Nova Scotia

Rescue group worries more cats will be abandoned under COVID-19 restrictions

The head of a cat rescue group in Halifax is worried that more cats will be abandoned by their owners now that veterinarians aren't performing routine spay and neuter surgeries due to COVID-19 restrictions.

'Spay and neuter surgery for us is lifesaving,' says president of Spay Day HRM

Only veterinarians who work with the SPCA are permitted to perform spay and neuter surgeries. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

The head of a cat rescue group in Halifax is worried more cats will be abandoned by their owners now that veterinarians aren't performing as many spays and neuters due to COVID-19.

Veterinarians have been deemed an essential service and can provide urgent and emergency care, but the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association says routine spay and neuter surgeries don't fall under that category — at least not yet.

Veterinarians who work with the SPCA are the only ones still allowed to perform the surgeries.

That doesn't make sense to Linda Felix, president of the Spay Day HRM Society, which rescues and finds homes for feral and stray cats.

"Spay and neuter surgery for us is lifesaving. It's not a luxury surgery like having your teeth polished … spay and neuter should never have been cancelled," Felix told CBC's Information Morning

Her organization makes sure cats have been spayed or neutered as well as vaccinated before they go into a foster home. Those appointments were abruptly cancelled when the restrictions were put in place by the provincial government in March.

Linda Felix, president of Spay Day HRM, says spay and neuter surgeries should never have been cancelled. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

"I currently have a cat in foster care who spent half the night howling because she's in heat and I'm not certain how long the foster home is going to keep her under those terms," Felix said. 

She said she's hearing from people who are moving into apartments that require proof of spay or neuter.

"If people cannot move and take their cats, they're going to be left behind," Felix said.

Some vaccinations also on hold

Under the new public health restrictions, it's up to individual veterinarians to decide if a vaccination is urgent but annual vaccinations have largely been delayed. 

Felix said while some stray kittens have received vaccines, older cats have not.

"To me, these are rules that make no sense," she said. "An unvaccinated cat is an unvaccinated cat whether it's eight weeks old or one year old. They all need protection."

Dr. Frank Richardson, registrar of the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association, said veterinarians are the experts on whether a vaccination needs to be done right away for the health of the animal.

This is really turning veterinarians inside out.- Dr. Frank Richardson, Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association 

They make that determination based on a number of things, including if the person lives in an area of the province more at risk for Lyme disease or leptospirosis, a bacterial infection, he added. 

It's a position veterinarians don't want to be in, Richardson said. 

"Veterinarians are not used to withholding service," he said. "This is really turning veterinarians inside out. They're very uncomfortable with this."

What's urgent could change

He said limiting what procedures veterinarians can provide is an important part of keeping them, and Nova Scotians in general, safe. He said it also helps conserve personal protective equipment for urgent procedures. 

The association is reassessing every week about the type of care clinics can provide during the pandemic, Richardson said.

"The longer this state of emergency continues, a procedure that is currently not an urgent one may become more urgent."

With files from CBC's Information Morning