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Nasty, Brutish and Short
Yesterday was National Feral Cat Day. I hope you will take a moment to think about these neglected felines. These cats live a hard life—one that is nasty, brutish and short.
A feral cat, defined by Alley Cat Allies is, “…a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors.”
A feral cat is distinct from a stray cat, even if the cat has been stray for a long period of time, and from a “loosely-owned” or “porch” cat, a cat that is fed by one or more people in a neighbourhood who do not accept full responsibility for the cat’s care. Stray and loosely-owned cats are or were once socialized to humans. They may be wary and skittish around humans if they have not a had recent or extensive human contact, but they are not fearful to the extent that feral cats are.
Feral cats occupy a grey zone in the world of animal welfare. They are not wildlife per se. They are interlopers in our natural world and can cause considerable destruction in wild bird and mammal populations. They were introduced through human irresponsibility, and therefore are a human responsibility.
But they are not fully domestic pets either. They cannot just be rounded up and socialized. Kittens up to four months can be socialized, but adults will frequently injure themselves trying to escape when confined. Their panic in prolonged confinement is simply not humane.
Most progressive humane societies like the OHS practice “TNR” or “Trap, Neuter, Return” to address the needs of feral cats. Feral cats are removed from a colony, sterilized, vaccinated, and then returned to the colony. If newly introduced cats—new stray cats and the feral’s kittens—are consistently removed, the colony will disappear over time. Studies indicate that simply removing all the members of a colony does not work. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum and other cats simply come to occupy the vacant colony, generally because of its proximity to shelter, food and water. The effectiveness of TNR was proven with the gradual elimination of the Parliament Hill Colony by some amazingly committed volunteers and the OHS a few years ago.
Like so many issues in animal welfare, controversies rage, and numbers of animals often exceed our resources to help. There are likely dozens of colonies in the Ottawa area, possibly many more. In fact, one of these controversies is how many feral cats there actually are in a given community. The OHS helps a handful of colony “caretakers” with surgical and other medical services, and we are very proud of our role in humanely eliminating the Parliament Hill colony, but our efforts are likely the proverbial drop in the bucket. Our best hope is education and promoting the kind of responsibility that would stop feral cats from coming into existence in the first place, through spaying and neutering cats and not letting them roam. The OHS’s own Mobile Spay Neuter Program is expected to make a significant reduction in the numbers of feral cats, but this takes time.
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2019 Media Releases
- Protect Pets from Cold Temperatures This Winter (December 5, 2019)
- We woof you a Merry Critter Christmas! (November 29, 2019)
- Santa Paws is Coming to Town! (November 27, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society Welcomes new Ontario Animal Protection Legislation (October 29, 2019)
- OHS Halloween safety tips for your pets (October 28, 2019)
- It’s Howl-O-Ween at the Ottawa Humane Society! (October 24, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society to Host its First Adopt-a-thon, Over 180 Animals Looking for Homes (October 4, 2019)
- Emaciated Puppy Found in Wooded Area Comes Into Ottawa Humane Society Care (October 3, 2019)
- Seniors’ Day at the Ottawa Humane Society (September 26, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society Honours Community’s Contributions at its Annual General Meeting (September 23, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society Animal Stolen from Pet Valu on Ogilvie Road, $200 Reward for Tips Leading to a Safe Return (September 16, 2019)
- PetSmart Charities’ National Adoption Weekend to Feature Ottawa Humane Society Cats at Ottawa Locations (September 12, 2019)
- 31st Annual Ottawa Humane Society Wiggle Waggle Walk & Run Fundraising Event (September 5, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society to Feature Long-Stay Adopt-From-Foster Pets at Upcoming Adoption Event (August 20, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society to Participate in PetSmart Adoption Event in Response to a Recent Population Surge (August 15, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society Urging Pet Owners to Keep Pets Safe During Travel, After Two Dogs Fall Out of Moving Vehicles in One Day (August 9, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society Nearing Capacity and Still Filling, Seeking Community’s Help to Avoid Crisis (July 30, 2019)
- 38 Kittens Transferred to Ottawa Humane Society – Most Ready for Adoption (July 17, 2019)
- Increased Danger to Pets Left Alone in Cars as Heat Wave Blankets City: Ottawa Humane Society (July 3, 2019)
- Canada Day: The Perfect Pet Storm (June 28, 2019)
- See an Animal in Distress? The OHS wants to make sure you know who to call. (June 24,2019)
- The Ottawa Humane Society Encouraging Businesses to be Dog-Friendly (June 17, 2019)
- The Ottawa Humane Society is Now Finding Homes for Feral Cats (May 30, 2019)
- Get a Microchip For Your Pet: The Difference Between Lost and Found (May 2, 2019)
- Protect Pets from Spring Dangers (April 4, 2019)
- Update on Wandering and Starving Labrador-cross Dog (March 22, 2019)
- This February, Love is in the Air at the Ottawa Humane Society (February 7, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society to Hold Microchip Clinic Sunday, Feb. 10 (February 5, 2019)
- Stray Cat Rescued by Ottawa Fire Services Recovering in Ottawa Humane Society Care after Wandering onto the Rideau River (January 31, 2019)
- Protect Pets From Dangerously Cold Temperatures (January 22, 2019)
- No more “ruff” days at the office! (January 18, 2019)
- Ottawa Humane Society to Hold Microchip Clinic Sunday, Jan. 13 (January 7, 2019)
Bilingualism and Beyond
One of the happiest days in my work life was in 2014 when the OHS was finally in a financial position to hire a Humane Education Coordinator to deliver our education services in French. It was the fulfilment of a promise I had made to a supporter years before, and I was delighted.
Since then, the OHS has made very significant strides in our ability to provide French services. Each year, we translate more and more of our materials as a part of our translation plan. And last year alone, we reached an amazing 4,606 children and young people in French with our programming — representing 25% of all those we reached last year.
I am contacted from time to time from supporters who believe that everything we do and everything we produce at the OHS should be done in English and French. We have always, of course, ensured that clients with immediate needs, such as those relinquishing or claiming a pet, or those contacting us with urgent questions, can be served in French. But while I am sympathetic to those wanting the OHS to be 100% bilingual, I know that the resources that would have to be redeployed to translation from care and programming would be ruinous, as the cost of this is enormous and the ultimate cost in animal lives unacceptable. So, we have found compromises and have adopted a less comprehensive, but I think reasonable, approach to growing our bilingual capability.
When the board came to develop our current strategic plan three years ago, it recognized that, given the diverse make-up of our community, communicating in English and French alone was not sufficient. Ottawa is no longer simply a French-English community. It is far more diverse than that. The plan recognizes that the OHS needs to better reflect the linguistic and cultural make-up of the community we serve. And so we consulted with groups in Ottawa who are serving Newcomers to Canada and from this are developing programs and partnerships to help them to navigate Canada’s pet culture and unique wildlife, ultimately to the benefit of animals and the Newcomers.
And I am as happy about this next phase of our evolution and the development of animal welfare in our community as I was in 2014 when the OHS finally broke our bilingualism barrier.
Another Industry’s Time Has Come
Everyone who cares about animals was disappointed to see the charges against Marineland dropped last week. Later, we were alarmed to hear about yet another round of complaints about Papanack Zoo stemming from shocking undercover footage of the conditions there.
Papanack is closer to home. In fact, it is just outside of the jurisdiction of the OHS in an area long-served by the OSPCA. Of course, many of the zoo’s visitors are from Ottawa, and we have received many dozen complaints about it over my 17 years at the OHS; all were passed on to the OSPCA when received.
Across the country most complaints about these profit-making operations are based on the kind of limited protections available to animals under current legislation, such as access to food, water, shelter, etc. But here’s the thing: these issues are beside the point. Let’s move beyond whether animals in zoos and aquaria are cared for to a minimally acceptable standard and agree that their time is over. Like their travelling cousins, the circuses, the time of zoos and aquaria has passed. We know better now. Animals need more than food and water. They need to be with their own species. They need to live in social groups. They need to express natural behaviours.
That is why we are supporting the call from our national partner, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, for the formation of a federal/provincial task force to study the high number of animal deaths in Canada’s zoos, aquaria and other captive wildlife facilities and to determine a new animal protection framework for the industry. We hope that this process will result in real change. And, I hope, one day the end to these inherently inhumane businesses.
Rhinos, Fundraising, a Little Thought and a Little Research
My Facebook feed declared last night that the Western Black Rhinoceros had been declared officially extinct. I was sad. I have never seen one and now never would. The world — my world — felt diminished without this creature in it. Because of the prevalence of false news on social media, I decided to make sure the story was true. Snopes, my go to source for reality, confirmed the story. The demise of Western Black Rhino has indeed happened. In 2006. Okay, that doesn’t make it any better. But I am glad I took the time to check the story and didn’t share it.
Similarly, yesterday, I received a letter from an organization called Animal People Forum. The postmark was Jamaica, New York, though with a mailing address in the state of Washington. Overall the piece looked a bit odd. And despite my 17 years in animal welfare, I had never heard of this organization. So, I went to their website. I looks pretty good. But you have to read it carefully. They have four projects. One is called, “Beyond Human: Animals, Aliens and Artificial Intelligence.” Yikes. I’m glad I checked that one out too.
This all made me wonder how many letters hit our supporters’ mailboxes, and whether people check out what they receive. In my experience, people who care about animals are a very kind bunch. They want to help. Sadly, this can be taken advantage of. And there are groups that range from misleading and dubious to outright frauds ready to take advantage.
I would never presume to tell anyone the causes they should support but I hope and pray that people ensure that they are really supporting the issue they intend. It only takes little thought and a little research.
First, what are the issues you care about? Mainly domestic pets? Wildlife? Are you mainly concerned about local issues? National? International? All of the above? Do you want to support actual care for animals or do you think that awareness and advocacy are really going to affect change? Having considered these questions before that very emotional appeal hits your mailbox can help you to make sure your hard-earned cash does what you want it to.
The second consideration is whether the organization asking you for cash actually does what it says — or implies. A quick review of their website is sometimes all you need to do. What does this organization actually do? Be careful here, I have a seen some misleading practices. A few sites show animals for adoption, but none of the animals are actually in the care of that organization, just adoptable animals pulled from other websites. An organization may highlight an important issue, but it’s not clear what they are doing about it. I am very concerned about the loss of the Western Black Rhino, but the OHS website does not imply that we did anything to try to prevent it. Beware too of small gestures that are expensive and may not add up to significant change. Sending a staff team to China to adopt a few dogs from the meat markets and fly them back to Canada may raise awareness, and it certainly saves some canine lives, but is supporting the flights the best way to close the markets? Is it where you want to invest your money?
Other places you can check are the Canada Revenue Agency charities listings. Every registered charity in Canada is listed and you can easily find out how they spend their money with a few clicks. And if they are not a registered charity, ask yourself why not?
If it is a humane society asking for your support, are they a member of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS)? Most are. And another few clicks on the CFHS site can tell you.
You can always call us at the OHS too. We won’t provide a recommendation, but we sometimes can provide some basic facts and we will tell you if we work with a particular group. I hope that in the not-too-distant future accreditation of various sorts will help us all in separating the legitimate and effective from the dubious and misleading. That is why the OHS sought and achieved accreditation with Imagine Canada for excellence in board governance, financial accountability, fundraising, staff management, and volunteer involvement last year. We wanted to support this direction among not-for-profits and wanted to assure our community of supporters of our commitment.
Few charities have achieved this, and only one other humane society in Canada, the British Columbia SPCA, has done so to date. I am not suggesting that those that haven’t are not legitimate, but I look forward to a day when you and I can rely on this and other forms of accreditation to assure that our kindness is not exploited.
Until then, you and I can do it ourselves, through a little thought and a little research.
Different Cats, Different Solutions
As our new Mobile Spay/Neuter Vehicle hits the streets, the prospect for long-term solutions to cat overpopulation and cat welfare are becoming clearer. The thing is, cats in our community live in very different circumstances, there are many reasons for the problems, and all need tailored solutions.
A significant source of overpopulation is feral cats. Feral cats are not stray. They are generally the progeny of stray or roaming cats and have never lived with humans. They are not wildlife, nor are they pets. Their lives are generally nasty, brutish and short. According to the experts, our friends at Alley Cat Allies, adults cannot ever be truly socialized to humans, though their young kittens can be.
Then there are “porch” or “loosely owned” cats. These cats are socialized to humans, though may be very skittish. They have, or had, an owner and are fed and loosely cared for by a neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the neighbourhood’s care rarely extends to veterinary care or sterilization. Therefore, these cats are a significant source of unwanted litters. Those not vaccinated can be a reservoir for contagious feline disease.
It can be hard to identify a skittish stray or porch cat from a true feral cat. But in a shelter, socialized porch or owned cats will generally calm with time. Feral cats do not, and may injure themselves, sometimes severely, trying to escape. Their stress can be so intense that they can die of heart failure in a cage. It is not humane to shelter a severely distressed feral cat.
The issues of each type of cat are very different and require different solutions. Since most feral cats cannot be humanely housed, the standard humane practice is “TNR,” or trap/neuter/release, that is, capture, sterilize and vaccinate, and release them where they were found. Feral cat colonies can be phased out over time through TNR. The OHS assisted volunteers to phase out the famous Parliament Hill colony several years ago through TNR in advance of government intervention that may have seen the entire colony euthanized. The OHS will support other feral colony caretakers under certain conditions through free food and sterilization at our clinic.
Porch cats can and should be socialized and rehomed. If they are rehomed through the OHS, they will leave healthy, vaccinated and sterilized to a good home that is ready and able to care for them. They will no longer contribute to cat overpopulation.
I am feeling very positive and hopeful that our efforts are going to produce very significant results and quickly, changing the world for Ottawa’s cats by resolving the problem identified in the OHS’s new five-year strategic plan, that is, too many cats will live wretched lives as long as there are too many cats.
More than Good Manners
|Obedience classes and training have many benefits.|
It’s been quite a few years since I have had a dog in my home life. At the OHS, I am lucky to meet a lot of dogs, but a dog of my own just hasn’t been compatible with my busy work and personal life. As demanding as she can be, my cat Gracie — the Siamese who must be obeyed — doesn’t need as much time as the average dog. So, I have deferred adopting a dog to my retirement.
My last dog was a cocker spaniel. While sweet, and by no means truly badly behaved, Jennie could be a handful. I didn’t take her to obedience classes and I regret this now. Many OHS staff have outstandingly wonderful dogs. I realized over the years that the dogs didn’t come that way. They are great dogs because our staff made an investment of time and effort in training and obedience.
|Obedience classes can strengthen the bond
and their owners.
I have learned my lesson and when I finally bring a dog into my life again, I will spend the time to “create” a wonderful dog with classes. Most people want a dog with good manners and social skills when interacting with people, they want a dog that doesn’t jump up, scare children, or pull on the leash, and can respond to at least simple commands. Classes and training between classes can to do this. Moreover, studies suggest that classes and training enhance the communication and bond between people and their dogs. The time spent has many rewards.
Classes can save a dog’s life. By learning to recall, you can prevent her from being hit by a car or attacked by wildlife or unknown dogs. They can lessen or eliminate those behaviours that can make living with a dog a minor hell: destructiveness, excessive barking, and house soiling for example.
I have learned my lesson; I have been converted. My next dog will be wonderful. She may not be born that way, but that’s okay. I am going to help her become wonderful.
A Tragic Death
The world has been shocked and horrified by the shooting of Harambe, a 17-year-old silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. If you haven’t yet heard the story, a four-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure, and after some tense moments, with the gorilla dragging the boy around the compound and displaying behaviour that some have described as protective, others as dangerously agitated, zoo officials made the decision to shoot Harambe. The child was rescued, relatively unscathed and the gorilla is now dead.
I feel for everyone involved: the child, the distressed mother, the zoo employees called upon to shoot a creature that they had raised from birth — one of the last of his kind. As for Harambe, his death just makes me very, very sad.
I have looked at the footage of the incident, and have thoughts, but given I am in no way an expert, or even slightly conversant in gorilla behaviour, I will not stoke the fire. I will keep my observations to myself.
But here is what I do know: when there is conflict between humans and wild animals, whether they be a gorilla in a zoo, a performing elephant, or a fox living on a piece of land to be developed, the animal almost always loses.
What can you do? You can reject circuses, zoos and aquariums that exploit animals for entertainment. Rather than trapping and relocating wildlife on your property, you can learn to coexist. If we make these changes, maybe one day the animals will stop losing.