Prolific feral felines a 'crisis' for Cornwall, Ont., neighbourhood

An eastern Ontario city is trying to reclaim a neighbourhood it says has been taken over by hordes of feral cats.

Some 50 cats on Bergin Avenue prompt calls for by-law to control animal population

Feral cats like this one from a file photo have taken over a neighbourhood in Cornwall, Ont., residents say. (Frank Eltman/Associated Press)

An eastern Ontario city is trying to reclaim a neighbourhood it says has been taken over by hordes of feral cats that disturb residents and leave the area covered in animal waste.

Those who live on Bergin Avenue in Cornwall, Ont., estimate there are upwards of 50 cats calling the street home, with new litters born every week. They say the street is consistently riddled with cat feces and urine as well as newborn kittens and numerous cat fights.

Local officials are considering a bylaw to address what they have deemed a cat crisis, while the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has cleared out four of its shelters in an effort to help.

Stray cats are an issue in many parts of the city, but Bergin Avenue appears to be the epicentre of the crisis.

Residents want neighbourhood cleaned up

"It's like having a bunch of druggies on your streets," said Dennis Poisson Sr., who lives in the afflicted area. "All we want to do is clean up the neighbourhood."

Some lay part of the blame with a household they believe is feeding the strays, though they admit the problem is much larger.

A few dozen residents, including Poisson, are pushing for the city to take action and have filed a petition that was tabled at a council meeting last week. As a result, bylaw officials are preparing a report on the situation.

Denis Carr, the councillor who represents the area, said a gap in the city's regulations may be contributing to the problem.

No bylaws governing cats

"There's no governing bylaw to control cats — we have one for dogs, but not for cats," he said.

"This street is a real mess," said Carr, adding that residents have been asking for help for about a year.

The OSPCA also pointed to the lack of a cat bylaw — which could include a license or tag system, limits on number of cats in a home, and a spay and neuter program — as a complicating factor.

"When you see a municipality that doesn't have a bylaw for a specific domestic pet, it can get a bit chaotic as it is here in this crisis because there is no one entity that should have to take responsibility," said Tanya Firmage, the organization's chief of humane programs and community outreach.

Chris Rogers, the city's bylaw enforcement supervisor, said the city enacted a temporary, two-year feral cat bylaw about a decade ago in response to a similar issue, which allowed the OSPCA to carry out a trap and release program where they spayed and neutered wild cats.

"That worked then, so one idea is to re-enact that bylaw," he said, adding that meeting between the OSPCA and city officials is being scheduled.

150 people waiting to bring cats to shelter

The OSPCA said it has already taken the unusual step of moving all the animals in their shelters in Cornwall, Brockville, Napanee and Renfrew to their central shelter to clear space for the influx of cats.

The organization, which is a private charity that receives private and provincial funds for shelters and animal cruelty enforcement, said that as of Thursday, it has space for about 100 cats.

Firmage said there are 150 people waiting to bring cats into the Cornwall branch. The city says there are several cat hotspots in the city, but nothing as bad as Bergin Avenue.

Shawn Lafave, one of the residents, says the cats have torn up his cucumber garden.

Lafave says he has been sick with a lung infection for about a year and test results indicated it was a bacterial infection, which his doctor said came from the environment.

'The gang's just getting bigger'

He believes it's from all the cat feces he's shovelled into garbage bins over the years. So last week he dumped the mess at the end of his driveway and left it.

"This is the city's problem and they came and picked it up," he said.

His neighbour, Poisson, said he appreciates the recent help from the city and the OSPCA, but is worried that the politicking will take too long to fix the problem.

"They're worse than jackrabbits in Arizona, believe me, the cats breed bad here," he said. "These kittens are sticking around and the gang's just getting bigger."