Categories: volunteers

Informal feral cat support in North America is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the authorities

The huge network of volunteers in the USA and Canada who care for feral cats is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the authorities. It may be in the billions because it is hard to estimate as often the volunteers are ‘invisible’ to the authorities.

Anna Szarek checks her feral cats’ food, water and shelter.

I am referring to the mainly ladies and men, up and down the country and in Canada who are part of TNR groups or who work independently. These individuals are often financially stretched. They often have limited incomes and tight personal budgets but spend a large part of it on caring for their feral cat colonies.

Nationwide, a very large amount of money is going into animal welfare services on an informal basis and outside any government managed program.

As these ladies simply can’t stop helping because they can’t turn their back on the cats who need help, the money they pay out in cat food and the time they spend, given freely without charge to anyone, can be a great burden that they carry for the benefit of society and the community in which they live. It is almost like an added tax to them.

Normally the authorities would pick up the problem and pay for it out of tax receipts. I feel that these volunteers need more recognition for the good work they do in reducing the expenses of local government and they need more help from local government.

Partnerships are the best way forward so that volunteers and local government work hand-in-hand and share the costs and effort required.

A classic case is reported in Mississauga.com but it could be reported by many other online newspapers. The story concerns Anna Szarek. She has stopped using her car to get to the feral cats she cares for to save money. She makes a 30-minute walk from her home regularly to re-stock food and water bowls and check all is well. It is reported that she spends over $10,000 a year on the feral cats and her cats combined. She does it because she loves the cats. The cats are her family.

She’s part of a large network, each going the same thing as Anna. Each giving their time and money freely and without complaint. Not seeking praise or acknowledgement. They just do it because they feel that they have to. Because they can’t let the cats starve and die and live miserable lives.

“It is just something that you can’t stop doing. Like how do you ignore it. You can’t.” – Michelle Bernardo who manages a colony in Brampton.

They can’t stop and they can’t afford it. They are between a rock and a hard place. This is where the city or county authorities should step in to assist by working in partnership. It is unfair that a small group of volunteers should take this burden on.

And if the authorities do join in it is possible to run more efficient TNR programs which reduces the number of cats and easing the burden further on the volunteers. I know that there are many such local authority/volunteer partnerships in the USA but there needs to be more.

Perversely it seems that the volunteers can make work for themselves. Where they tend to a feral cat colony, irresponsible people take advantage and dump cats in that area knowing that the cats will be cared for. Sometimes they distrust animal shelters because they believe that their abandoned cats will be euthanised at the shelter. Although euthanasia rates at shelters in the USA have fallen and there are more no-kill shelters, there remains a history of killing at shelters which may put some people off taking their unwanted cats to them.

In the case of Anna, changes may be coming. Animal services don’t finance volunteers who do TNR at present but Jay Smith, the manager of Mississauga Animal Services said that the relationship between city and volunteers may change with financial support. A city council member Carolyn Parish said:

“I’m hoping the committee raises awareness, provides budgetary assistance to the volunteer groups, speeds up bylaw changes and makes Mississauga a better place for its animals…”

This should be the norm in North America. The feral cat caring volunteers are a huge resource for good on the continent. The authorities should work with them to magnify the good that they do and to recognise their efforts.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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