Sisters who found 11 abandoned cats 'shocked' after Saskatoon Animal Control says to let them loose

A woman who found 11 cats left for dead near her home says she was dismayed when the Saskatoon Animal Control Agency would not come get the animals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead told her to let them roam free.

Cats doing well after being turned over to SCAT Street Cat rescue

Four of the 11 cats Raven Carswell found near her home in Saskatoon. (Supplied/ Autumn Carswell )

A woman who found 11 cats left for dead near her home says she was dismayed when the Saskatoon Animal Control Agency (SACA) would not come get the animals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead told her to let them roam free.

Raven Carswell and her sister Autumn trapped the two adult cats and nine kittens in a back alley of Saskatoon's Mount Royal neighbourhood on May 28.

The cats are now healthy and being cared for. Raven said that wouldn't be the case if she had let the cats loose, which is what she said SACA told her to do.

"I just didn't think that was the best advice," Raven said. "These are helpless little animals." 

One of the cats Carswell found has since been named Willow by staff at Saskatoon's SCAT Street Cat rescue. All nine of her kittens were also given names that start with W. (Supplied/Heather Ryan)

It started when Raven's dogs alerted her to the cats. She called her sister for help. 

The cats were in rough shape. They were covered with feces and urine and the clothes they were wrapped in were coated with a thick layer of cat fur and feces. 

Because it was late, around 9:00 p.m. CST, the sisters didn't expect someone from Saskatoon Animal Control to pick the cats up. They thought they would be able to drop them off to ensure they were safe.

Instead, they were told to let the cats go.

"I was pretty shocked," said Autumn. 

She said she thought some sort of assistance would have been offered given the number of cats invovled.

"You'd think they'd want to do more to help them," she said.

Cats likely would have died

The sisters contacted SCAT Street Cat rescue in Saskatoon, which found the cats a foster home to stay in as they're prepared for adoption. 

Heather Ryan, the president of SCAT Street Cat rescue, said it's possible the cats are a combination of litters. With so many kittens, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the mom to keep up on feeding them all, she said.

"If they hadn't found those cats and gotten them help quite quickly, they would not all have made it," she said. 

Ryan said it's fairly common for cats, even entire litters of cats, to be abandoned, noting SCAT took in 576 in 2019 alone. 

Raven Carswell (right) and her sister Autumn Carswell pose with Raven's dogs King Louis and Baloo, respectively. The dogs alerted Raven to an abandoned family of cats. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC )

Frustration felt by others 

Adrianne Jones, an animal lover and owner of two companion cats, has also expressed frustration over an interaction with SACA.

Jones said she contacted SACA in April after finding a stray cat. Her situation was different from the Carswell sisters, as the cat she found was not in distress. Regardless, Jones said she was frustrated when she was told to let the cat roam free.

"I was caught off guard because animal control has always, in my mind, been the person that's supposed to help you when you come across stray animals to not have them be on the streets and subject to harm or death," she said. 

Jones said SACA told her it was not taking animals in personal kennels or containers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she was told that normally she could rent a cat trap from Animal Control, but that trap rentals were also on hold. 

Jones said that if SACA is not taking animals due to the pandemic, there needs to be other options available, as letting animals roam puts them at risk and is a violation of Saskatoon bylaws. 

"It made me sick thinking how many people actually followed that advice and did let animals go free," she said. "To me, that was animal control saying they would rather pick up a dead animal off the street, than a live animal that was safely contained. It made zero sense."

SPCA should be first call: spokesperson

Jasmine Hanson, communications co-ordinator with the Saskatoon SPCA, said anyone who finds an animal in distress should call the SPCA first.

She said SACA is a separate agency that makes its own decisions about which animals will be brought to the SPCA. 

"It's not up to us," she said. "It's whether or not animal control believes they can pick those animals up safely." 

Some of the kittens Carswell turned over to SCAT Street Cat rescue can be seen playing as they are weighed following their rescue on May 28, 2020. (Supplied/SCAT Street Cat Rescue )

Hanson said safety is a concern for the SPCA during the pandemic.

"At this point, we just need to be really careful which animals we are bringing into the shelter," she said. "Because if somehow COVID-19 were to end up at the shelter and we had a staff member get sick, we would all have to be isolating and that would, unfortunately, compromise the care of the animals." 

Hanson acknowledged that animal control officers also need to stay safe during the pandemic, but said that if the cats were in distress, the SPCA should have been involved. She said the SPCA and will follow up with SACA. 

City of Saskatoon to review protocols

The city provided a statement to CBC Thursday.

It said SACA made adjustments at the end of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These included SACA only picking up animals from outside a complainant's house. The city said animal control officers picked up litters from outside a complainant's house as recently as May 29 and May 31

The statement said SACA will pick-up a confined cat and take it to the SPCA as a last resort.

Regarding the Carswells' interaction with SACA, the city said SACA was not aware of how many cats were involved.

"The [SACA] dispatcher received a call Thursday evening May 28 hearing a person had 'cats,' but the caller did not specify anything about a litter of kittens," the statement said.

It said SACA provided the caller with information on what to do with an animal at large, including completing a found report through the SPCA, trying to find the owner and letting the cat free to see if it goes home. 

"It would appear the dispatcher should have asked more questions," the city said in the statement. "If SACA had known that there was a litter of kittens, an Animal Control Officer would have been dispatched to attend and handle the two adult cats and nine kittens."

The city said it would work with animal care partners to review its protocols.

Autumn Carswell holds one of the kittens she and her sister captured on May 28.. (Autumn Carswell/Supplied)


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