When Maria Martin’s cat went missing in mid-June, she was devastated. Oliver was only one and a half years old, but he was a part of the family.
“Ollie is an indoor/outdoor cat and we think he may have wandered too far and either got lost or scared by something,” wrote Martin in a post on the Comox Valley Lost and Found Pets Facebook page on June 14. “He is timid around people he doesn’t know so he may not let you approach him.”
As days turned into weeks with no sign of the orange tabby, Maria’s worries increased.
On July 24, more than a month after Oliver went missing, his body was found at the west end of Dove Creek Road near the Mount Washington exit.
Martin was in Montreal when she heard the news and flew back as soon as she could.
“It’s been like a death in the family,” said Martin. “It’s very tragic and you go through waves of emotions – you feel guilty and angry and sad and your heart aches and it’s almost like you’re in a dream.”
After Oliver went missing, Martin began to believe her cat had been trapped and dumped — something that has allegedly been happening to cats in the Comox Valley for years.
Martin lives in Embleton near Puntledge Park and she said the distance between where Oliver was found and his home seems to indicate he was dumped.
Bryan Baker, president of Kitty Cat P.A.L.S., said the area where Martin lives seems to be a hot spot for cats going missing.
The organization works to trap and fix feral cats to help prevent cat overpopulation, but it also sometimes traps tattooed cats and returns them to their owners.
“When we’re trapping these cats that are feral, we’ll pick up the odd one that has a tattoo,” Baker said. “So of course we trace it and we find out this cat used to live over here and we found it 20 miles over here. We probably get at least four cats like this a year.”
Baker said he is certain these cats were trapped and dumped because of how far away from their homes they were found. He said there is no way the lost cats could wander that far on their own.
“Usually we find them in an area where somebody could pull off a road that’s rural. Someone who’s doing it could pull off and hide so that no one can see them,” he said.
According to Baker, a common place to find lost cats is along Mount Washington road – similar to where Oliver was found. He added that he has been working with Kitty Cat P.A.L.S. for 11 years and has suspected a cat trapper in the Valley for the entire time he has been with the organization.
Emily Priestly, Comox Valley & District SPCA branch manager, said they do not handle cruelty investigations on a branch level, but she has also heard rumours of cats being trapped and dumped.
“It is illegal for people to relocate animals like that and to abandon animals,” she said. “Even if it isn’t their cat, if someone traps a cat and they take it out a logging road, that’s considered abandonment and that’s illegal.”
Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and the Comox Valley Regional District do not currently have cat bylaws in any capacity, and Priestly says this may result in strained neighbour relationships when cats are let outside.
“When people are upset about [cats at large], there is no recourse for that,” she said. “Cat owners want their cat to be loose but the neighbours don’t want them pooping in the garden and killing the birds. When you get a volatile situation where this is happening, you have someone willing to trap and release like that.”
Priestly said other municipalities like Nanaimo have introduced cat bylaws to control cats at large. She said people who are concerned about cats in their yard should lobby their local government to introduce a bylaw.
She added anyone who is concerned about an animal in distress can call the Animal Cruelty Hotline at 1-855-622-7722.
Baker said he thought he knew who was dumping cats at one time, but was not able to catch them in the act.
“We tried to do something before when we knew who was doing it, but you actually have to catch them in the act of throwing the cat into the bush, and if you can’t do that, then you can’t prove it. So it’s next to impossible,” he said.
Monika Terragni, media relations with the RCMP, said there has not been a police report made about trapped and dumped cats.
Martin said this has been going on long enough and now has plans to advocate on the behalf of all trapped cats to help put an end to this.
“I feel really guilty and I feel sad and my heart aches, but I feel like on his behalf, I need to do something and make a change,” she said. “They’re not winning in doing these actions, they’re not. They didn’t win with Oliver and that’s important for them to know.”