By Shannon Preston
We always secretly knew that cats ran the world, but in Ottawa it’s plain to see. Right next to Parliament there are miniature versions of the beautiful historic buildings presided over by (you guessed it) cats! They might not pass bills or discuss legislature at any great length, but these federal felines certainly have their own agendas.
Instead of being the political epicentre of the cat world (but hey, who knows?), these quaint little buildings are actually a cat sanctuary. It all started in the 1970’s when a woman by the name of Irène Desormeaux began to feed the stray cats that hung around Parliament. Rumour has it that these cats were first brought in to help with the rat problem in the government… er, I mean, government buildings. They might even still be performing this service today, but they like to keep their business to themselves.
These constitutional savvy cats are well cared for, being fed and watered every day and taken to the vet whenever needed – a task that fell to René Chartrand after Desormeaux passed away in 1987. Chartrand feeds them twice a day, every day, carrying bags that weigh up to 10 pounds despite the fact he is well into his 80s. The whole enterprise gets rather pricey for one man to handle, since caring for the 28 resident cats costs around $6,000 a year. Thus, donations are heavily relied upon to keep the littlest Parliament doors open. The government does not provide any funding towards the care of these cats, but does permit Chartrand to go about his work without interference. In fact, now government workers will even clear a path to the sanctuary in the winter to allow him to fulfill his duties to the kitties more easily.

By Shannon Preston
Chartrand built these now rather famous felines their own buildings to help them survive the harsh Ottawa winters. Despite their fancy digs, however, they are free to roam the grounds and do so quite often. They might appear quite domesticated in their posh houses and too-cute-to-be-true names, like Bebe and Max, but it is important for visitors to remember they are still stray cats and it is best to remain cautious around them.
Each of the 28 cats is spayed or neutered to keep the population number on the Hill to a minimum. However, Chartrand will occasionally add another cat to the sanctuary, but only from a shelter when they are about to be put down and there is no other option. Even though the sanctuary was set up to care specifically for cats, other animals in the area have profited from it as well. Squirrels, raccoons and other wild animals enjoy the scraps left behind by the cats. The birds aren’t forgotten about either, as Chartrand will often bring bread crumbs for them to join in the feast too.
The sanctuary has become quite the tourist attraction in the capital and even gained Chartrand the nickname the ‘Cat Man of the Hill.’ So the next time you are in Ottawa and have finished your obligatory tour of Parliament, check out the cats right next door and maybe make a donation to help ensure that they continue to receive the excellent care Chartrand provides.

By Allison Vorstenbosch