By Trevor Busch
While feral or stray felines still haunt the community’s alleyways, Taber’s police chief is confident of the effectiveness of the trap-neuter-release program in controlling local cat populations.
During the Feb. 20 meeting of the Taber Municipal Police Commission, Coun. Joe Strojwas inquired about the community’s approach to dealing with stray or feral cat populations.
“I just wanted some clarification. There was an item that was brought up to some council members about a cat bylaw,” said Strojwas, who serves as one of two town council representatives to the commission.
Taber Police Service chief Graham Abela replied that Taber doesn’t currently have a “cat bylaw” but has a program in place to help control population.
“We don’t really have one. We do have one, but it deals with the trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. We don’t have — that I’m aware of — a specific bylaw that deals with cats. I can tell you that as of today (Feb. 20), due to direction from council with regards to our strategic plan, that I’ve been asked to review whatever we do have, and there will probably be something coming forward.”
Abela defended the TNR program’s efficacy in controlling feline populations in Taber, which is handled through a group of dedicated volunteers.
“But our main program we have is the trap-neuter-release program. There’s $15,000 of our budget that’s allocated to that volunteer program in our community, and it deals with feeding feral cat colonies as well as trapping. They take wild cats, and they neuter or spay them, and then release them back into the community, and that actually very effectively controls the population. I think they do a great job, to be frank with you.”
Strojwas appeared to be pushing for the consideration of further restrictions or controls on stray and feral cats in Taber.
“So then you’re going to take a look at some sort of cat bylaw or similar in future?”
Abela replied that no further action is being contemplated by the TPS as the issue has usually been very minimal from the perspective of enforcement.
“Actually I’m not looking at bringing forward a cat bylaw whatsoever. So if you have some thoughts, you can bring them to my attention, but I don’t plan on bringing anything up with regards to cats. I don’t recognize any issues.”
Strojwas then asked about the approach in surrounding municipalities such as Coaldale.
“If you want me to do that, I can have a look and bring back to a future meeting what occurs in other communities, and have that discussion,” said Abela. “What are you hearing?”
Concerns had been raised previously by citizens during a recent Coffee with Council meeting.
“There was a meeting with council wondering why we didn’t have a cat bylaw per se,” said Strojwas. “Apparently there’s going to be a society for cat looking after coming forth, something similar to Paws (Taber Lost Paws).”
Honing in on the TPS budgetary side of the equation, Coun. Jack Brewin sought further details on the use and disbursement of public funds involved with the TNR program.
“With that $15,000, who distributes that, and decides when a cat is neutered? Because that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of cats.”
Abela pointed out there are a number of checks and balances involved in the allocation and approval of these funds.
“It is a lot of money, and it’s used very effectively, I would suggest to you. We have a partnership with the volunteer group that actually does the trap-spay/neuter program. They’re not a society, they’re just a group of volunteers. They deal with that program, they then go to the vet, the vet makes a decision whether an animal should be spayed or neutered, and then that vet approaches my Community Standards officer who approves the expenditure. So that’s actually approved through our department. That’s not spent willy-nilly.”
Abela went on to note that any questions about spending concerns have since been cleared up.
“We did have a situation, just as we took over the animal control function, where we had a little bit of concern in relation to how that money was being spent, but we took control of that within my Community Standards Unit. I approve those vet bills every month.”
Brewin wanted to know if the annual $15,000 allocation was still adequate to meet the needs of the TNR program.
“For that program, we have not been asked for any more. But we do spend it. I would suggest that allocation is sufficient at this time. I’m really proud of the work they do actually.”
With the town currently pursuing options with regard to a new animal control facility, Brewin asked if this potential building is intended to incorporate any provisions for cat control.
“Not at this time, because we don’t feel a need to do that,” said Abela. “They can mix — there are facilities that do have both — but we do not get calls to deal with cats. We just don’t get them. Have we ever gotten them? Yes. But we do not frequently get calls regarding cat issues. The TNR (trap-neuter-release) program does a very good job.”
Through review of the dollars spent, commission members attempted to come up with a rough estimate of the number of cats spayed or neutered through the TNR program on an annual basis, but too many variables presented themselves to make a relevant assessment.
“We know we have a relationship with the vet, who works with this group and gives them a substantially reduced rate on the neuter and spay and other work that needs to be done,” said Abela, who was unable to provide an annual average. “That’s as far as I’ll go without having a bill in front of me. I’m very happy with the program, and I’m happy with their volunteer group, and if someone has some ideas I’ll come with some information for you at the next meeting or the meeting after in relation to what are some of the community bylaws adjacent to us around cats that may assist you with your decision making.”