For most of us, Bluffer’s Park is a little piece of paradise. It’s a natural wonder, full of wildlife, the sound of water lapping up against the shore, and full of scenic paths to soothe and calm the nerves. But, there is a dark side to this park that we all know and love. Most of us are aware of some of the issues the park faces. Littering is a constant problem. Discarded fishing line and lead sinkers have sickened and killed more than one water bird at the park. Weekend vandals have set fire to benches and knocked over fencing on more than one occasion.
But, the biggest secret this park holds is indeed a tragic one. People have been using Bluffer’s as a place to abandon their unwanted pets for many years. The practice, known locally as “dumping” has been an ongoing issue for over a decade. Many locals may remember at one time there was a feral cat colony living at the park. The colony gained some attention from local media, and at one point, people would make the park a destination to come and see the cats. Unfortunately, because of the attention that was drawn to the colony, people started to think that Bluffer’s was a good solution to rid themselves of their unwanted pets, as well.
Judy Wilson of the Scarborough Bluffs Feral Cats group became involved with rescue at Bluffer’s in 2006. At the time there were approximately 25- 30 ferals living in the colony. In 2011, coyotes discovered the cats, and started preying on them. That’s when Judy and other volunteers stepped in to capture and adopt out cats from the colony. It was a long and expensive process, with the majority of money coming out of the volunteers’ pockets. Today, there are only two feral cats left in the park, Half-Mask and Tommy. They were not suitable to be re-homed, and the people who live at Bluffer’s, as well as Judy and her volunteers, feed the two cats daily and look after their well-being.
Since Judy started volunteering with the group, she has rescued well over 100 cats that have been dumped in the park, in addition to the feral colony. John-Paul and Lynne comb the park daily looking for evidence of any dumped animals. The majority of dumped animals have been cats, but volunteers have also rescued domestic ducklings, rabbits, and most recently, a chicken. Also found this winter were two dead chinchillas who died from exposure before they could be rescued.
Judy believes that many inexperienced pet owners have the belief that they will do just fine if they are released into the wild. While it is true that cats can learn to fend for themselves, the sad reality is that most of the cats that are dumped will end up sick or dead within a short amount of time. Infections from parasites are common, as are injuries and exposure. House cats have not ever had their mothers to teach them how to survive in the wild—which food to eat, how to hunt and general survival. They need to be taught these skills, it is not instinctual. But, the biggest threat of all at Bluffer’s comes from the coyote and fox population. These are predators that rely on meat for their diet. A frightened house cat is easy prey for these cunning animals. Rabbits fare even worse. A domestic rabbit is nothing like a wild rabbit, and is almost entirely dependent on humans for food and shelter. Many of them have perished before they could even been rescued
Volunteer Gayle Taylor has assisted with the rescue and rehabilitation of over ten domestic rabbits during her involvement with the Feral Cats group. The most recent rabbit rescue is still an ongoing issue. Two domestic white rabbits were found by the volunteers, and brought over to Gayle’s for housing until they could be readied for adoption. Gayle quickly realized that the pair were likely mother and daughter, with the daughter being about 5 months old. She also found out that the mother was in the early stages of pregnancy. Very shortly after, Annabelle (Mom) gave birth to 14 kits! Of those, only 9 survived. The whole family was taken to a small animal shelter where they could be housed until it was time to adopt them out. Then, tragedy struck again. Annabelle’s older daughter, who was named Maisie, was scheduled for a routine spay. The day after her operation, she became rapidly ill and bled to death. Volunteers at the shelter also noticed that Annabelle was acting sick, as well. Tests confirmed that she was suffering from a severe infection. Due to the nature of her sudden illness, she has been scheduled for emergency surgery. This means that her kits will have to be formula fed, and separated from her while she is on medication, as she could pass the drugs on to them in her milk. This also means further stress on Annabelle as she is already grieving her daughter Maisie, to whom she was deeply bonded.
If you are an animal lover, it’s easy to get emotional over these situations. You may find yourself wondering what kind of person could dump their domestic animal into such a dangerous and life-threatening situation. Some of the animals found are literally so terrified from being abandoned, it takes the volunteers weeks to build up enough trust to capture them. Education is obviously an issue, as there are still many folks who believe that an animal will somehow just work it out if returned to nature. Also at issue is the lack of affordable veterinary care. Judy speculates that most of the dumped cats are left right around the age when they require being spayed or neutered. A female cat might start being very vocal and trying to get outside. A male cat might begin spraying and acting a little aggressive. Pet owners might not want to deal with the behavioural issues, or the financial cost of an operation. In any case, it is difficult to understand why people would choose to abandon an animal in the park when there are local shelters that will accept surrenders. Both the Toronto Humane Society and Toronto Animal Services will accept any domestic animal as a surrender. Remember that owning an animal is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
It is also worth noting that people who abandon their animals may face criminal charges and/or fines. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act is a Provincial Law that protects distressed and abused animals. The OSPCA has been successful at laying both Federal and Provincial charges against people who have mistreated or abused their animals. I asked them what would be the proper course of action if one encounters an individual dumping an animal. They stressed to not engage the individual at all. The best action to take is to record the license plate number of the person, and to get as many descriptive details about the person and vehicle as possible. Also, if the dumped animal can be retrieved safely after the individual leaves, do so immediately. The OSPCA has a 24 hour hotline staffed with live operators to report these kinds of abuses. The dispatcher will take all your information, and work in conjunction with local law enforcement to respond to the situation. It is important to note to NOT phone the local police, as this kind of animal abuse is not a municipal crime. Also, Toronto Animal Services and the Humane Society will likely be unable to press charges as well. After the dumped animal is retrieved, a representative of OSPCA will report on the condition of the animal. The overall distress or health issues of the animal will determine the charges that are to be laid.
For all the animal owners out there who have an animal that they can longer care for, for whatever reason—please do the responsible thing and take your animal to a shelter where there is a chance they might find a new home. The worst thing you can do is to subject your untrained domestic to the dangers of a wild space. It is terrifying for the animal, and it may result in charges being filed against you. If the cost of spaying or neutering is an issue, Toronto Humane Society has a low cost, high volume spay/neuter clinic that services the GTA. Currently, the OSPCA is working towards expanding those services for further accessibility.
Domestic animal dumping is the sad secret of Bluffer’s Park. But, thanks to the caring volunteers, many of these stories have turned out well. Our household was devastated last year when we found out suddenly that our sweet cat Rusty had terminal cancer. Thankfully, he did not suffer long before crossing the Rainbow Bridge. Not even two weeks later, a pair of handsome young brother cats were dumped at the park. We were down in the park when we ran into John-Paul and Lynne trying to coax them out of the woods with food. One of the cats was very talkative to me, and he seemed to realize that we were all just trying to help. The next day, John-Paul and Lynne were able to capture them, and Judy took them up to her local vet for a check-up, vaccinations and neutering. It turns out that these two fluffy boys were two of the most loving, affectionate cats they had ever found. Judy called me and asked if we wanted to see them, not knowing that we had just lost Rusty. Beau (the other half of The Wild Bluffs) and I went up to the vet to visit these boys. The one that had spoken to me from the woods walked right up to Beau and sat down at his feet. He made a big display to all of us that he had made his choice, and that Beau was to be his human from now on. How could we say no? Today, Rufus is a charming and sweet young man, and a wonderful addition to this household. His brother Johnny, (named after John-Paul!) found his forever home with a lovely young woman who adores him. These two had a happy ending, but the ending for many dumped animals is not always so sunny. Please keep on the lookout for suspicious activity involving domestics at Bluffer’s, and keep the number for the OSPCA hotline handy if you frequent the park. We all need to work together to provide a safer, healthier environment for all of us…including the animals who rely on us.
The Scarborough Bluffs Feral Cats group is primarily funded by Judy and her volunteers. The make sure every abandoned animal is given a full medical check-up, and any vaccinations or spay/neuter that they might need. It is an expensive process! They welcome and appreciate donations. To donate, contact Judy directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The OSPCA has been privately funded organization since 1876. They rely on donations from the public to continue to do the good work that they do. Without them, there would be no laws in place at all to protect animals from cruelty and neglect. They are currently working towards expanding those laws and protection. The 24 hour live operator hotline is 310-SPCA (7722). No area code is required, and that number can be reached from anywhere in Ontario. For donations, or more information on their work, visit their website: www.ontariospca.ca