Concerned cat lovers tentatively joined forces last year to discuss the growing number of feral felines living in dangerous circumstances throughout the Central Okanagan.
And last weekend, they took the first real step toward humanely solving what they have deemed a “cat crisis.”
The Okanagan Cat Coalition—comprised of volunteers from the Okanagan Humane Society, the Kelowna SPCA, The Responsible Animal Care Society and Alley Cats Alliance—held their first training workshop on cat foster care, humane trapping, medical treatment and building shelters for outdoor cats, said coalition volunteer coordinator Romany Runnalls.
The skills gleaned in the workshops will help the coalition in its efforts to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release/rehome cats they’ve targeted—all techniques used successfully in cities around the world to reduce feral cat populations.
Runnals explained that the coalition has spent the months since they first formed to map the cat populations from Winfield to Peachland, and they’ve found there’s an estimated 700 in the region. Colonies can be found anywhere from rural fields, alleyways, or just on the fringes of a suburban neighbourhoods.
“We’ve used a program called Catmapper that was developed by a researcher at Dalhousie University for dealing with feral cat communities around the world,” said Runnalls. “With the program we get a good idea where the cats are geographically and that there are clusters.”
Roughly 300 of those cats are within a couple mile radius of Ben Lee Park. There are also high concentrations in West Kelowna and colonies of 30 to 50 cats in Winfield.
“Some people, for whatever reason, haven’t gone through process of spaying or neutering their animals…then if they are dumped or left behind, those cats come together in colonies and and breed and you get almost feral generations of cats,” Runnalls said.
“Usually we are just one or two generations of kittens in, and they are not untameable in most cases.”
Others, that are older and more skittish, can’t be socialized.
The coalition intends to trap those untameable cats, get them fixed and vaccinated and return them to the area they’re from, assuming they’ve found a contact person who will be willing to continue feeding and sheltering the creature.
They aim is simply to stop the colonies from growing because these cats, no matter how many generations from being a pet they are, don’t have the skills to live in the wild.
Thee cats are facing short, often painful, lives succumbing to the elements or to creatures higher up the food chain, like coyotes, said Runnalls. Those predators are being lured in higher numbers into residential neighbourhoods to feed on feral cats, putting even domesticated creatures at higher risk.
In upcoming weeks, the skills the 45 volunteers gleaned at the weekend training session will be put to use, as they want to get a jump on the problem before breeding season really gets underway.
Runnalls said there’s still lots of room for area cat lovers to chip in and help, if they want to.
“Our critical need is foster homes,” she said. “We need people who have an extra room where they can take in one or two or three cats that, over a month or two, can become tame enough to be adopted back out.”
For those who want to volunteer, or who just want to report a feral cat, the best way to reach the group is by finding them on their Facebook page, Okanagan Cat Coalition. Social media averse residents can email them at Okcatcoalition@gmail.com.