PERTH COUNTY – Since Feline Friends Network was founded in 2006 to reduce the problems of cat overpopulation and homelessness humanely, it has helped at least 3,352 cats get spayed and neutered.
“That’s the reason Feline Friends started,” said Sharon Morrice, president of Feline Friends Network. “It was started by someone volunteering at the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter at the time. She could see there was a big, big problem with cats – more cats coming in than dogs, so she thought, why aren’t we working on the root cause of this and that is that cats multiply at such a high rate.”
Cats have an average of five to seven kittens a litter and have several litters per year.
“it’s an exponential growth of the cat population,” she said. “There is a big overpopulation problem everywhere in the world, and it is not a local problem, and the only way to address it humanely is to spay and neuter. That includes all cat populations, not just pets but homeless cats, feral cats, barn cats – all the sources.”
Feline Friends Network trap, neuter, return (TNR) program was one of the first things they started to address colonies of homeless cats.
“We don’t have large colonies that we are caring for anymore.,” said Morrice. “They have dwindled. That happens naturally when you take a colony and spay and neuter all the cats and put them back. We feed, take care of and support them in an outdoor home. They naturally dwindle in numbers because new litters aren’t being born.”
Feline Friends recognized over time that the cats they were returning to colonies that were presumed to be feral and, therefore, unadoptable were not wild at all.
“They are just scared or traumatized, and it takes time to work with them, but they do learn to trust again, and they can be adoptable,” she said. “So that’s another reason there is a lot less focus (on maintaining colonies), and we figure if a cat can be socialized, live indoors and be adopted, they will have a much easier and better life than living outdoors.”
The adoption program started with volunteers taking some cats into their homes, and it has grown to other foster homes to accommodate as many cats as possible.
“We only take in homeless cats,” said Morrice. “We don’t take surrendered cats. If someone finds they can no longer keep their cat for some reason, that’s not our thing. The humane society and other rescues in the area accept surrenders. We concentrate on the homeless ones. The ones that are outdoors fending for themselves.”
She emphasized that there is a considerable need for more foster homes.
“This is kind of the critical need at this point for us because we have a waiting list of cats that are out there that need to be brought in, but we don’t have anywhere to put them,” said Morrice. “Foster homes are really valuable to us, and they are tough to find because it is a commitment – finding the space to bring a strange animal into your house and the time to work with them. It could take weeks or months in some cases until they trust you again.”
People who are interested in fostering a cat go through an application process.
“We recommend having a separate space at least for the first while when they are getting used to being there, getting used to the foster volunteer,” she said. “Cats like to feel sheltered, so they like to be in a smaller space, at least for the first while.”
Morrice said separation is important, especially if foster volunteers have other cats.
“We will provide all the necessities – the food, medical care, the spay or neuter,” she said. “No cat goes out through our program without being spayed or neutered.”
There is also an online adoption application.
“It is pretty detailed because we want to make sure the situation the cat is going into suits the cat the very best,” said Morrice. “It covers things like how many people are in the household, is everybody in agreement that they want a cat, how many other pets are in the household, are there children, and what are their ages?”
The intention is to find the best situation for the cat. If an adoption doesn’t work out, Feline Friends can take the cat back, but ideally, they want to prevent the cat from bouncing from place to place, so they hope to find the best home in the first adoption.
“It can be a bit of a personality thing depending on the cats in question,” she said.
To help cat owners, they offer a low-income spay-neuter assistance program.
“We know lower-income people are less likely to be able to afford that surgery,” said Morrice. “We’re educating people on the importance of it, not only because of the overpopulation problem but the fact that your animals are going to be better behaved.”
Most neutered males will likely not spray, and Spayed females won’t go into heat, which prevents unpleasant experiences for humans and cats.
“It’s also for the health (of the cat),” she said. “It prevents certain reproductive cancers.”
Feline Friends Network concentrates its services on Perth County,
“We’re mainly based in South Perth and Stratford, St. Marys, but we will, for instance, a program of low-income spay-neuter is available to any resident of Perth County,” said Morrice. “Our TNR program is less focused on colonies now, but we still do a lot for barn cats through that program. That is throughout Perth County as well.”
She suggested people check with their local Humane Societies and SPCA if they live outside Perth County.
“They will often have their TNR programs and their spay-neuter assistance, so it’s a good place to start, but there are various organizations like us, so I would search for programs in your area,” said Morrice.
She recommended the East Village Animal Hospitals (EVAH) for people in Southwestern Ontario. They operate three non-profit veterinary clinics for low-income pet owners in London, Kitchener and Hamilton.
“They are a successful model, and it started with their London clinic,” said Morrice. “They cover a large area of Ontario … It’s such a great idea because spaying and neutering and medical care are beyond the means of a lot of people. Feline Friends can’t cover medical care for people’s pets, and we often get that question. So somewhere like EVAH is just a godsend.”
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