officer for Niverville.

For the time being, some of Niverville’s animal control issues are being taken care of by the bylaw enforcement officer, but the officer doesn’t deal with feral or injured animals.

“Note [that] this relates to items such as dogs barking or other breaches of bylaw,” says Mayor Dyck. “Items such as needing a trap to catch a critter, say, like a skunk or something, there is nothing currently.”

Without an animal control officer in town, cats are likely going to continue to struggle.

Licenses and Regulations

Barry Piasta, a local animal advocate, points out that a single female cat over its lifetime can give birth to more than 180 kittens.

“Stray cats need to be spayed or neutered, and so do house cats, to control ‘oops’ pregnancies,” he says.

Piasta suggests that all municipalities must enforce spay and neuter programs to control the cat population. He would also like to see the Town of Niverville partner with a veterinary office to offer free or low-cost spay and neuter procedures.

Mayor Dyck says that the Town of Niverville used to partner with Graydon Veterinary Corporation in St. Pierre, but the program fizzled out during the pandemic and has not been restarted.

Piasta would also like to see a change to Niverville’s cat licensing procedure. “Cat licenses need to be enforced and spay and neuter must be mandatory and included in the fee. Any captured stray or owned cat must be fixed.”

All dogs and cats in Niverville are required to be licensed. The annual licensing fee for a cat, either fixed or intact, is $20 plus proof of rabies and distemper vaccinations. If a cat is found roaming free and is not licensed, the owner is to be charged $100. The owner of any cat found roaming free is also meant to be charged $150 plus the cost of impoundment and $300 plus impoundment for the second offence.

Niverville does not appear to require a found cat to be spayed or neutered.

Currently, though, none of these impoundment fees can be charged because there is no one to impound the cats in the first place.

The town of Altona has been held up by some as an excellent example of how to deal with local cats. Their license fee for felines is $25 for the entire lifetime of the pet, and this requires proof of rabies vaccination.

Altona also has two cat-related programs in partnership with Furever Friends Cat Rescue. Residents who find a homeless cat that they want to keep can use the Finders Keepers Program. According to the Furever Friends website, “[T]his program provides an initial cat assessment by one of our volunteers, vet check, spay/neuter, vaccinations, and tattoo. All for the low price of $99.”

The partnership also offers a trap and release program.

“Cats and kittens are trapped, transported to the pound for evaluation, provided with vet care and spayed/neutered,” reads an explanation on their website. “If the cat is tameable, it is claimed by Furever Friends Cat Rescue and put into foster care. If [it is] too wild, it is released back into the community and a feral shelter is set up to provide it with safe shelter and food.”

Furever Friends website adds, “Maintaining a healthy feral cat population benefits our community by keeping the rodent population low. It reduces the incidence of homeless cats roaming in search of food and shelter, and reduces nuisance behaviour”

At the end of the day, many remain concerned that the cats of Niverville will continue to suffer as long as there is no animal control officer serving the town.

“Life is so heartbreaking for these feral cats,” concludes Ode. “Yes, they help to keep the rodent population down, but at what cost? They are riddled with worms, repopulating into a life of suffering and… terrible sickness and diseases.”

For more information

  • If you are interested in adopting Birdie, contact davidsoncynday@yahoo.com.

1 “Cats Indoors,” American Bird Conservancy. Date of access: August 25, 2022 (https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds).

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