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A cat rescue group says the number of stray cats will jump in Saint John because of recent budget cuts. (CBC) (CBC)

A cat rescue group is warning that Saint John could soon face a big problem with stray cats after city council passed a new animal control bylaw.

Saint John’s new animal control bylaw is excluding cats and the city will stop paying to shelter strays.

The decisions were made to cut costs, but Jody Hartley, the co-director of the Saint John branch of Cat Rescue Maritimes, said the cutbacks will cause a surge in stray cats.

"We notice that we are receiving a lot more calls to pick up stray animals, for injured animals," Hartley said.

"I'm not sure if people realize that we do not do animal control and we do not have a shelter."

Last year, the Animal Rescue League took care of 1,200 cats for the city. But the city's budget cuts will mean the Animal Rescue League will no longer take care of those cats.

Hartley said she expects that with that avenue closed the stray and feral cat population in Saint John will increase dramatically.

Budget cuts

On Feb. 1, council passed the 2012 budget, which cut $9 million in services across the board. Animal control was one of those services.

Saint John council approved a new contract with the SPCA-Animal Rescue League on Monday night that will see the city pay the non-profit group $80,000. Last year, the city gave the SPCA $160,000 in funding.

In the new arrangement, Saint John will not pay to shelter stray cats in a city that already has a large population of them.

Gilles Barieau, a horse owner, said the stray cat population goes up and down. But he has seen a lot of cats at times at Exhibition Park Raceway.

He said the large number of cats would show themselves, in particular, when a neighbour of the track makes visits to feed them.

"They'd see his car come in the gate and you'd see this big flock of cats — 20, like I say — the whole herd would come running to him," Barieau said.

When Hartley looks at those horse barns, she said the quality of life for the feral cats will not be great.

She said they will likely die from disease, from attacks by other animals or after being struck by a car.