Sylvan stray, feral cats causing problems, more funds sought for control

Nearly 70 stray cats have been picked up in Sylvan Lake this year.

Nearly 70 stray cats have been picked up in Sylvan Lake this year.

Of those, fewer than a dozen could be returned to their owners. Many were adopted, but about 25 feral, sick or dying cats had to be euthanized.

Those are numbers that longtime animal control officer Jim deBoon wants to change.

He recently presented a proposal to town council that would include raising public awareness about the problem of abandoned cats, increasing the penalty for not licensing cats to $200 from $50, and undertaking a live capture blitz in the spring with a target of 100 cats in 100 days. A Facebook page has also been set up under Klassic Kennels to help connect owners with animals and boost adoptions.

“My goal is that no adoptable animals is euthanized,” said deBoon, who has 28 years of animal control experience. “If the animal is healthy and able to be socialized, we will not put it down.”

Getting to that point will take some work — especially with cats.

Society recognizes the need to care for and govern dogs but “we have not come to that point with our cats,” he said. Sylvan Lake’s problem is not unique. According to research he did online, there are 100 million feral, or wild, cats loose in North America.

“That number makes the hair stand up on my head,” he said.

DeBoon has asked council for $7,000 to fund the project. It has been referred to the town’s operational services committee for further discussion on Dec. 8. The committee is expected to make recommendations to council.

If the initiative is approved, live traps could be set this spring around town to capture feral cats before they breed. The public would be notified and asked to help out by checking cages regularly so no cats suffer. Several cat rescue organizations in Central Alberta have also offered to help with the project.

Boosting fines could provide an important incentive for people to register the cats. Registration has only been required since the town passed a cat bylaw after much debate last year. The licence fee is $50, so some people are willing to risk their cats getting picked up because the penalty costs no more, he said.

The more cats licensed, the better the chance he can return them to their owners.

DeBoon said he would consider the project a big success if in the next two years, animal control could boost the number of cats returned to their owners to 30 or 40 per cent and the number euthanized to less than 25 per cent.

Mayor Susan Samson said it’s a “good proposal” but council wants to get more information on the problems associated with feral cats.

“There’s a lot of science to be looked at,” she said, adding council also wants to see what sort of management practices have been successful elsewhere.

While the cat bylaw drew strong opinions on both sides at the time, Samson hoped it was making inroads into the problem.

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