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Low-income households are now eligible for free spay and neutering of pets.
the Gauntlet

No place to go for cats in the city

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Local cats are in a crisis. Three of the city's most credible feline pounds, the Humane Society, the Meow Foundation and the Animal Services Centre, are nearing capacity and looking for a solution.

"We are always at capacity," said Meow Foundation executive director Debbie Nelson. "Whatever space we have, we fill."

The Meow Foundation can take in about 200 cats at any given time, not including foster families for the animals. The foundation attempts to curb the amount of stray and homeless cats in the city through the Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, which helps low-income cat owners, and the Trap Neuter Return program, which targets wild or feral cats so they do not continue to reproduce.

Calgary is no stranger to strays or lost cats.

"It's an ongoing problem that we see," said Calgary Humane Society communications manager Desiree Arsenault.

The Calgary Humane Society has a unique cat policy. The organization has the capacity for 400-550 cats in the shelter and 250 foster families. Even with the space, they greatly urge owners to spay and neuter their pets.

Unlike most shelters, the Humane Society is an open admissions facility.

"No matter how full we get, we accept animals," said Arsenault. "We are the only one that I am aware of in southern Alberta currently."

In late October, The City of Calgary's animal and bylaw services launched their own initiative -- a free cat and dog spay and neuter program to decrease the number of unwanted litters. The program allows animal owners with low-income to apply for free spaying or neutering, surgery for cats and dogs, a free six-month pet licence and a tracking microchip. To be eligible for the pet program, Calgary residents must be at least 18 and have a total family household annual income that is no greater than 85 per cent of the Statistics Canada low income cut off of $22,229 per person.

"In the most part, 90 per cent of our cats come from those [low income] areas," said Nelson. "This is really the answer and the solution to stray and homeless cats."

Arsenault hopes to see fewer cats brought in as a result of the no-cost program, although she said after only a few weeks into the launch, there is no way to gauge its effectiveness until Calgary returns to its high season. The spring and summer are the busiest seasons for most shelters.

"Time will tell," said Arsenault. "In spring, maybe we'll see a decrease, which would be fantastic."

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