Do you know where the 261,252 Canadian cats in shelters came from? Humane Canada’s Cats in Canada 2017 report shows that far too many of them are simply lost.
According to the research, 61% of cats in shelters in 2016 were strays brought in by the public. A further 26% were surrendered by their owners, and 13% were transfers from other shelters. Stray cats are pets living outdoors because they’ve gotten lost or been abandoned. Some are fed by someone who doesn’t think of them as their own pets, sometimes referred to as ‘semi-ownership.’*
With time, a portion of stray cats will become less and less comfortable around people, i.e. become feral. Estimates of Canada’s feral cat population range from 1 to 4.2 million – no one really knows. Even at the lowest estimate, reducing that population is urgent, both in terms of animal welfare and wildlife conservation. We need to stop creating more feral or unowned cats if we are going to have any hope of solving Canada’s cat overpopulation problem.
According to these figures nearly 160,000 cats were lost or abandoned and ended up in shelters in 2016. The actual number is probably much higher, considering that not all strays ever make it into a shelter.
Ten percent of those stray cats are reclaimed by their owners, so 16,000 of those 160,000 cats got home. (By way of comparison, 68% of dogs in shelters are reclaimed by their owners.) That brings the number down to 144,000, or almost 400 new lost or abandoned cats every single day of the year.
This has got to stop.
It’s impossible to judge how many of these cats were lost versus abandoned. Abandonment is a cruel and reprehensible practice, not to mention an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. But even if only half of the total were lost, the numbers still make one thing absolutely clear: Canadians really need to keep better track of their cats.
While shelters do a great job of finding new homes for many of these cats, we need to stop taking their work for granted. Shelters are mostly dependent on volunteers and donations, and they have enough to handle without dealing with so many lost pets. They’re working hard to improve their reclaimed-by-owner rates, increase adoptions and decrease euthanisation. It’s time we helped by taking full responsibility for our cats.
There will always be some cats that escape and get lost, but we can definitely reduce this number. (If you have an escape artist cat, click here for some tips on how to retrain them.)
What to do?
We need to keep our pets safe, and the first step is knowing where they are. We have to supervise our cats outdoors, or keep them in. Only then can we protect them from outdoor dangers, keep them from getting lost, and protect birds and other wildlife from them. Not only does it keep your pet and wildlife safer, it reduces the pressure on shelters and contributes to the solution to Canada’s unowned cat population problem.
* Feeding stray or homeless cats without making sure they are spayed or neutered increases cat overpopulation and related suffering. It’s critical that people who feed a cat they don’t consider their own ensure that the cat gets fixed. (Many cities have programs that offer low-cost spay-neuter services for stray cats.)