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Vaughan forcing no-kill cat shelter to relocate animals by March 1 due to zoning, licensing rules

The city says its animal services department 'only place where found stray cats can be turned over'
Feb. 17, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

The award-winning North Toronto Cat Rescue has been operating in Vaughan for two and a half years with the majority of its 33-year history being in Markham.

While NTCR operated under one license in Markham, its founder Donna Cox, thought her shelter, designated as commercial property, was doing just fine in Vaughan. After all, NTCR was honoured last year as the No. 1 Animal Rescue Organization in the GTA and awarded the Readers' Choice GOLD STAR Award.

“We really didn't give it (licences, zoning) a whole lot of thought,” Cox said, who explained that Vaughan requires animal shelters to be on agricultural zoning.

NTCR is now required to acquire more than one licence to allow it to operate as usual and adopt cats, or else the charity group with its clear no-kill policy can’t have more than three cats inside.

Now, 15 cats have to be taken elsewhere by March 1, and NTCR had to pay a $75 cat tax.

“We are working to get them safely squirreled away,” Cox said of the cats. “They will not get our cats.”

So far, NTCR has a lawyer who put forward an application for a minor variance -- an administrative exception to land use regulations -- allowing the shelter two-and-a-half years, the period until the commercial building where they are located is demolished for redevelopment.

"The variance application on this matter will come before a future committee of adjustment," the city said. "The hearing date has not been set."

While Cox believes that they will get the variance that will allow them to stay for the period until demolition, it’s the hiccup of getting the licences that’s an issue.

"We don't dispute a licence, but they won't give it to us to allow us to have cats in the building, and they've told us we can't take any cats in, we can't adopt cats, we can't foster cats in York Region," Cox said.

The NTCR launched a petition to allow it to continue operating.

"We've done this 33 years, and it's an amazing facility," Cox emphasized.

As of Feb. 12, NTCR’s petition to allow NTCR Shelter to remain 2-3 more years until building is torn down for redevelopment has garnered 23,845 signatures of its goal of 25,000.

“It's the only no-kill there is,” Cox said. “We've had Animal Health inspectors from the government who say, ‘Your place is cleaner than our place.’ I mean our place is immaculate.”

She continued, “We have 60 volunteers. We have two teams twice a day -- morning and night -- that clean the place, they scrub the floors. There are no smells. We have almost half the house all ceramic tile. So we certainly have scrubbable floors.”

When asking Cox about the sudden requirement for the paperwork, she explained an episode with a nurse who adopted a two-year-old cat with a “tiny chip” in its tooth after spending three hours at the shelter.

When inquiring about this situation, the City of Vaughan explained that animal shelters are not permitted to operate in this location and that the city's animal services is the "only place where found stray cats can be turned over. The team then tries to locate the owner."