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Neighbours concerns about a couple who feed feral cats ramped up on the weekend

By Jennifer O'Brien, The London Free Press

As he scooped up cat feces in his backyard, one Grand Ave. resident said he counted 76 stinking piles. A nearby neighbour said the smell of urine seeping up from the gardens has kept her inside, away from her own deck on summer evenings.

For years, the dead-end street in Old South has been a litterbox for a parade of feral cats — not to mention skunks and raccoons — who receive daily front porch feedings from one couple.

But for many of the neighbours on the cul-de-sac filled with children, frustration has turned to fear since a coyote showed up at the cats’ meal on the weekend.

“We don’t feel our children are safe now that this coyote has been seen coming around during the day,” said Ginger Jenner who lives across the street from the couple who feed the cats. Jenner said she’s counted 18 at once.

“We’ve never had any issues on the street before other than lots of cats... We are on such a quiet street and our kids enjoy that and can roam around and play together. Now you have a coyote outside during the day at least two days in a row.”

The coyote was first spotted Saturday afternoon, and neighbours said cats scattered when it sauntered up onto the porch.

“The coyote was large and obviously not afraid,” said Tiffany Austin, who caught the animal on video during the 30 to 40 minutes she said it remained on the porch. “That makes me concerned. He’s clearly comfortable and has a food source.”

Neighbours said the coyote takes their long-simmering concerns over the side effects of feeding feral cats to a whole new level.

Coyotes are common along the Thames River corridor in London, and are often seen in the city’s ravines and woods. But wildlife experts say the animals will rarely venture into populated areas unless they’re being fed. The city advises residents feeding pets to put the food out at meal time and take it back in immediately after.

Greg Horne said Monday he and his wife Barb are only doing what they do out of compassion for the animals who have been abandoned and that they have the support of the city. He said they only put out food twice a day, something his neighbours dispute.

“Look around,” said Horne, gesturing beyond the homes across the street that back onto a woodsy riverbank. “River, ravine . . . you’re going to have animals around. We’ve seen foxes running down the street. I’ve seen a deer out back, wild turkeys.”

London’s animal welfare co-ordinator Ron Oke agrees with Horne, noting “that area is close to the waterway, which means there will always be more animals there. Especially coyotes.”

Oke said the city works with people who feed feral cats, noting the meals act as a lure that makes it easier for animal control staff to trap the cats for the city’s “trap-neuter-release” program designed to stabilize the stray cat population.

“We have the same problem as many other municipalities: Feral cats,” Oke said.

The problem is caused by irresponsible pet owners who abandon their cats that then breed.

The city knows the Hornes are feeding feral cats, he said, and animal control staff been there “numerous times” to collect cats to be neutered.

“The coyote is a grave concern . . . and the best thing to do (if you see one in your neighbourhood) is call London police,” he said. “But a coyote could be anywhere in London where they are close to water.”

Londoners are allowed to put out food for pets, including feral cats, he said.

A lot of people feel sorry for the animals and feed them,” Oke said. “They provide a very basic level of care by providing them with a bit of food."

But Austin said that care comes at the expense of other taxpayers in the neighbourhood who are forced to deal with the side effects.

"How nice for the neighbours who get to take in the smell of cat (urine) and skunks," she said. "I appreciate the city lets this happen, but how responsible will the city be when a coyote attacks one of our children?"

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FEEDING FERAL CATS

To prevent coyotes from coming into the city and approaching homes, some cities, including Oakville, have bylaws that prohibit feeding wildlife. But London’s animal welfare co-ordinator Ron Oke said though feeding wildlife is “always a bad idea...cats are not wildlife.

“This is something completely different. They are more domestic.”

The city traps, neuters and releases about 800 cats per year, he said.

City guidelines on feeding feral cats:

  • Feed with the intent of only feeding the animal.
  • Put the food down at the same time every day and take the traces away as soon as they finish eating.
  • Do not put down copious amounts of food.

What’s a feral cat?

The wild offspring of domestic cats that are primarily the result of pet owners’ abandonment, failure to confine or failure to spay or neuter their animals allowing them to breed uncontrolled.

City of London website

THE WORD ON COYOTES

Experts say almost every instance of coyotes attacking humans can be linked to coyotes being fed by humans. Several cities, including Oakville and Niagara Falls, have implemented strict anti-feeding laws with high fines. London hasn’t gone that far yet.


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