Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What this town needs is a spay-and-neuter program

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Someone asked for help this week.

Actually, lots of someones ask for help every week in my corner of the Free Press newsroom, but the nature of this call had a familiar sound.

An irresistible little "meeow."

Craig Street Cats, the little no-kill shelter, is having a cat sale this weekend -- the so-called $9 for 9 Lives Adoption Event -- and they needed to get the word out. There's more to the backstory than that, of course. Starting, perhaps, with why the call was so irresistible.

My late mother Dorothy loved cats.

And lots of them.

She was the other, much less infamous, cat lady of St. James, the more notorious feline hoarder being Bertha Rand, the Cat Lady of Queen Street.

Our house wasn't that smelly and over-run but, come to think of it, we did have a little cat colony of our own.

There was -- all at the same time -- the cuddly likes of White Owl, Baby Owl, Grey Owl and Night Owl, plus Kanga and Thomas and... well, the list went on.

Plus we had a dog, the one my newspaper reporter dad named Scoop.

The problem, you might have surmised by now, is my mother didn't spay or neuter our cats.

Which brings me back to today and a city-wide street-cat overpopulation problem with only one humane solution. No, not cat licensing.

What we need is a better, more centrally organized and far-reaching spay-and-neuter program for low-income cat owners. It's hardly a new problem, but it seems to be getting worse. Winnipeg cats trace their roots to the same place so many unfixed felines still hang out and breed.

The streets of Winnipeg.

"We're at a point where most pet owners have spayed and neutered," says Craig Street's Lynne Scott. "The cats on the street now are the descendants of 100 years worth of cats brought in as mousers to deal with a situation caused by the grain industry."

Winnipeg, of course, being an even bigger grain-shipping hub back in the day. Scott says more than 80 per cent of the cats that wind up in shelters come from the street, and that's a North America-wide statistic, too.

"So any spay-and-neuter program that doesn't target street cats is doomed to failure."

That's why Craig Street focuses its program exclusively on feral cat colonies. They systematically trap, spay and neuter all the cats in a colony.

The colony's kittens are put up for adoption, as are any of the "friendly" feral adults. The remaining not-so-cuddly wild cats are released back to the area they came from, where Craig Street, conscious of not abandoning the wild bunch, provides shelters and feeding stations.

"They provide a service by controlling the rodent population," Scott says, "and we return the favour by making sure they're not breeding out of control."

There are spay-and-neuter programs, including one at the Winnipeg Humane Society that's city-supported, and the Manitoba Cat Club does its best to help, but the various programs only begin to address the cat over-breeding problem.

"A free-standing, high-volume, low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic would be a better solution," Scott agrees.

What's also needed is a place where cat lovers can donate money and be assured it will go to spay and neuter.

One of the obstacles, Scott believes, is the Manitoba Veterinary Medicine Association, although not necessarily every vet the governing body represents. Scott says in the meetings she's had with the MVMA, some vets have indicated they would not favour setting up a spay-and-neuter clinic.

All this apparent lack of unity and purpose reminds me of something.

I used to have a cat named Pickles and I still have a dog named Krypto, and they managed to get along like... cats and dogs.

But they did manage to get along.

Please, we're not cats or dogs, but we're supposed to care about them, so let's find a way to get along and come together on the feline front line and create a spay-and-neuter program Winnipeg can be proud of.

In the meantime, as I was saying, Craig Street Cats has another problem, born of the bigger one. So Friday through Sunday, the adoption fee for kittens up to nine months old has been dropped to $75. And the fee for older cats is only $9.

So please drop by the Craig Street Adoption Centre at 489 Madison St. this weekend and give yourself the gift of a cat. I know that would make my mother happy. Actually, I'm sure she already is, because today would have been her 94th birthday and this column in aid of cats is my gift to her.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2012 B1

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