Bringing a low-cost spay and neuter clinic to Greater Sudbury would be a nightmare, an Espanola veterinarian says.

” You can trap and neuter them all day,” said Dr. P.J. Rocheleau. ” The life expectancy of a cat that lives outside is about 10 minutes. After the fox eats the cat you’ve just neutered, an unneutered male or female cat will come into the area and take its place.”

So, when Rocheleau, who owns the Espanola Animal Hospital, got a letter last November asking if he’d participate in a spay/neuter pro-g ram, he got to thinking of better ways to curb Espanola’s rampant stray cat population.

“In the last 10 to 20 years, not only has it not gotten better, I would argue it’s gotten worse,” he said. “One of the reasons I think it’s gotten worse is because of things like the city spay/neuter coupon option, which just teaches people to be more and more irresponsible. The last thing animals need is to be further devalued.”

After having a talk with Mindemoya veterinarian Dr. Dale Scott, the idea for the Mead Street Cat Project started to take shape.

” There is one particular neighbourhood in town here that has been a problem for decades,” said Rocheleau.

“Between the stray cats and people’s house cats running through the neighbourhood in packs, tearing people’s garbage open, spraying their window screens, the fighting and screaming at 5 a.m. they’re attracting predators, having litters of kittens in window wells. Anybody who lives within half a kilometre of this one site has just had it with this problem.”

The plan for the Mead Street Cat Project, which is still in its initial stages, is to attract the stray cats in the area into a barn, where food and water and bedding will be waiting for them. Then, with the barn designed to let cats in but not out, they’ll be picked up and brought to Rocheleau’s clinic. From there, they’ll be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and dewormed and sent to shelters to be adopted.

“We’ve done that with a couple of cats so far,” he said. “Hopefully pretty soon we’re going to start to be able to get more of these guys off the street in larger numbers. With it being winter, this really is our opportunity to get most of them. Come spring, they’re going to disperse a little bit because they’re going to be a little more mobile, and then they’ll start having more kittens. We aren’t going to fix this problem this winter. I’m hoping by next winter we can get most of it dealt with in this one neighbourhood.”

So far, Rocheleau has invested $1,000 of his own money into the project and estimates it will take 10 years to fully solve Espanola’s issue with strays.

The town needs to be more aggressive when dealing with irresponsible pet owners, he believes, as they, too, contribute to the problem.

“The town needs to enforce their bylaws. If we start enforcing our bylaws as we start trapping people’s cats, and we slap them with $400 or $500 in fines to get the cat back, they’re either not getting the cat back, in which case I’m sure we can find it a home with a responsible person who will look after it, or they’re only going to do it once. It’s a lot cheaper to spay a cat. It doesn’t cost $500 to get a cat spayed, I know that much. So that’s kind of the approach I’m coming at this from.”

The project has plenty of cat food — enough to last until the summer — and so much bedding there’s nowhere to store it. What he could really use, Rocheleau said, is Canadian Tire money to buy a solar panel for the roof of the barn, which will be used to install a heated water dish.

Volunteers and cash donations are also welcome.

“I don’t mind spaying and neutering cats as they come through here, because the business can absorb the cost of some of this. A lot of it is my time and it doesn’t cost me anything to provide my time. But some of the material costs are harder to cover,” he added.

For more information on the project, search Espanola Animal Hospital on Facebook. To make a donation or volunteer, call the clinic at 705-869-0090.