Montrealers work together to protect stray cats during winter

Fall temperatures haven't arrived yet, but a group of Montrealers is working to help feral cats survive the coming winter.

Volunteers dedicate time, money to help fight the city's overpopulation problem

Vanessa Anastasopoulos holds an annual party to assemble shelters for homeless cats. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Fall temperatures haven't arrived yet, but a group of Montrealers is working to help feral cats survive the coming winter.

In an effort to curb the city's overpopulation of cats, volunteers collaborate with the Montreal SPCA's sterilization project across nine municipalities and boroughs.

Trap, Neuter, Release and Maintain relies heavily on volunteers to help trap strays and then look after them after they are sterilized.

For Vanessa Anastasopoulos, it's a way to stop overpopulation while ensuring cats that are too feral to be adopted or socialized still lead happy and healthy lives.

About 30 volunteers showed up to help build cat shelters. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

"I spend about 25 hours a week as a volunteer doing this outside of my full-time job," Anastasopoulos said. "I don't do other things with my spare time."

Shelters made of styrofoam

Every year, Anastasopoulos welcomes volunteers into her Plateau Mont-Royal home for an afternoon party where they assemble dozens of winter shelters made from white Styrofoam boxes.

The boxes are donated by a Montreal oncologist and Anastasopoulos purchases the other materials with her own money. 

The shelters are lined with Mylar for insulation. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

The shelters are lined with Mylar for insulation to provide a warm environment and covered with plastic on the outside to help protect against winter elements.

The event attracts neighbours, friends and sometimes complete strangers dedicated to helping homeless cats.

"I am happy that we will build 70 shelters and I hope we don't run out this year but if we do we'll just build more next year. We do every year," Anastasopoulos said.

Shelters for strays can often be found on private properties off alleyways in Montreal. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Strays can seek refuge inside and the small cut out door is covered with a flap so they are protected from ice, rain and snow.

"The Montreal weather is awful in the winter so you can imagine cats being alone at night in the cold," said Véronique Lanteigne, who has volunteered alongside Anastasopoulos for five years.

"Even with the shelter I am quite surprised they do survive."

Once completed, the shelters are placed on private properties before the snow comes.

Vanessa Anastasopoulos works with other volunteers to give feral cats a place to go in the winter. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

'It's all out of our own pockets'

Aside from building winter shelters, volunteers give their time and money to tend to cats who live out their lives on the street.

They provide food, foot bills for unexpected visits to the veterinarian and help find foster homes for abandoned litters.

Anastasopoulos cares for cats mostly in the Plateau and Rosemont boroughs. The SPCA's project, implemented in 2010, has resulted in the sterilization of about 1,000 cats, but she says overpopulation remains rampant.

"We're probably caring for about 70 cats a day so that's a lot of cat food," she said. "It's all out of our own pockets."

Terreur was a feral cat that was successfully socialized by volunteers. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)

Two organizations collect donations and provide dry cat food to Anastasopoulos and the group of volunteers, but she hopes more Montrealers will want to help, whether that's by caring for feral cats or fostering abandoned kittens.

"I would like to see a time when people have a compassion for everyone, human and otherwise," Anastasopoulos said.

Each shelter has a flap to protect cats from the wind, snow and rain during the winter. (Kalina Laframboise/CBC)