Toronto feral cats’ angel
Over the last four years, Helder Da Silva has racked up over 140,000 km on his car travelling to cat colonies across the city to provide feral cats with food and water.
Da Silva, 50, describes himself as a “true animal lover,” with six of his own cats at home and 100 registered under his name.
He leaves his home at Allen Rd. and Eglinton Ave. W. at 8 every morning to make the rounds to four cat colonies before going into work. He drives to Downsview for one, then heads to Highway 7 and Jane St. where there are three colonies within a kilometre of each other.
He feeds 35 or so cats everyday with food donated by a number of companies, such as Purina but says water is much more important.
“They’re dying of thirst,” he said.
When the temperature starts to drop, Da Silva leaves water in a steel bowl placed in an old cookie tin, which he keeps from freezing by lighting a small candle beneath the bowl in the tin.
He started this daily ritual after finding a frozen kitten stuck to the front seat of an abandoned car behind the auto repair shop where he then worked.
It was the same kitten he chased around the shop a day earlier, hoping to take it home with him.
“I had seen him all wet and felt bad for him,” said Da Silva.
He felt even worse when he had to pour warm water over the kitten to extract it from the car’s seat.
Da Silva said that incident sparked a desire to do more for homeless cats.
Unwanted cats that make up cat colonies are often ditched in places where other cats have been spotted — parking lots, alleys, abandoned buildings and parks.
“I’ve lost a lot of respect for the human race because this is all done by people — careless, ignorant, uneducated. It shouldn’t be happening,” said Da Silva.
It isn’t a small problem — Toronto Animal Services estimates there are 100,000 feral cats in the city. And colonies grow as those that haven’t been “fixed” mate, creating a new generation of feral cars.
Da Silva does his part for population control by taking cats who haven’t been spayed or neutered to be sterilized. The city and Toronto Humane Society offer free spay/neuter services through the Trap-Neuter-Return program to colony caretakers like Da Silva. Toronto Animal Services also provides the service free for those with household incomes less than $50,000.
Da Silva says he’s gotten over 100 cats fixed. Toronto Animal Services says it has sterilized 2,799 cats since the program was put in place in 2010.
How to trap and release cats is all part of a colony management course offered by the Toronto Feral Cat Project, which also covers how to feed and shelter cats.
Toronto Animal Services says there are 237 cat colonies registered across the city. Da Silva says their work is particularly important in the cold Canadian winters, which many cats can’t survive. In addition to managing a colony, he donates his time every other Saturday to build shelters for cats at the Toronto Humane Society.
But the work won’t end until people stop abandoning their cats. Last year, the city euthanized over 2,900 cats — 689 of them as a result of being abandoned by their owners.
“If people don’t want their cats, just give them up for adoption,” Da Silva said.
There are so many organizations assisting in adoptions now that just dropping off a cat curbside should never be an option, he said.
“There’s no excuse for that.”