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Parliament Hill Suits Cats Purr-fectly
A nation may be judged by the way it treats its feline friends. Take the case of Canada's capital
Michael Lomas (lomas)     Print Article 
Published 2005-05-17 21:45 (KST)   
This cat sanctuary was founded by the late Irene Desormeaux nearly 30 years ago.
©2005 M. Lomas
Since the late 1970's an extraordinary sanctuary for stray, homeless cats has existed within the shadow of Canada's Peace Tower on Parliament Hill overlooking the mighty Ottawa River in the nation's capital.

Located on a cliff edge just behind the northwest corner of the Parliament Hill, a tidy painted plywood structure looks somewhat like two miniature Parliament Centre Block buildings. Its cozy rooms are stuffed with straw, protecting cats from temperatures dipping as low as minus 20째C or more in the long Canadian winter. And in the summer the cats lazily stretch out to sun on the platforms and shelves surrounding the shelter.

©2005 M. Lomas
Volunteer Rene Chartrand, fondly identified as "The Catman," inherited the job of caring for the cats from Irene Desormeaux, now deceased, who originally founded the home. Now a sprightly 83 years old, Rene built the present structure and maintains it year long -- even clearing snow in winter so that the cats have room and access to shelter.

With funds from donors and his meager pension, Rene spends the thousands of dollars necessary to daily feed the cats with a rich variety of store-bought and home-cooked meals. During the day, black squirrels also dip into the food. Raccoons and groundhogs also creep in at night for sustenance.

What local residents and visitors from around the world find so surprising is that this sanctuary is located on property owned and operated by the federal government. Meanwhile, only a short distance away, the politicians of the House of Commons and members of the Senate argue, debate and give direction on affairs of state.

Rene advises visitors that the cats are wild and shouldn't be petted by hand. There is a legend that they are descendants of cats from past centuries which were used by civil servants to keep control of mice and other vermin that used to plague the government chambers.

The centre block of Canada's Parliament buildings.
©2005 M. Lomas
Currently there appear to be about 30 cats ranging in age from only a few months to a venerable 15 years or more. The occasional appearance of kittens keeps the population up at about that level. It is no wonder that profiles of the cats and their sanctuary have appeared in many newspapers, magazines and on television stations over the years. These lovable, furry creatures are just naturally photogenic.

Confirming official sanction, a federal government Web site shows pictures of the sanctuary and states, "The contrast between these modest shelters and the formality and tradition of the Parliament Buildings is a symbol of compassion, one of the important elements of Canadian society."

Cat lovers around the world would certainly agree with that sentiment.
OhmyNews reporter Mike Lomas delights in finding unusual stories in Canada's national capital of Ottawa. He reports, "I have two cats myself, a tabby and a black-and-white cat. I would like to take them both on a visit to the Cat Sanctuary on Parliament Hill to observe the pampered lives of other cats. However, I think the culture shock would be much too much for them to bear."
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Lomas

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