SPCA wants money to take on feral cats in Maple Ridge

B.C. SPCA is hoping the District of Maple Ridge will chip in $30,000 annually for a program to spay and neuter feral cats

The SPCA program to spay and neuter feral cats would cost Maple Ridge $30

The SPCA program to spay and neuter feral cats would cost Maple Ridge $30

The B.C. SPCA is hoping the District of Maple Ridge will chip in $30,000 annually for a program to spay and neuter feral cats, as well as offer discounted procedures for low-income cat owners.

B.C. SPCA CEO Craig Daniell pitched the idea to Maple Ridge Council at its workshop meeting Monday, noting that similar programs rolled out in the U.S. saw more than $3 in savings for every $1 invested, due to reduced animal shelter and control costs.

Daniell said while the SPCA’s efforts to encourage dog owners to sterilize their pets have been successful over the past 25 years, more attention needs to be paid to cat owners, which now make up the majority of pet owners.

“Over the years, dog owners have become very responsible,” Daniell said. “That same process hasn’t happened with cat owners yet.”

The SPCA’s three-year program would allow for the sterilization of around 300 cats per year in Maple Ridge, as well as provide them with identification through a tattoo or microchip. While the program would likely fully cover the cost of sterilizing feral cats, low-income cat owners would be offered a reduced rate to get their cats fixed.

The details of the program still have to worked out, Daniell stressed, but the SPCA would be looking to partner with a local veterinarian, as well as other local organizations like Katie’s Place Animal Shelter.

The Maple Ridge SPCA currently receives close to 400 stray cats every year, and sterilizes those cats that haven’t already been so. While nearly 80 per cent of dogs the local SPCA branch sees are reunited with their owners, that number is only 11.5 per cent of cats.

Giving cats an ID tattoo or microchip would help get more cats back to their owners.

As for feral cats, they would be sterilized and released back into the wild, allowing the feral colony to decline over time.

“If we just removed them, they’d be replaced by other feral cats,” said Daniell. “But this way the population declines gradually. The average life span of a feral cat is pretty short.”

A 2010 study published by the University of Nebraska found that cats were responsible for killing at least 480 million birds in the U.S. every year.

The same study, titled Feral Cats and their Management, noted that feral house cats are directly responsible for the extinction of at least 33 bird species.

“The threat to wildlife is the biggest issue,” said Daniell. “For some members of the community, they are considered a nuisance animal.”

However, culling feral cat populations is not something the SPCA is considering.

“I don’t think that’s what the majority of the community would like to see happen,” said Daniell.

The program could also help reduce the number severed cat heads being left by coyotes.

Daniell said feral cats are a major food source for urban coyotes, and that reducing the number of feral cats would likely reduce coyote numbers.

“If this program is successful, there will be less cats roaming the streets … and less food for coyotes,” he said. “You’d expect to see small coyote litters [as a result].”

Coun. Corisa Bell expressed concern about the length of the program.

“I would be more comfortable with a one-year program and collecting data,” she said.

However, Paul Gill, Maple Ridge’s general manager of corporate and financial services, noted that it would like take a few years to start to see declines in feral cat populations.

“For a program like this to be successful, it would have to be multi-year,” he said, adding that the District of Maple Ridge has already set aside money in the budget for the program.

Coun. Judy Dueck said requiring a one-time mandatory registration of pet cats, as opposed to annual licensing, could help fund the sterilization program and increase the likelihood of reuniting cats with their owners.

“I’m not a big fan of licensing … but registration might be the way to go,” she said. “Any step in the right direction is the right way to go.”