Meet the people saving stray cats in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension

Stray cats may seem like a part of city life, but every spring, their numbers multiply, and many of them die. Now an SPCA program to sterilize and care for stray cats has come to Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

'Seeing dead cats, it's really, really hard emotionally,' says Villeray resident Geneviève Szczepanik

Villeray resident Geneviève Szczepanik looks after a dozen or more stray cats who live in her busy alleyway. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

It's dinner time at Geneviève Szczepanik's Villeray home, but there are other mouths to feed before it's her turn. As she pours kibble into metal bowls, five or six scruffy-looking cats enter her yard from the alley nearby.

"After a few days, if I haven't seen one, I start to get worried," said Szczepanik.

She isn't the only one concerned about the large number of stray cats in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension. This spring, the borough launched a program to trap, sterilize and care for stray cats, in partnership with the Montreal SPCA.

The goal is to keep the stray cat population under control, especially during the springtime baby boom. Recently, Szczepanik found a dead kitten on her back balcony.

"There was this tiny, little black [kitten], still attached to the placenta," said Szczepanik.

This is one of the grey cats in Geneviève Szczepanik's yard. The small cut on its left ear denotes that it has been trapped and sterilized by the SPCA. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

How to trap a cat — not so easy

The SPCA's program goes by the acronym TNRM, which stands for trap, neuter, release and maintain.

To trap cats, citizens like Szczepanik are provided with large metal cages, in which to place food. But not every cat takes the bait.

"Some cats even know how to get the food without closing the trap," said Szczepanik.

Once they're safely in the cage, Szczepanik brings the cats to the SPCA, where they are neutered or spayed. When they're ready, Szczepanik releases the cats back to her alleyway, where she feeds and takes care of them, building shelters in the winter.

Szczepanik's neighbours have even adopted one of the cats, a feline they named Velcro because of her cuddly nature.

"She was always grabbing us, like, 'Just pet me. Love me, please!'" said Szczepanik.

These are just some of the cats which Geneviève Szczepanik takes care of, seen here eating during the summer of 2017. (submitted by Geneviève Szczepanik)

Neighbourhood tensions

Although the SPCA's program is just getting underway in Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, Szczepanik says some of her neighbours aren't happy about having a large number of cats living and eating near their homes.

"It's not the most wonderful thing when you garden and [have flowers], and cats start pooping everywhere," she said.

Borough Mayor Giuliana Fumagalli says she hasn't received any complaints about the program, which the SPCA currently runs in 12 boroughs across the city. Fumagalli has signed a two-year, $20,000 contract for the program, and she hopes many citizens take part. 

"We see this as win-win. We make sure the cats are taken care of," said Fumagalli.

Citizens interested in participating in the program must get a form signed by their landlord, authorizing them to carry out trapping and feeding on their territory, and must receive training given by the SPCA.


Rebecca Ugolini

Radio producer

Rebecca Ugolini is a born-and-raised Montrealer who loves covering the city for CBC Montreal's Daybreak. Follow her on Twitter at @RebeccaUgolini.