An advocacy group is pushing for changes to how the City of Edmonton deals with the feral cat population.
An online petition calling for changes to the city's feral cat policies had more than 7,500 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
The organizers of the petition, Edmonton Stray Cat Advocates, propose a number of policy changes, mentioning studies and success stories from other cities that were able to reduce their feral feline population.
Staff at the City of Edmonton's Animal Care and Control Centre estimate the feral cat population to be around 63,000.
"It's a huge problem," Kath Oltsher, co-director of Zoe's Animal Rescue, said Wednesday.
"We are constantly being asked — constantly, and I know other rescues are — to take in cats."
The situation is so dire the rescue is sending cats out-of-province by vehicles and sometimes by planes, Oltsher said.
One proposal is for the city to increase the intensity of its Trap Neuter Return program. The program — common in many North American cities — brings stray cats to shelters where they are neutered and tagged before returning to the urban wilderness.
ACCC launched the Public Trap Neuter Return program last year. Sixty-three cats were put through the program last summer, a city spokesperson said.
Approximately 600 feral cats come through the centre each year, ACCC Coordinator Tracy Bauder said.
"We do recognize that there is a need for a larger-scale Trap Neuter Return program in Edmonton," she said.
The centre had previously worked on developing a program involving community volunteers but ran into issues with provincial legislation, she added.
"For the time being, we're looking at some other options on what we can do differently to move that program forward," Bauder said.
Another proposal is that ACCC join a coalition, modelled after the Toronto Feral Cat Coalition, that includes humane organizations, rescue groups and individual citizens that would work together to address the homeless cat problem.
"The biggest thing is the amount of people that have to come together to help make this possible," said Vanessa Freeman, a volunteer with Zoe's Animal Rescue and one of the organizers of the petition.
"We do believe that Animal Care and Control cannot do it on their own. There's just not enough of them."
ACCC and the advocacy group are currently in talks to meet.
The final two proposals from Edmonton Stray Cat Advocates would require bylaw changes from city council.
One is that unowned cats be exempt from property bylaws.
Currently, cats are allowed to roam freely on public property but can be subject to bylaw complaints when they wander onto private property.
The other is that caregivers be exempted from a stipulation that Edmontonians own no more than six cats. Freeman said there are individuals who already provide for cat colonies and they should be permitted and supported by the city.
"Imagine the cost of looking after a colony of six to 10 cats and having to spay and neuter them on your own, having to feed them on your own, and having to provide shelter on your own," she said.
Freeman said if the bylaw changes, feral and stray populations would decrease and there would be fewer admitted or euthanized at the ACCC.