Harding Boulevard—a picturesque street leading to Scarsborough Bluffs Park, which overlooks Lake Ontario--just hasn’t been the same since the ‘neighbors from hell’ moved in, residents say.
These new neighbors are not burly bikers, not a heavy-metal band and not drug traffickers. They are feral cats. The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage they’ve caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
About 13 feral cats that have been trapped and spayed or neutered were reportedly released to occupy the quaint boulevard near Kingston and Birchmount Roads. They use backyards as living rooms and front porches as urinals, residents report.
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“This award-winning, stupid policy that the City of Toronto now has--they’re forcing it upon us against our will,” Flanders told Metro News. “It stinks to high heaven here.”
“Trap-neuter-return” (TNR), has increasingly become the city’s way of dealing with abandoned, stray cats that become “wild” within a generation and reproduce in the streets and under people’s houses. By sterilizing them, the cat overpopulation is supposed to decrease, but that’s not much consolation to homeowner’s whose property has become the involuntary depositories of often dozens of feral cats.
A benefit to the budget of city government is that TNR is done by individuals volunteering their time and money to trap the belligerent and often terrified animals and get them “fixed;” then drop them back in the same location where they were found (although some skeptics say the “R” in TNR and also stand for “relocate,” which means dropping them off on someone else’s street or property.)
In recent years, “Trap-neuter-return” (TNR) has become Toronto’s way of dealing with a problem that is a political nightmare because of the vocal factions on both sides. TNR was scheduled to became part of the Toronto animal bylaw on Thursday, reports Metro News
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Whereas a 311 complaint used to get homeless tabbies “locked up in shelters,” says Animal Services vet Esther Attard, “now the policy is we’ll trap them, sterilize them and return them back to their location of origin” — even if that’s right beside your house.
That approach is experiencing a backlash. Wildlife conservationists say the outdoor colonies are destroying songbird populations; residents say they are destroying their lives.
But the policy also has its supporters, some of which have undoubtedly been the recipients of donations from the very residents who are now seeing their property values and quality of life plummet.
The Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition website states, “The Ontario SPCA’s now has a sustainable supply of free cat dry and canned food at the Newmarket location. This food will be available to any feral cat colony caretaker who has completed the Training Workshop.”
RESIDENTS WHO OPPOSE TNR CALLED “PROBLEM NEIGHBORHOODS”
At least 11 “problem neighborhoods,” where locals oppose the feline settlements, were identified by the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition--a team of volunteer cat-rescue groups that carries out the city’s TNR strategy, according to Metro News.
At their worst, says the Coalition’s Roxanne St. Germain, some residents have “poisoned cats and gotten very aggressive with caretakers.”
In March, the TNR Coaltion sent representatives to Harding Blvd. to deal with its colony. Neighbors made it clear they wanted the cats gone. But, instead, volunteers TNR’ed the feral felines and found a resident willing to feed the non-reproducing returnees twice a day on her porch, states Metro News.
HARDING BLVD. RESIDENTS SAY THEY WERE NOT CONSULTED
Harding residents argue that the Coalition never consulted them before establishing a cat colony in their neighborhood and they want it moved. The Coalition says moving such colonies elsewhere isn’t good for the cats because they are territorial.
Coalition leaders say the city’s feral cats--estimated at more than 100,000-- can’t be adopted into households. Because they are too wild to be domesticated, many ferals are taken to shelters and euthanized —a trend the coalition hopes to curb using TNR to stop them from reproducing.
You don’t have to like cats,” says Denise Harkins, president of Action Volunteers for Animals, part of the Coalition. “But they are entitled to live just as much as human beings are.”
ARE CATS MORE ENTITLED TO LIVE THAN BIRDS?
Phil Drinnan, who lives a block from Harding Blvd., argues birds are entitled to live just as much as cats, and ferals have been mauling the Bluejays and Orioles that used to swoop into his backyard. “We had to take our bird feeder down,” he told the Metro News.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre gets inundated with calls about animals injured by outdoor cats, says education coordinator Erin Luther. “They are the biggest threat to songbirds other than habitat loss.”
SHOULD THE PUBLIC HAVE A SAY BEFORE TNR IS ENACTED?
Dr. Liana Zanette, a University of Western Ontario professor who studies wildlife populations, says it’s unfair that the public has no say in whether TNR should become part of the city’s bylaw. “Usually, if there’s an environmental problem, then there’s an environmental impact assessment and a public decision should be made about what to do,” she says.
Zanette argues TNR doesn’t work because people dump their unwanted cats into existing colonies. But municipalities often find it cheaper to rely on rescue groups to deal with the cat overpopulation crisis, she says.
IS TNR COMING TO LOS ANGELES NEXT?
Few residents of Los Angeles are aware or understood the significance of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee of the Los Angeles City Council approving $52,000 donated by such benefactors as Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA in October 2012 to be used for a CEQA to establish a TNR (“Cat Program”) in the city of Los Angeles.
Then, at the June 25, 2013, meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services Commissioners, Item 3D was an update on the “Cat Program” (CEQA). However, the extensive report prepared by Brenda Barnette, General Manager, is NOT available on line for review by the public. The report can be requested from the Department of Animal Services at (888) 452-7381 or through any Los Angeles City Council office.
Barnette's report (dated June 20, 2013) is titled, Discussion Item: Proposed "Cat Program" Purpose and Program Description." On Page 3, it states under DRAFT CAT PROGRAM PROJECT PURPOSE AND DESCRIPTION:
"In order to proceed with a CEQA study, the Department prepared a "project description"...the Cat Program is intended to authorize TNR and the Department's measured support for it without the Department embarking on a major TNR program of its own.”"
At the July 23, 2013, meeting of the LAAS Commission, General Manager Barnette announced that the CEQA Environmental Review Document will be released soon for public review but gave no indication that its purpose would be clearly explained to the public and its availability widely advertised.
(Note: Anyone interested in this issue should also review Urban Wildlands Group vs. City of Los Angeles, et al (Case No. BS 115483).filed on June 26, 2008. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the City had been conducting a TNR program without an environmental clearance, and a modified court injunction was issued in March 2010 and is currently in effect.)
SHOULD THE EXPERIENCE OF TORONTO BE A WARNING FOR LOS ANGELES?
It is doubtful that residents of Los Angeles--nor Neighborhood Councils, businesses or homeowners associations--will be specifically alerted to the fact that an environmental impact study available for review is for the purpose of enacting a TNR program in the city of Los Angeles and could seriously affect their private property rights. Nor will property or business owners be made aware that their property could suddenly be invaded by feral cats which they cannot remove under a new law ordaining TNR programs.
The issues that are facing Toronto residents are alarming and create serious public health and safety concerns in addition to wildlife issues. Coyotes, already a problem in urban areas of Los Angeles, are often attracted to locations where feral cats are being fed.
Perhaps the TNR woes of Harding Boulevard should be taken seriously by Angelenos. It looks like Los Angeles could be next!