Animal welfare groups say the population of stray and feral cats in at least one Metro Vancouver city has ballooned out of control.

The Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association, or VOKRA, estimates that there are 20,000 stray cats in Surrey alone.

"It's a little disturbing to find that so many are tame,” says Marlene Dunbrack, a volunteer cat trapper with VOKRA. “It has to be because people are abandoning them."  

Stray and feral cats live harsh lives made short by disease, cars, or coyotes, she says.

They can also be a nuisance.

Kittens trapped by VOKRA volunteer in Surrey - Aug. 2014

These three kittens were taken in by a volunteer with the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association, or VOKRA. (CBC)

Surrey resident Victoria Keddis has been dealing with stray cats in her backyard for years. During mating season they keep her up, yowling and fighting all night.

They also sprayed urine across her property and used her vegetable garden as a giant litter box.

"It was a really uncomfortable place for our pet to live," Keddis told CBC News. “And it was uncomfortable for us."

VOKRA says its efforts in Vancouver have led to fewer feral cats there, but it lacks the funds to do more in Surrey.

Surrey Animal Resource Centre Manager Kim Marosevic says the city doesn't have enough money to support the group's work.

"I think the reality is that the city's resources are stretched in a lot of different directions,” says Marosevic. “Grant funding is something that a lot of different groups are applying for on an annual basis."

How to catch a stray cat RAW1:51

A provincewide problem

The B.C. SPCA says the problem isn't limited to Surrey. It calls the situation in all of B.C. a "cat crisis."

"We have a problem across the province. It's in First Nations Reserves, it's in trailer parks, it's in cities, farms,” says Amy Morris, policy and outreach officer with the B.C. SPCA.

“There's a colony in every possible house that you can find and every colony seems to be getting bigger and bigger."

Morris says she’s seen some cat colonies with as many as 200 feral cats.

She offers a few solutions. First and foremost, Morris says pet owners should spay or neuter their cats, especially if they’re allowed outside.

But she’s also calling for a cultural shift: to treat cats with the same respect we treat dogs.

For example, she says, it’s less socially acceptable to abandon a dog than it seems to be to abandon a cat.

According to Morris, education campaigns in the '70s and '80s led to fewer stray dogs as people were encouraged to tag, collar and spay or neuter them.

She hopes to see cities and districts invest resources sooner rather than later.

“It’s ultimately a problem that will become worse if the resources aren’t invested now,” she says.