- BC Games
The start of a cat colony
It doesn’t take long for a pair of cats to produce a litter if they are “intact,” says Iris Carr, founding member of the Coast Animal Welfare and Education Society (CAWES). And a litter can quickly turn into a colony if the cats don’t get neutered or spayed and Carr fears that this is what is going to happen on Bowen Island.
“People often tell us when there are new kittens and we contact the owners to offer help,” Carr said, explaining that CAWES makes an effort to assist with the vet bill for getting the cats sterilized, in order to keep the local cat population under control. For strays, CAWES captures the cats and kittens for sterilization and, if possible, adoption. But recently, CAWES volunteers encountered resistance from a Bowen family who did not want the cats “fixed.”
Carr is worried that the one pair (and its first litter of kittens) will affect Bowen’s cat population drastically. “Statistics vary about how quickly intact felines can multiply, depending on who’s providing them and what ratios are taken into account. Using a fairly conservative ratio: feral cats have an average of 1.4 litters per year, with an average 3.5 live births in each litter. That equals 4.9 kittens per year, per female feral cat. Therefore, a pair of breeding cats and their offspring can produce 420,000 kittens over a seven-year period,” a press release from CAWES says.
Carr has witnessed these kind of scenarios before. When she moved to Bowen Island 15 years ago, she met Rosalie Parish, who was trying to get a difficult situation under control.
“There was a feral cat colony of about 15 cats in Millers Landing and Rosalie was struggling to get the cats neutered and spayed,” Carr said. “That was why we founded CAWES together in 2000.”
The Millers Landing colony was not the only one on the island. There were also groups of cats on Seniors Road and on Taylor Road that numbered 15 and 25 respectively. Through CAWES’ efforts, the felines were spayed. The organization also set up feeding stations and helped to find homes for the strays.
“Two years later, there was another colony at the end of Mount Gardner Road,” Carr recalls. “There were at least 12 cats.” Through years of monitoring, building public awareness and working with the community, Carr feels that the cat population on Bowen has stabilized. And some of the feeding stations have been closed. But one breeding pair of cats can easily upset that balance.
Carr said that CAWES was alerted to the new litter in a mid-island location by concerned residents.
“The pets in question are not allowed inside the house but stay in the barn. The owners say they are being fed, but we’re predicting that soon it will become too costly to feed them,” she said, adding that some of the cats will probably look elsewhere for sustenance. That, in turn, could lead to the start of another colony. The need to establish territories can lead to fighting – with each other and with resident pets – and lots of territorial spraying.
CAWES still has feeding stations and helps pets that are awaiting adoptions but feral cat colonies are not something Carr wants to see again. She is asking community members to help persuade neighbours to have outdoor pets neutered or spayed. She is also hoping to work together with the Bowen Island Municipality to create a bylaw that requires cat owners to either keep their intact pets over the age of six months indoors or have them sterilized. She believes that in a small island community it would be possible to enforce such a bylaw.
“That would give us the means to go to people and tell them that it’s the law that they have their cats spayed. We shouldn’t have to beg people to let us help them,” she says. The litter mid-island is only one of the issues CAWES has learned about recently.
“We had three litters of three each in addition to that,” Carr said, adding that CAWES was able to help sterilize the females in those cases. Cat colonies are not an isolated problem and Carr says many communities face similar situations. But Bowen Island has come a long way with the help of CAWES, whose advocates do not want to see the bad situation of 13 years ago repeated.