Top News

Newfoundlanders, Nova Scotians working together to try to save Little Bay Islands cats, waiting on N.L. government reply on feral felines' fate

Some of the feral cats from Little Bay Islands that have been adopted by families, via the Exploits Valley SPCA. Photo Courtesy of Exploits Valley SPCA/Facebook
Some of the feral cats from Little Bay Islands that have been adopted by families, via the Exploits Valley SPCA. Photo Courtesy of Exploits Valley SPCA/Facebook - Contributed

'There’s no need for the killing of cats that can be relocated and helped.'

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Cat lovers had their claws out on social media Dec. 10 after the provincial government issued a news release indicating some feral cats on Little Bay Islands could potentially be euthanized. 

“With relocation of residents from Little Bay Islands underway, the provincial government is working collaboratively with a private veterinarian to ensure feral cats in the community are safely trapped, assessed by qualified professionals and, if necessary, euthanized in a humane manner,” read part of the news release from Fisheries and Land Resources shortly before 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The release said animals considered good candidates for adoption would be taken to an animal shelter, but that adult feral cats “are poor candidates for successful adoption because they will not interact with people, cannot be picked up or handled safely, and do not have the necessary skills to fend for themselves or survive without human help.”

Linda Felix is president of Spay Day HRM Society, a Halifax-based charity that offered to help the cats when she was asked by former Little Bay Islands residents who were concerned about the felines’ fates.

She said the province’s news release “makes us sound like a Third-World country.”

“Killing animals is not the answer to anything, in my opinion,” Felix said.

She was not alone in her outrage at the government’s response to the cat population problem on Little Bay Islands — estimated to be about 50 cats, though no one is sure of the exact number.

The colony grew naturally over time when stray cats were not spayed or neutered. The cats on the island are not pets left behind by resettled residents, a former resident told The Telegram.



Veterinarian withdraws services

By Tuesday afternoon, the government had issued a second news release indicating the veterinarian who was contracted to assess the feral cat population withdrew their services. 

“The withdrawal occurred this afternoon and is respectfully accepted, as is the right to privacy of the individual concerned, especially in the wake of an extensive outpouring on social media following this morning’s announcement of the plan to assist these animals,” reads the release.

The release went on to say the Animal Health Division did not expect to find a suitable replacement veterinarian in the coming weeks. 

The Telegram asked the department several emailed questions after a request to interview minister Gerry Byrne was declined because he was not available. The department spokesperson’s response to the emailed questions said the department did not have anything else to add other than the second news release.

“Killing animals is not the answer to anything, in my opinion." — Linda Felix

Felix said she made a formal offer of help on Monday, but did not get a response from the government. 

Regarding feral cats, she said those that could not be socialized by volunteers skilled in such tasks would become barn cats.

Her group’s Nova Scotia barn cat program provides care for feral cats on farms and in barns, sending the cats to families after they are spayed or neutered. She said the program has been running for four years and is very successful.

“There’s no need for the killing of cats that can be relocated and helped,” she said.

Working with Felix is Sonya Higgins, a former Corner Brook resident who now runs a cat rescue society in Nova Scotia.

“If they refuse our offer for help, it’s going to be a stain on the reputation of Newfoundland and Labrador because our beautiful province relies heavily on tourism, and this situation has been shared not just nationally,” said Higgins.

She said they are already making reservations with Marine Atlantic and she hopes to begin trapping and rehoming cats from Little Bay Islands as soon as possible.

Higgins is working with former Little Bay Islands resident Colleen Roberts, and resident Carol Hull, who is in the process of resettling. 

Hull has already rescued 23 cats from the island. They were taken to the Exploits Valley SPCA, which has found homes for 20 of the cats so far. 

Roberts said that when she lived on the island in the 1980s and 1990s it was common to feed the cats.

When resettlement became official in September, she said, it sent people into “panic mode” to make arrangements for the cats before Dec. 31, the relocation date for the island, after which ferry services would be suspended.

“We were trying to reach the government, we were trying to make arrangements to put some funding in place … but there was no place for the cats to go. The SPCA didn’t have room. Nobody had room for the volume of cats that had to come in.”

That’s when many people worked together to hatch the plan to work with the Nova Scotia organizations, she said.

Not suitable for adoption

Roberts said “it nearly destroyed” her when she read the government news release Tuesday morning.

“It’s heartbreaking to me because these animals, it’s not their fault. It was created by people in the beginning.

“Now we’ve got people and organizations that are willing to go the distance to do whatever it takes to get these cats out, and the group in Nova Scotia are determined that they have space available.

“It’s just heartbreaking – heartbreaking – and devastating, and just inexcusable to think that the government is not open to that kind of plan to happen, and just want to go in there, and – there’s no words to describe the feeling that it gives me. I’m so disappointed.”

In the province’s second news release Tuesday afternoon, it acknowledged the concerns people have for the cats’ welfare, and the efforts of community groups offering to rehome the cats.

“However, veterinarians with the Animal Health Division continue to remind people that adult feral cats are not considered to be suitable for adoption,” reads the release. 

“Feral cats cannot survive without the assistance of humans, and the release of animals into unsupported environments is not recommended.”

Meanwhile, Higgins said a growing feral cat population is not only a problem on Little Bay Islands, but across the province. She urges people to contact elected officials and demand that the government provide funding for local trap, neuter and return programs to control the population.

“Things could turn around in Newfoundland if we make this the turning point,” she said.

Want to join the conversation? Comments are open for this article at SaltWire.com

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


RELATED:

Recent Stories