Killing gnats with grenades

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Starving catCollingwood Council has taken the equivalent approach of a grenade attack to swat at a little gnat. It has launched a full-frontal assault on people feeding wildlife in order to get a couple of people in town to stop feeding feral cats.

And of course it was done without any public input.

The sensible, socially active and responsible approach would have been a campaign of education, public meetings, and information. But no, that’s too damned open and transparent for this council.

What this council wants – and got – is punitive legislation. Let’s punish people who think they’re being humane and kind. After all, they’re only taxpayers.

Besides, education costs money and Council thinks your money is better spent letting Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey fly around the county, wining and dining at taxpayer expense, while she pursues her personal political ambitions to become queen of FCM (yes: there’s a motion on the upcoming agenda to give her an unlimited budget to do this. L’etat c’est moi…)

The staff report on the April 11 agenda (starts p. 84) makes it seem like it’s a big move to deal with coyotes – but don’t kid yourself. This is all about feral cats. Coyotes have little to do with it.

Cats which, it seems, this council would rather have hunting birds or starving to death on the street. Real compassion there. Did I mention there wasn’t any public input?

Two letters in this week’s Connection complained about this bylaw. People are upset. After the fact, of course, since (stop me if you’ve heard this before…) Council didn’t get any public input about this.

First, let’s look at the staff report. It’s a masterpiece of misdirection to get the Bobbleheads nodding. Which it did, of course.

It says, “… the Town of Collingwood has seen an increase in the number of coyote sighting / encounters within the last few years…” but doesn’t say how many have been reported. One is an increase if none had been reported in the past. Yes, we all know coyotes are in the woods in the west end behind Home Depot – you can hear them howling some nights. So what? Doesn’t mean they are roaming the streets at night.

How many? By whom? Were they verified? Is it multiple sightings of the same animal? How does someone know it’s a coyote and not a stray dog?

It goes on to say, “Research indicates that the number one driver for the presence of coyotes and increased human confrontations is the availability of food.” What research? Nothing is cited. Just saying “research” is meaningless. Research is in published, scientific papers and journals, not in some home-grown internet pages. Whose research, when was it published, and where? Without a source, this is as bad as the anonymous sources in the recent report on Collus. It lacks credibility.

The report adds, “The Collingwood Animal Rights Advocate Group met with Town Staff in late 2015 to discuss various initiatives that would help to allow people and wildlife to co-exist in the community. The group recommended the creation of a by-law that would prohibit the feeding of wildlife within the community. ”

Who are these people? What have they done, who do they report to? How are they funded, when and where do they meet? What are their values, goals, ethics, activities? What are their publications, who are their mentors?

I’ve never heard of them before this. They don’t have a website, Facebook page, contact information, or any association with other respected and recognized animal rights advocacy groups. They aren’t part of the OSPCA, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Humane Society of Canada. They don’t fund any trap-and-release programs, don’t help local veterinarians, don’t work with the Midland Wildlife Centre.

They seem to have come into existence solely to protest in front of town hall after a cop shot a dog. Get some free publicity from the tragedy.

Just because a bunch of people call themselves something and carry some poorly-spelled signs in front of town hall doesn’t mean they have any validity. Except, of course, to this council.

Did staff or councillors speak to our own Georgian Triangle Humane Society first? Apparently not. Why should they bother to ask the advice of the people who deal with wild animals and feral cats EVERY DAY? The people to whom the town hands over stray animals…

Did they speak with the many area veterinarians who also deal with this issue? Nope… why speak to a professional when you already know everything?

Was the Ministry of Natural Resources contacted? The report notes, ” In an attempt to reduce these sightings (and potential conflicts with humans and pets) and support the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) …” but it doesn’t say the MNR was contacted. Or exactly what staff  mean by “support.” The MNR has a fact sheet about coyotes, but doesn’t seem to need Collingwood’s support.

The credibility is shedding like a snake’s skin here. Yet from what I can tell, no one at the council table questioned any of this or spoke to anyone. Just nodded in unison when asked to do staff’s bidding. Again.

I know coyotes can be a problem. But it’s a small one, somewhat less here than, say, litter on the main street.

Coyote Watch Canada talks about using common sense and points to the City of Niagara Fall’s bylaw against feeding coyotes. Just coyotes.

Niagara’s bylaw is simple and to-the-point:

3.1 No person shall feed a coyote.
3.2 No person shall place, expose or allow to be placed or exposed, food that is consumed by a coyote.
3.3 No person shall manage food or an animal feeder intended to attract or feed animals other than coyotes, in such a manner that the food or feeder attracts a coyote.

Yet Collingwood Council took the shotgun approach and banned feeding of all wildlife, including feral cats. Ah, there’s the rub…

Now, I know feral cats are a problem in municipalities and it gets worse when someone encourages them by feeding them regularly and a lot. Before moving here, I worked in a large municipal humane society where it was a constant topic of discussion.

Feral cat colonies are even more difficult to deal with, because they can become reservoirs for disease. The lifespan of a feral cat can be brutal, hard and short. One estimate I recall reading was that the average lifespan of a street cat was about six years. Compare that to 15-17 for domestic cats.

We’ve adopted two feral cats (and many strays) in our day. It can be a challenge, sure. Sometimes you need to win their trust and you do that by feeding them. Controlled – and carefully. Eventually they came into our home where they were cared for, vaccinated, neutered and had long, healthy lives. They repaid our kindness with affection.

Is killing them a better solution? Is letting them fight and starve and hunt birds a better solution? Is this bylaw a more adult, humane way of dealing with a problem? Of course not. Probably why council didn’t want any public input – too many bleeding hearts would protest.

Controlling feral cats has nothing to do with coyotes. If council or staff really cared about the incursion of coyotes, they could simply have passed Niagara’s bylaw. This is all about the cats, but they weren’t brave enough to admit it.

Caring, progressive communities have launched other types of campaigns to deal with feral cats, using more humane methods, using tactics proven in other municipalities. Too soft, too humane, too complicated for Collingwood. Starve ’em out!

Feral cats are often domestic pets abandoned by irresponsible owners, the result of backyard breeders, kitten mills and other unscrupulous or reprehensible practices. Education campaigns, tight bylaw controls on breeding and kennels, municipal support for neutering and spaying campaigns, trap-and-vaccinate, trap-and-neuter, encouraging owners to keep cats indoors or on leashes – these are the better, more creative approaches.

Simply talking with people face-to-face about feeding feral cats could explain the situation and might alleviate some of the problems. At the very least, start with a town-wide education campaign in cooperation with the humane society and the local veterinarians.

Collingwood chose the grenade tactic: kill ’em all. And don’t ask for any public input, either.

Oh, by the way, you are allowed to feed birds, as long as it’s in a feeder. That is, if…”Seed is placed in a bird feeding device that is sufficiently above grade so as not to attract or be accessible by wild animals…” Which cuts out feeding doves and other ground-feeding birds. And what about jays, and similar birds that like big seed, like peanuts or dried corn? Gosh, the occasional squirrel might feed from the seed you scatter on the ground, and we can’t have that!

And, according to section 3.4, it better not be seagulls you’re feeding (where is the sea on which these gulls live?) or the undefined, but arrogantly described “nuisance” birds. They are clearly lower class birds that deserve to starve, at least in Collingwood. Kill ’em all, so says our council.

You can’t put a few carrots under the hedge to help feed the wild rabbits if the spring seems long in arriving and they look a little thin. Or throw out some dried corn cobs for the squirrels when the winter is long and harsh. Better, according to our oh-so-compassionate council, to let them starve.

So let’s punish people, too. Fine them, bully them, harass them for doing what they believe is a humane, compassionate gesture. Another fine legacy from the people you elected to provide leadership.

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