April 15, 2021

An Imperfect Solution

The Ottawa Humane Society is a long-time advocate of keeping cats indoors, unless safe in a “catio” or on a leash with her owner. At the OHS, I regularly see the sad reality for cats allowed to roam: frostbite; disease; accidental, or even intentional injuries. I always tense up when I see a cat loose, picturing what could happen to her.

The reality though, is that many families still allow their cats to roam, regardless of the dangers to their cat and the toll their kitties take on bird and small mammal populations.

Despite all these realities, the OHS and many shelters across North America are taking a different approach to admitting cats. In the past, open admission shelters like the OHS advised bringing all loose cats to be sheltered. Many of us have been rethinking this. Newer research suggests that cats are up to 50 times more likely to be reunited with their family if they don’t go to a shelter. A lot of cats don’t shelter well. They can easily become stressed even in a modern, well-designed shelter like the OHS. Latent illnesses, like upper respiratory infections, can come to the fore, some so severe to be life-threatening. Shockingly, few people search for their lost cat, and here and in most shelters, the return-to-owner rate remains abysmally low at about eight percent. In the summer months, the OHS can receive 30 or more cats on any given day, taxing the shelter even in non-pandemic times. This leaves a huge number of cats to be rehomed every year, using resources that might be better deployed for animals truly in distress.

So, like many shelters, we are asking our community to carefully consider the cats they see outdoors. Is she in distress or just loose? She may be a block away from home and return within hours. We will always be here for animals in distress, but if she is not, and she is healthy and relatively safe, it’s quite possible that cat may be better off where she is.

Here are some signs to evaluate distress in a cat. Does she appear:

  • Injured?
  • Sick?
  • In or near traffic or other obvious dangers?
  • Elderly or malnourished?
  • Very young?
  • Outside in cold or inclement weather or when bad weather is expected?
  • In distress in any other way?

In any of these situations, the cat should be contained and brought to the OHS by you or Ottawa Bylaw Services. Bylaw can be contacted through the city’s 311 system. Even if she seems OK, we welcome your call. We can share tips to figure out where her owner is and whether she might need help. You can also read more about this on our website.

This is clearly an imperfect solution. The real solution is for everyone to keep their cats safe at all times. But, until we are there, this is likely the best solution.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO