It’s a grey but dry October morning and Emily Crewe, a volunteer trapper with the Toronto Feral Cat TNR Coalition, arrives in Leaside to catch a pair of feral cats, the last remnants of a colony that has lived for the past four years on the fringe of a parkette near Mallory Crescent.
A wiry 27-year-old who works at an accounting firm when she’s not solving feline problems, Crewe immediately plays the hunter as she carries a pair of metal drop traps towards the colony, nestled behind the foliage lining the parkette. Trap, neuter and return is her game. She explains the current situation, in snatches of conversation, along the way.
Mallory Crescent’s feral colony, it is believed, began when a family moved away from the neighbourhood, leaving an unspayed orange-and-white female cat behind. At its peak, Crewe estimates, the colony had 12 cats. It was down to about half by mid-August this year, when a complaint called into councillor John Parker’s office set her wheels in motion.
One of his neighbours was feeding the cats, the complainant reported.
But Crewe, who began volunteering with the coalition two years ago after finding a colony near her workplace, believes fingers were pointed at the wrong person.
“They should really be talking to the people who have unfixed free-roaming cats, or people who abandon their cats,” she said. “Unfortunately, the caretaker takes the blame for it, but the fact is that they’re stepping up to the plate.”
After the resident called, Parker’s office contacted the city’s Animal Services division, which keeps a list of registered feral colonies.
Itself a coalition member, the city runs several clinics where spaying or neutering of cats from registered colonies will be done for free, but it is up to volunteers to actually trap them, Crewe says. The coalition began doing that near Mallory Crescent on Sept. 7.
On this day, only two cats remain. They are a pair of females hiding out in Crothers Woods, just south of the parkette.
Crewe meets up with Maureen Leete, the colony’s designated caretaker, outside her Mallory Crescent home. A widowed British expatriate, Leete has owned three cats in the past but none now. She has been feeding the colony and playing with its kittens since moving into the neighbourhood four years ago.
“I used to see the mother cat slinking around the garbage bins in the plaza next door so I started leaving food out for her there,” Leete explains. “I later learned from another neighbour that she had been feeding this cat long before I arrived.”
Leete has given the cats enough attention that they seem used to human interaction, Crewe says.
Crewe’s mission is to recapture the colony’s mother, which had been trapped on Sept. 7 but let go because the coalition trapper couldn’t find her litter of newborn kittens.
“She’s a bit trap-wary because she was caught first,” Crewe says, baiting one by forking out the contents of a can of tuna.
“That seems to work best,” she says. “The stinkier the better.”
The cats aren’t fed 24 hours before trapping sessions to make sure they’re hungry, but Crewe has another, louder bait as well: the mother’s three youngest kittens, which were secured the day before with help from Leete, who distributed flyers around the neighbourhood.
After setting the trap, Crewe waits.
The kittens wail.
While the mother can’t be reached for comment, after three hours she’s apparently ignoring them.
Eventually Leete brings out a carrier of her own and catches the mother manually. Less exciting, perhaps, but effective.
The second cat, a calico, remains at large. Once she’s captured, the colony will stop growing.
Crewe brings the mother to an Animal Services centre near the Scarborough Town Centre. For practical reasons, the exact locations for both colonies and service centres are not disclosed.
“We try not to give exact locations, because people will dump their cats,” Crewe says. “We just give major intersections instead.”
One Mallory Crescent cat will have to be returned. The father, whom Leete captured a couple of days before, has been spraying urine all over Crewe’s garage, marking territory while he still can. His neutering appointment is upcomimg.
“My garage *reeks*,” Crewe says, making a face. “I don’t understand people who don’t get their cats fixed.”
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