He’s tall and burly, wears jeans, running shoes, a baseball cap and drives a black Dodge Ram. A light-brown goatee toughens his rounded face. Every day, he puts in long hours of physical labour for a landscape company. But after work, Bob Swiderski feeds stray cats.
“This is Romeo,” he tells me, crouching next to a small orange cat as it laps up a pile of wet food in a back alley near Gerrard Street East and Greenwood Avenue. “And see the head poking out from behind the fence? That’s Blackie.”
Swiderski looks out for one of Toronto’s many colonies of feral or stray cats. It started when his sister told him about an old garage filled with stray cats four years ago, Swiderski felt sorry for them and brought food. The next day, he couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry the cats would be. So he came back with more.
Everyday for the past four years, he has come to the alley, pouring piles of dry food from a plastic jug and opening cans of wet food as cats scurry around him. Besides the food, he’s also built Styrofoam shelters for the winter – one local resident let him put them in her backyard. Overall, he spends about $100 a week on his feline mission.
“I’m actually embarrassed, it’s silly,” he says. “Trust me, I’m a normal person.”
As the colony grew and he began to wonder when this would end, he started to reach out to a community of feral cat devotees in the city. With the help of Toronto Cat Rescue and the Annex Cat Rescue, he began trapping the cats in his colony, to have them spayed or neutered, de-wormed and vaccinated. So far he’s caught 50 cats. Most are released, but some, especially kittens, are adopted into homes. He’s even taken one of the cats in himself.
It’s a big commitment. He’s had to turn down landscaping work in cottage country, and finds it hard to explain: “I can’t go, got to feed cats.” He remembers the incredulous looks he got when he told his colleagues at work about his project.
“Guys who used to fear me – don’t so much anymore,” he says, laughing.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris