Cats in Vancouver’s community have more struggles this winter

The pandemic has had its toll on many services for animals

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By Ryan Ng

Vancouver’s community cats will have a tougher time this winter as COVID-19 has not only affected animal owners but animal services as well.

The increase in feral and stray cats has come from the fact that many have struggled with finances and housing during the pandemic along with certain services and programs for these cats being reduced or cancelled.

“We have seen a bit of an increase in the strays during the pandemic,” said Maria Soroski, co-founder of Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA).

“We started to see an increase before the pandemic, and it was because of the housing crisis, which is now in conjunction with a pandemic,” she said. “It just makes everything worse.”

“What we are hearing is that the problem with people dumping cats is not new,” said Kathy Powelson, founder and executive director at Paws for Hope Animal Foundation.

She said that this year is particularly bad because in March, with the concerns of inadequate amount of Personal Protective Equipment, the members of the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia were mandated not to do elective surgeries, which include spay and neuter.

“So, from March, April and May, there were no spay and neuters being done in the province,” Powelson said. “That halted any TNR (trap-neuter-return) work that was being done in communities. What we then faced with May, June, July, August, was the consequences of that.”

According to the BC SPCA, there are thousands of kittens born to family pets, stray cats and feral cats every day. These kittens can get pregnant in five months and produce more kittens. It is recommended to spay or neuter your cat before they can reproduce.

“There’s just no excuse not to spay and neuter your animal because there’s enough help out there even if you are low income to get it done,” Powelson said. “Recognize that a cat is a lifetime commitment.”

From July to September of 2020, Jaylen Bastos, an urban wildlife ecologist, took roughly one million photos with trail cameras to monitor cats living outside for the Vancouver Cat Count project with the Stewardship Centre for BC.

“Early estimates are looking at somewhere between 50 to 100,000 cats that call the City of Vancouver home that are outside, unsupervised for some portion of the day,” Bastos said. “That was really shocking.”

Cats are estimated to kill between 100 and 350 million birds per year in Canada, according to a study by Peter Blancher, an Environment and Climate Change Canada scientist.

Both Powelson and Soroski believe that cats are safer indoors.

Powelson said that during the winter, food sources are always scarcer and that it is not uncommon to see a cat without ear tips as they can freeze off.

“People need to take responsibility for their cats. They need to understand that cats are domesticated creatures, and they need humans to survive and thrive,” Powelson said. “They are not wild. They live horribly miserable lives when they’re on the outside, living in the wild”

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