Fifty below is no place for a kitty.
But dozens of cats and kittens have been roaming Beaver Creek in freezing temperatures since a local woman moved to Whitehorse several weeks ago, leaving behind at least one pregnant feline with lots of pals.
“There are cats everywhere,” said Randi Jestin, a local woman who took five stray cats into her home since the owner’s departure in August.
The strays are the talk of a town that has no animal shelter, said Jestin, who estimated as many as 70 cats were living in the departed woman’s trailer before she left.
Two friends of the woman came back to her trailer to “‘clean up the mess’” by shooting several of the unwanted cats, said Jestin.
Now about 30 felines are wandering the community, seeking refuge from the winter, she said Monday.
“It’s 50 below here at night.
“They’re freezing to death and they’re starving to death.”
Several other Beaver Creek citizens talked about the stray cats, but asked to remain unidentified for fear of reprisal within the tight-knit community.
“There are 13 stray cats living in my house right now,” said a woman who has a free-swinging cat door at one entrance to her home that allows the feral felines to come and go as they please.
“They’re all wild; we can’t catch them and they’re getting themselves pregnant.”
Nevertheless, the anonymous woman is putting food out for the abandoned animals to keep them from dying.
“You would see cats wandering around in masses before it got so cold,” she said.
“You don’t see as many now.
“We’ve talked to the RCMP, but they say there’s nothing they can do.”
Domestic stray cats that have turned wild fall into a grey zone for the RCMP, who are unsure about their jurisdiction, said spokeswoman Brigitte Parker.
If the animals are not posing a threat to public health or safety, and if they are not being cruelly treated, there’s nothing the RCMP can do, said Parker.
But the RCMP have a duty to act, because abandonment constitutes an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada and the Yukon Animal Protection Act, said animal rights advocate Andrea Lemphers, who has been lobbying the Yukon government to toughen its animal protection laws for 20 years.
“We have an animal protection act, and it’s like what happened in Dawson; the acts aren’t being enforced,” Lemphers said Tuesday, alluding to a dog owner in Dawson City who shot 74 of his animals in the spring.
“We don’t have any people who specialize in investigating these cases.”
Dawson and Whitehorse are the only locations in the territory that have animal shelters, she added.
In a September 2006 letter to Lemphers, government ministers Glenn Hart and Archie Lang said they intended to engage a professional consulting firm to recommend improvements to the Yukon legislation and its enforcement.
Amendments to the animal protection act are currently being discussed in the territorial legislature.
Mount Lorne NDP MLA Steve Cardiff tabled a petition with 2,500 signatures in the legislature on Tuesday that urged the government to strengthen its laws against animal cruelty.
“In 2002, the Yukon Party promised new animal protection legislation,” Porter Creek South Liberal MLA Don Inverarity said during Question Period Monday.
“Yukoners … waited four years and nothing has happened.
“We currently have a number of different pieces of legislation to deal with animal cruelty and the protection of animals. The problem seems to be that there is no co-ordination between the acts and nothing ends up happening.”
There are five pieces of animal protection legislation that the government is currently reviewing, said Premier Dennis Fentie.
“The work that we have to do is related to five particular statutes and how they all interrelate,” Fentie said Monday.
“It’s not an easy or quick process.
“If, indeed, we have outdated legislation, then the work must be done to ensure that we address the problem, improve the statute, but make sure that, into the future, it doesn’t quickly become outdated again.”
But until the legislation is amended, or enforced, citizens will contemplate taking the law into their own hands.
“You wonder if you should shoot them, to put them out of their misery, but then you’re trespassing on somebody’s property and shooting somebody’s pet,” said a man who lives near the abandoned trailer and caught two Beaver Creek strays in a live trap.
“When she moved out, she turned the key and walked away.
“Even now, there are cats roaming around on my property. The snow is getting deep, so now they’re out on the highway.
“There are still cats roaming around that are going to wind up with their ears frozen off.
Although foxes and coyotes will probably eat the cats, the police or the government should still enforce the law, he said.
“She should be charged. I hate to say it, but you wouldn’t do that to a small child.
“You probably wouldn’t do it to a dog, either.”