Hawkesbury cat lover on mission to battle feline overpopulation crisis

Patricia Bracelin used to volunteer caring for stray, abandoned and feral cats, but it broke her heart to find kittens that had been born outside in the chill of winter and to see dead cats in spots where food had been put out for them.

The founder and organizer of Operation Spay and Neuter, serving both Ontario and Quebec, now devotes her free time to trying to stem what she calls a feline overpopulation crisis.

"We were so tired of seeing all these poor cats suffering out there," she said about why she started her Hawkesbury, Ont.-based organization.

The group raises money to help low-income cat owners sterilize their cats. Since 2014, more than 630 cats have been spayed or neutered.

"We will do whatever we can," Bracelin said.

Number of cats hits record high

There are now two million cats living in Quebec households, according to a new survey conducted by SOM for the Quebec Association of Small Animal Veterinarians .

That's an all time high.

One in every three Quebec homes now has at least one cat. However, only nine out of ten of those pets are sterilized. That leaves 200,000 cats in Quebec free to multiply.

​In theory, a single pair of unsterilized cats can produce up to a half a million descendants in seven years.

"They are very fertile animals," said Dr. Valérie Trudel, the association's president.

Trudel said the real threat isn't a population explosion. In acutal fact, thousands of healthy cats end up dying, in many cases, euthanized.

Vets look to Laval's rules for cats

The veterinarians association ordered the online study, conducted between Jan. 19 and 23 in 1,395 Quebec households, to gain a portrait of the province's cat population.

Since some Quebec municipalities, such as Quebec City, do not require cats to be registered, official sources do not provide complete data on the subject.

Trudel would like to see that change.

Her association wants all municipalities to adopt a policy like Laval's. Starting in 2018, all cats and dogs older than six months will have to be sterilized, as well as registered and implanted with a microchip.

As of last October, the city of Montreal requires all cat owners to register their pets, but it does not force owners to microchip and sterilize them.

Neutering or spaying a cat typically costs between $150 and $300.

Bracelin says that's more than many people can afford — and some simply don't realize how expensive the procedure will be when they take a kitten or cat into their home.

She said owners start to look into getting the surgery for their pets once the females go into heat or the males start spraying.

"They soon see it's going to cost them way too much," she said.

The result, she says, is too many cats end up abandoned.