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 Texas : Features : Animals / "They Shoe Horses, Don't They?" :

Tails of Two Cities

The Great Columbus, Colorado County /
Canada Cat Compromises

By Brewster Hudspeth
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill Cat - Brownie on bench
Brownie on the Hill
TE photo, February 2010
Admittedly, there’s a slight difference in size. Columbus, Colorado County, Texas has a population of just under 4,000 while Ottawa, Ontario, Canada has roughly 812,000 residents. But if one factors in the populations of Columbus’ satellite communities of Glidden and Alleyton, Columbus’ population then swells to well over 4,000 people, narrowing the gap.

Similarities between the two cities abound. Ottawa is the capital of Canada, while Columbus is the County Seat of Colorado County. Both sit on the south sides of rivers. And, (get this) both rivers are named after the county and/or province.

What else do these cities have in common, you ask? “Not much,” I answer.

But there is a feline connection. Both places have had a common problem with cats and both places have independently come up with sensible and compassionate solutions.
Columbus TX Cats

Columbus cats when they had the run of the place.
TE photo, 2009

Part One: The Columbus Story

Residents of Columbus have long been known for their big hearts. But in the not-too-distant past, big-hearted Columbians were aghast to find the cat population that lived near the town square was being poisoned.

Something needed to be done. A few members of the big-hearted tribe came up with a solution: catch the whiskered ones, spay and neuter them, give them shots and then release them on the east side of the Colorado River – in a beautiful, under-used county park.

Local volunteers feed and water the cats at planned intervals and predictably, the cats quickly adjusted to the routine (read immediately adjusted).

In warmer months, the moss-draped, riverside landscape began to resemble a Henri Rousseau painting albeit with fewer sleeping gypsies and a lot more Live Oak trees.

Wooden structures to shelter the cats from fierce northern winds were removed on the grounds that they were eyesores. On this point, the Canadians seem to have solved the problem. (Please read on.)

There was a slight wrinkle in the plan when the cats mistook the Columbus Garden Club’s beautification flowerbed as an expansion of bathroom space. The cats were moved further down the river bank. The installation of durable signs discourages people from feeding the cats. Today it’s harder to visit the cats but volunteers are still permitted to feed and water their wards.

This relocation makes it more difficult for people to adopt the cats – and adopt them, they did. Earl, a handsome Tom that used to give visitors tours of the colony was adopted by visiting tourists and now resides in a chateau overlooking Lake Lucerne (or so I was told).

Congratulations to the big-hearted volunteers of Columbus and the understanding members of the Columbus Garden Club who recognize the power of cooperation and know that communities, like people, are often judged by how they treat their four-legged citizens.
Columbus TX Cats in line

The past. Please do not feed the cats now.
TE photo, 2009

Columbus TX Cat walk

Visitor from Taft, Texas gets a tour in December.
TE photo, 2009

Part Two: The Canadian Solution

Roughly 2,000 miles northeast of Columbus, Texas is Ottawa, the capital of Canada and home to the Parliament Hill cats. Here, the cat “problem” dates back over 100 years when the cats were once employed as mousers. (There’s nothing more aggravating than trying to pass laws and having a mouse run up your leg.)

Fast-forward to the 1970s when the cat population was fed by a single volunteer. (A poignant note tells the story.). As he became less able to care for the cats, a small group took over the duties, feeding both cats and their frequent dinner guests (drop-in raccoons, squirrels and groundhogs). Annual shots and checkups are provided free of charge by a local Veterinary clinic.

One time a change of government prompted a new member to declare the cats “a disgrace,” wherein the opposition party's impassioned response that "these are our cats. They belong here!” had the same effect as the "Have you no sense of decency, Sir?” speech that unseated Joseph McCarthy in the U.S. The cats' place on the hill was assured.

Instead of being a disgrace, the cats have become famous. Tourists seek them out and the volunteer caretakers continue their rounds, year-round. A drop box for donations is present at the site.

One cat (named Brunette) recently died at the age of 19 years. Brunette had been BOH (Born on the Hill) as had Brownie (pictured in the first photo). Other residents include Coal, Tigres and Moo.

The cats can be viewed on You Tube through a number of clips uploaded by visitors. A Search for Parliament Hill Cats will bring up clips showing the sanctuary with its residents as well as their drop-in guests.
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill Cats' shelter

The shelter problem solved.
TE photo, February 2010

Note: The shelter problem which vexed the people of Columbus was solved by Canadians by making sturdy respectable shelters with the roofs (somewhat) resembling the Houses of Parliament. Could that also be the solution for Columbus, Texas? A small scale replica of the Colorado County courthouse with a hinged dome for cleaning? - Brewster Hudspeth
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill overlooking  cats
Parliament as seen from the viewpoint of the Parliament Hill Cats
TE photo, February 2010
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill - Boy admiring Cat 'Moo'

"Moo" with a young admirer.
"If you touch me, you'll understand what happiness is."

TE photo, February 2010

Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill black cat sharing food with black squirrel

"Coal" breakfasts with a black squirrel.
TE photo, February 2010

Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill Cat  feeding
"Coal" dines al fresco without his squirrel.
TE photo, February 2010
Ottowa Canada -  Stray Cats  of Parliament  Hill story
"Stray Cats of the Hill" Story
TE photo, February 2010
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill
Approaching Parliament Hill
TE photo, February 2010
Ottowa Canada, Parliament Hill  in snow
Parting look
TE photo, February 2010
Friends of Abandoned Pets
While in Ottawa, our correspondent was introduced to another dedicated group of volunteers. Friends of Abandoned Pets is a group that not only feeds and cares for abandoned or feral cats – but dogs, too. In many cases, this indefatigable group must patiently earn the trust of the animals and then, after “capture” and medical check-up, find appropriate homes. As they say: “Matching pets with loving people.” Foster homes are arranged until a proper match is made – but the organization goes one step further – to insure that the animal is taken care of for life. In the event the adopting person can no longer care for the animal, the group will take it back and find another home. Our correspondent was introduced to several “success stories,” some of them sporting a few extra pounds of “success.”
Ottawa Canada Friends of Abandoned Pets - Feral cat Miss Cali in foster home
Former feral cat 'Miss Cali' luxuriating in her foster home
Friends of Abandoned Pets is a relatively new organization (1992) and they offer a realistic approach (and solution) to present-day needs. No shortcuts here – just down-in-the-trenches work with persistence and patience. Visit their website at: www.foap.on.ca
Editor's Note:
All Canada photos by webmaster Kate (“which-button-do-I-press?”) Troesser.

The editor wishes to express his thanks to the Winter Sisters of Ottawa who took excellent care of the webmaster during her stay there and aided in the story. All are active members of FOAP.

Brewster Hudspeth
"They Shoe Horses, Don't They?" March 5, 2010 column
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