Sometimes the best plans are the least complicated.

Take the cat population control project in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, launched a couple of years ago to tackle a huge free-roaming cat problem in 38 districts.

So pull up your chairs, HRM and other municipalities. This is what they did.

Jack Coffey, who chairs the Feral and Abandoned Cat Society, says the CBRM put out a call for volunteers to sit on steering committee to get the ball rolling.

Once established, the society signed a contract with the municipality and has become an umbrella group to co-ordinate an extensive and ongoing trap, neuter, return program, as well as find homes for kittens and friendlies and oversee the care of colonies.


For their efforts, they receive up to $25,000 annually from the municipality.

Coffey, who is retired, has some pretty amazing statistics to share since they trapped their first cat about 13 months ago:

He estimates that since November 2012, the society has had about 1,000 cats spayed or neutered

Volunteers manage about 410 colonies

So far they’ve received $45,000 from the CBRM. They’ve spent about $102,580 and fundraised to make up the difference.

The retired Coffey, speaking last week from his home in Marion Bridge, said there are thousands of free-roaming cats in Sydney and the other communities that make up the CBRM.

He said they have one colony on their radar that includes upwards of 100 cats living over just a few blocks.

“It’s a huge problem,” he said.

The society is not a rescue per se, but acts as a traffic controller. Identified roaming cats needing to be spayed or neutered are put on a list that they work through with the help of rescues and other volunteers, including members of the Friends of the Cape Breton Homeless Animals group.

He said they also work closely with the Cape Breton branch of the Nova Scotia SPCA to help find homes for some of the cats.

They also ensure outdoor cats have shelters and are regularly fed.

Part of the society’s mandate is also to do public education on the issue of cat overpopulation.

The group, which has about 50-60 volunteers, meets monthly.

Of course the biggest hurdle is money as the grant from the municipality is just a drop in the bucket.

The bulk of their expenses is veterinary costs and there is no low-cost spay and neuter program in the region, although the society does get discounts from a few area veterinarians.

Despite the funding shortfall, what the municipally sponsored program brings to the table, and what is lacking in HRM and other communities, is a focussed effort.

It’s also an official acknowledgement that roaming cats are a community problem, not just a headache for struggling rescues and kind-hearted individuals.

I would venture to guess that the society has had such success at fundraising because the group has the stamp of approval from the municipality.

Something similar could work well in the Halifax area in conjunction with the SPCA’s low-cost spay and neuter clinic in Burnside and other clinics that help out rescues.

Coffey said they are very happy with their efforts to date but said there’s much still to do.

“We’re pleased with what we’ve been able to do. We’ve got our fingers crossed that we’re starting to make a dent. It’s going to take awhile before there’s any noticeable difference because we’ve got such a backlog ahead of us.”

Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell set off another firestorm of debate and speculation about what expected animal welfare regulations will look like in the final draft, telling reporters that tethering could include a 12-hour daily limit and there could be penalties for cat abandonment.

Of course all of this is just talk until it’s on paper, but his comments did provide some insight as to the direction he is considering.

The 12-hour limit proposal landed with a bit of a thud, with advocates arguing that tying a dog outside for half the day in the deep freeze of winter or the heat of summer is not a solution to the problem.

Of course there is also the question of a realistic ability to enforce such a law, especially if the province does not plan to spend any money to support the efforts of the investigation division of the SPCA, mandated to uphold such regulations.

Cat abandonment is also another thorny issue in terms of enforcement. But putting it on the books is a start.

We will see what the minister and his team come up with.

Pat Lee is an editor at and a volunteer with various animal rescue organizations, including the Nova Scotia SPCA.