It's a cat-astrophe. Quebec's feral cat overpopulation crisis was already one of the hairiest animal welfare issues in the province when the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the problem, according to one cat rescuer.
The result has been "an explosion of kittens," said Diane Liebling, the chair of the Côte Saint-Luc Cats Committee. "Just an explosion. We could barely keep up."
Throughout Quebec, the SPCA had to stop its spay and neuter program from March to June, said Liebling, which means there was a lot of unprotected cat sex going on.
Liebling had no data on how many more cats were born because of the spay and neuter shutdown but the kitty population was already out of control before COVID-19, she said.
Different sources offer their own estimates but Liebling says there are anywhere from one to two million feral and stray cats in the province.
"An impossible number to take care of," said Liebling. "The problem is now multiplied, and it's a problem we couldn't really keep up with in the first place."
Stray cats are a "really serious issue"
One might think hordes of free-loving cats running around would be fine but Liebling said it's a problem.
One female can produce three litters of at least four kittens a year, according to the SPCA, which is about 20,000 cats after four years.
Amazingly, stray cats have no problem surviving our winters but without proper care, they face short, brutish lives on the streets, said Liebling.
And for all the cuteness, they're actually horrible little murderers that dispatch between 100 and 350 million birds per year in Canada, according to one study.
"It is a really serious issue in Montreal and Quebec," said Liebling. "The feral cat population is out of control."
What is a "community" cat?
In her determined efforts to help the city's kitties, Liebling's garage gets turned into a makeshift hospital for cats seven months of the year.
The stacks of cat cages nearly touch the ceiling. Within are rescued felines from across Côte Saint-Luc, waiting to be rehomed or recovering after getting spayed or neutered.
Along the walls are containers of blankets, toys, and food for hungry felines.
The whole operation closes down in November when her husband "who is incredibly supportive" needs the garage to park his car in the winter months.
When a cat is found wandering the streets, Liebling will trap it, neuter or spay it, and assess its sociability.
If it was raised by humans and then abandoned or lost, that means it's a stray cat and she'll find it a forever home.
If it's a feral or "community" cat, it's basically a wild animal and would not make a good pet, even for the most devoted cat lover.
"Community cats are born outside, they've never been in the house and do not acclimate well to being inside," said Liebling. "Plus, they can be a little, I wouldn't say aggressive, but they can be ornery."
These cats are sent to live in outdoor cat colonies around the province where they live out their lives in freedom and comfort.
There are about six such colonies in Côte Saint-Luc, overseen by community volunteers who feed up to ten cats at a time and provide them shelter in huge straw-lined rubber containers, said Liebling.
"They seem to do very well," she said. "We've had a very low death rate of cats to be quite honest. Some of the cats are going on eight or nine years old, which is remarkable for an outdoor cat that has never been inside and gone through some brutal winters."
What can you do to protect Quebec's cats?
If you happen to spot a stray cat in Montreal, Liebling said you should bring it to the SPCA if it's friendly.
But not every cat is friendly and if it's a community cat, Liebling said you can become part of the solution by joining the SPCA's Trap-Neuter-Release-Maintain (TNRM) Program, which will supply you with a trap and the know-how to use it.
If you happen to be in the market for a new kitty, the most ethical way of getting one is through a certified rescue organization, and not the internet, she said.
"People might disagree, but I would say Kijiji is an unethical way to adopt a pet," she said.
"Too many people are adopting cats and kittens that are sick in many cases, and they're not neutered. When you adopt a cat from a rescue, you pay an adoption fee, which includes the neutering and microchipping to assure no cat that comes from a rescue contributes to the problem."
You can also make a big difference by spaying or neutering your cat.
"The only way this problem can be solved is by neutering your pet, and you'd be astonished at how many people do not," said Liebling.
"Not dogs, dogs are taken care of, but cats, there are plenty of cats wandering out there that are not neutered and are making kittens."
This article's cover image is used for illustrative purposes only.