Whistler not immune to Canada's cat 'overpopulation crisis'

Canadian cat population out-pacing the number of new households

A new report released by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is warning about Canada's ever-increasing cat population, calling it an "overpopulation crisis."

The Comprehensive Report on the Cat Overpopulation Crisis claims there are an estimated 10.2 million owned cats in Canada, a population that is growing at a faster rate than the number of new households across the country.

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The report also finds that shelters are at or near capacity to care for cats and more than 600,000 homeless cats in Canadian shelters did not find new homes in 2011. It goes on to explain that only 44 per cent of cats brought into shelters are adopted out.

Shannon Broderick, Director of Shelter Operations at Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), can relate to the findings and indicated WAG receives much of its stray cats from Pemberton. Due to lack of space Broderick is forced to ship many of its incoming cats to the Squamish SPCA where they have more space.

"We bring in 100 to 120 cats and kittens per year to WAG and pass along most to the Squamish SPCA. We are almost always at capacity," said Broderick. "Whistler residents are pretty good about keeping their cats inside so there is less of an overpopulation situation here. However, Pemberton is home to a large cat population."

Whistler is known as a dog-friendly community, which Broderick said makes it easier for stray dogs to find new homes. WAG adopts out triple the number of dogs than cats in a year. She says many of WAG's cat adoptions are from people who live out of town.

The report found one third of cats surrendered to shelters were admitted due to issues of housing including rental agreements, landlord conflicts and moving.

"Most of the cats from Whistler come into WAG from people that are moving," said Broderick. "They don't understand that they brought the cat to Whistler and that it's hard to re-home cats in Whistler. Of course spaying and neutering is critical, but I think it's important to remember that it's a long-term commitment. Don't bring your cat to Whistler and then just turn it over to the shelter."

Euthanasia is a form of population control in shelters across Canada, often administered to avoid the spread of illness when cats become sick in the shelter. While Broderick acknowledges this can become an issue at larger shelters, she claims WAG tries to steer clear from euthanasia.

"We don't perform euthanasia unless the animal is in critical distress and euthanasia is recommended by a vet. Our cats will live here for as long as it takes to find them a home. We recently adopted out Sable, a cat that had been at WAG for one and a half years," said Broderick.

Sterilization is identified as a successful solution to cat overpopulation, along with more human education and more resources to enforce municipal bylaws.

Of the animals that are surrendered to shelters, both by owners and by the public, less than half of one per cent were spayed or neutered. If this is a reflection of national spay neutering patterns, the report argues there are millions of unaltered animals across the country, many of which are free to roam.

"We encourage every individual to become a responsible pet owner by spaying and neutering their cats and ensuring that they have proper identification (tag, microchip, tattoo). The single most important thing everyone can do to end overpopulation is to adopt their next cat," offered CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Barbara Cartwright.

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