Surrey’s kitty conundrum

The city is home to 34,000 free-roaming felines living ‘grim’ lives.

Kiki is one of three six-week-old kittens recently rescued from a barn. While feral – or wild – cats make up part of Surrey’s huge at-large feline population

The number of free-roaming felines is soaring in Surrey, say local animal welfare activists.

The Surrey Community Cat Coalition (SCCC), an alliance of seven groups concerned with outdoor cat overpopulation, estimates there are up to 34,000 cats on Surrey’s streets.

And they shouldn’t be just defined as feral, says SCCC Manager Lubna Ekramoddoullah.

They’re also abandoned tame cats and un-fixed domestic cats that are given free rein to roam and breed.

The cycle of pregnancy leads to more cats and more suffering in the outdoors, says Ekramoddoullah.

“Their lives are pretty grim.”

The SCCC got together last year when the organizations pooled their resources to tackle the problem and work on solutions that have proven successful over the last six years in Vancouver and Burnaby.

The efforts of the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) to trap and neuter/spay cats – then either adopt them or release them where they were found – is said to have reduced the population of roaming cats in Vancouver and Burnaby to around 200 each.

But Surrey’s human population is growing, making it harder for VOKRA in Surrey to keep up.

VOKRA has 44 volunteers in Surrey, but only two trappers, who manage to capture about 400 cats per year. VOKRA has no regular spay/neuter program in Surrey due to lack of funds.

There are also fewer pet-friendly buildings and more low-income people who feel they have no option but to abandon their cats or forgo spaying or neutering.

Ekramoddoullah says SCCC is looking for grants to help with spaying and neutering of cats belonging to low-income owners.

The SCCC – comprised of VOKRA, The Surrey Animal Resource Centre, the BC SPCA Surrey Education and Adoption Centre, Semiahmoo Animal League Inc., Paws for Hope Animal Foundation, Katie’s Place Animal Shelter and Cats for Seniors – is also seeking space to establish a recovery centre so more cats can be spayed or neutered after trapping.

“If we had that space, we could tackle the problem faster,” says Ekramoddoullah.

Kim Marosevich, bylaws manager at the City of Surrey and co-chair of the SCCC, says discussions are ongoing about strategies, which include increasing awareness of the problem and the importance of spaying/neutering, improving the welfare of cats and increasing cat-friendly housing.

“It’s a complicated problem,” she says.

She adds cats present a challenge in that people don’t regard them the same way they do dogs.

At local shelters, 78 per cent of lost dogs are returned to their original owners, but that only happens to 12 per cent of cats.

The SCCC says people can help by spaying or neutering their cat or kitten, adopting or fostering a cat, donating money or supplies or volunteering their time.

“Humanity is based on empathy,” says Ekramoddoullah. “If we see an animal in distress, we want to help.”

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