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The Lucky Project cat shelters being shut down

By Celina Ip

A feral cat eating food outside of one of The Lucky Project's shelters earlier this year.

A feral cat eating food outside of one of The Lucky Project's shelters earlier this year.

The Lucky Project’s feral and stray cat shelters have been shut down throughout Pembroke.

For more than 20 years, Pembroke has been the home of countless stray and feral cats. In recent years, these homeless cats have rapidly grown in number.

To care for these homeless cats and to counteract the issue of their growing population, two local residents – Candia Sullivan and Kelly Dermann – founded The Lucky Project in 2013.

Upon founding the non-profit, Sullivan and Dermann received community donations to support their mission to be able to vet, spay, neuter, release the healthy cats back to their colony and continue feeding and maintaining their shelters. By taking these actions, the partners’ ultimate hope was to prevent mass euthanasia, control the feral cat population and allow them to live a dignified and humane life.

Since The Lucky Project began in the fall of 2013, Sullivan and Dermann have been able to catch and home dozens of cats while caring for many others through the shelters they had set up around the city.

Unfortunately, in the four years since founding the non-profit, Sullivan and Dermann have encountered many obstacles which have made it nearly impossible to fulfill their mission.

“There has been a pre-existing problem in Pembroke regarding stray and feral cats. It's been going on for over 20 years and we just couldn't stand by and see nothing being done about it anymore so that’s why we started this Lucky Project. But we never even imagined the weight of the problem that exists here in Pembroke, we've come to discover that it’s really gone beyond our capacity in what we are able to do,” said Sullivan.

With pet owners abandoning their cats along with The Lucky Project encountering difficulties when it comes to catching the feral cats to have them spayed or neutered, the population of homeless cats has continued to grow rather than shrink.

“The main problem here is irresponsible pet ownership along with the issue that people cannot just surrender a pet from Pembroke to the SPCA that easily. For the most part, you have to call your animal control officer but not many people wanted to do that for their own personal beliefs or who knows,” said Sullivan.

As well, despite generous donations from the community, the funds have not been enough to consistently maintain the shelters and care for the growing number of cats.

“The resources that we have and the people that are implemented to help us could only help us a certain amount – so we're still paying really hefty prices for spay and neuters,” said Sullivan. “So it hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been all good because the whole time we've been working against forces beyond our control which is cats being dropped off, kittens being born and shelters being vandalized.”

Finally, The Lucky Project team recently learned that with the shelters being located on private properties, the property owners had recently contacted the city to have them removed.

“The property owner came to the realization that these shelters were being placed on his property without his permission, so he requested that the City have them removed,” said Terry Lapierre, chief administrative officer with the City of Pembroke. “We’ve also had requests from businesses in the area, like East Side Marios and Tim Horton’s, who have asked that the shelters and cats be removed – because the feral cats were going around these restaurants where there is food, so these owners did not want them on their properties.”

This past April, after feeling significantly disheartened by the growing concerns threatening the success of The Lucky Project, Sullivan met with Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay, Lapierre and animal control officer Michael Street to discuss the situation and see if they could determine a solution.

The City of Pembroke suggested that the best course of action to take would be to dismantle the shelters, trap the cats and humanely euthanize those that were severely ill.

“The Lucky Project has had the best of intentions, they’ve been trying to do the right thing and everyone was in support of them spaying and neutering the cats so there wouldn’t be more. But the issue is that that has not happened successfully enough and now there’s all kinds of cats and kittens down with lots of issues as a result. They've had a lot of sick cats, dead cats and feces where you had to wear rubber boots to try and walk around,” said Lapierre. “It’s been the best of intentions by the Lucky Project people but this is well-beyond their capacity to manage it.”

According to Lapierre, the suggested solution has also been encouraged by the Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) who conducted an inspection of the shelter sites located at 10 Pembroke Street West, 100 Pembroke Street East and 101 Mackay Street.

After conducting the site visits on April 25, RCDHU environmental health coordinator David Tantalo sent the City a letter the following day to reveal the results of their inspections.

Dated April 26, the letter stated that “the Health Unit was made aware of a potential health hazard involving feral cats living in homemade shelters in Pembroke. Many of these shelters contained strong odours of cat urine and several of them had unprotected amounts of dry cat food which could also act as an attractant to other non-target rodents such as rodents or raccoons. Numerous feral cats were seen at all three locations and it could not be determine whether any of these cats were vaccinated against the rabies virus.”

The letter concluded with the RCDHU’s recommendation that the homemade shelters and the feral cats be removed from the areas of concern in order to prevent the public health risks that they pose.

“It is the Health Unit’s opinion that the feral cats and shelters pose an elevated public health issue in two ways. One, through the creation of unsanitary harbourage areas for vermin and other wild animals. Two, through rabies communicable disease risk given the fact that many cats are unvaccinated and roaming free,” stated the letter.

For the cats that still appeared to be relatively healthy, The Lucky Project team and the City of Pembroke both agreed that they could be sent to live on farms outside of the city that had volunteered their space.

“We had told the city ‘can you please get ahold of us once you catch these cats and then we would pick them up as soon as possible, and take them to the locations that we have’, because we have people who have volunteered their spots for them,” said Sullivan.

Since dismantling all of the shelters on July 6, City of Pembroke animal control officer Michael Street has taken on the responsibility of trapping the cats and maintaining communication with The Lucky Project team.

“Mr. Street advised me that he was last in contact with Ms. Sullivan on Thursday (July 6) when they met and discussed the actions he was taking and that he would be advising her on any cats he might trap so she could direct if they were to go to the location (the farms) she had chosen. He advised he had not been in touch with her since that time as he had seen very few cats in the area and had trapped none. He does plan on reaching out to her again and wants to remind her that she can contact him at any time if she has questions,” said Lapierre.

As Dermann and Sullivan hope to rehabilitate the healthy stray cats – now left without shelters – they will still be hosting their Purrfect Pitch Co-Ed Slopitch Tournament from July 21 to 22 at Stafford Ball Diamond. Aside from the tournament, the event will include a barbecue, 50/50 draw and a pie in the face contest.

“The funds will help us get and relocate as many cats as we can. Pending on the amount raised, we will also forward funds to Secondhand Mommies and the OSPCA as we may need to use the services to help with certain cats,” said Dermann. “I'm determined to do whatever it takes for our homeless colony cats first.”

For more information and to register ($250 per team), call 613-585-7636

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