One Feral Cat Colony- One Neighborhood's Dilemma
It takes just one irresponsible pet owner to produce a feral cat colony. According to the statistics from Feral Cat Coalition, a pair of breeding cats which has two or more litters per year, can exponentially produce 420,000 offspring.
A feral cat colony has established itself in my neighborhood and is growing by the month. Some dimwitted pet owner moved away and left their cat to fend for itself. How someone can move and leave their pet is beyond my comprehension. I suppose I, including a number of my kind-hearted, animal loving neighbors didn't help the situation. On more than one occasion, I've walked down the sidewalk to where they begin to congregate every afternoon to place a couple of piles of dry cat food. I just can't bear to see them foraging in garbage for food. One neighbor even built temporary shelters to house them during the Winter months. I recall the day I saw the first litter as I drove by in my vehicle one morning. It looked like a splattering of yellow Easter chicks on the lawn, waiting while their feline mom tore open garbage placed on the curb on pick up day. They were ridiculously cute.
It wasn't long before we had generations of cats from the initial "throw away" cat, a term I detest. Slowly, things began to get out of hand with one litter after another being born. Then, as if overnight, we were overwhelmed with feral cats. Complaints from neighbors began to flood in. This feral colony had grown substantially and cats were still breeding. The ferals were getting into garbage, fighting amongst themselves and with our pet felines who venture outdoors. A neighbor's pet cat had its back slashed open in a fight with one of the feral cats and spent days in the hospital battling infection. Many ferals met their demise by getting struck by cars.A sad, sad, situation. Strays do become a nuisance as they leave droppings and urine in the areas they live, and will of course scratch and dig. Stray cats are a source of fatal and non-fatal diseases transmittable to humans and domestic cats, including rabies, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever, allergies, feline leukemia, feline distemper and secondary bacterial infections.
Clearly, something had to be done, but what? We have no CNR (capture, neuter and release/return) program in the area. And, the local Humane Shelter, always stretched to their limit, financially, and trying to survive on meager funding and donations, were not equipped to house large numbers of feral cats. And, they wouldn't be able to adopt them out because they are so wild. Our community has just one animal control officer, and he and the shelter are unable to commit to the man-hours it would take to capture our large feral colony. So, it would be up to residents to capture them. We all knew the outcome of the feral cats brought in, and that pulled at our heartstrings. But, we all agreed, something had to be done.
Armed with a trap in hand furnished by the Humane Shelter, a neighbor began the arduous, heart-wrenching task of beginning the trapping process. The numbers quickly escalated. As soon as he would set the trap, one would go inside; a testament to their hunger. I saw just one in the trap and that was all I could handle, emotionally. I just couldn't bear to look. Even though the cats were not "harmed" during the process, they were frightened, confused and thrashing about when we approached the cage. The colony had already begunto produce new litters by April; adding to the numbers.
My way of handling the thought of trapping, was to remove the thought from my mind, as long as I didn't have to witness it. That changed when I received a call from my neighbor doing the trapping asking if I could deliver the latest catch to the Humane Shelter. My worst nightmare just became reality. This is something I didn't want to do, but I couldn't leave the poor cat in the cage any longer, as it had already been in there overnight. So, I swallowed hard and headed out to retrieve the trap. As I made my way toward the cage, the poor kitty was watching me, intensely. He had eaten his can of cat food that had been used for bait. Even though I talked softly to him as I approached, he became more and more agitated. As I picked up the cage, he began to hiss, strike and thrash about trying to bite my hand.I have to admit, I came close to opening the cage at this point to set him free because he was so stressed, and I didn't want him to injure himself, but I knew he would just be caught again. Instead, I covered the cage with an old sheet to lessen his stress level and loaded him in the SUV for the drive to the Humane Shelter. It seemed much longer than normal when I make the drive to drop off donated supplies, for I know that it is, most likely, the end of the road for my precious cargo.
Feral cat mortality rate is over 50% for various, obvious reasons. Experts say that if you have intentions on taming a feral kitten, the window of opportunity is from five-eight weeks; once they are weaned. I guess that is where we failed this neighborhood feral colony. Kittens should have been rescued early on so they could be tamed and deemed suitable for adoption after being vaccinated, spayed and neutered.
Controversy regarding the treatment of feral cats is enormous and local laws, varied. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), also known as Trap-Test-Vaccinate-Alter-Release (TTVAR) are great alternatives. Unfortunately, these programs are non-existent in most communities. Of course, we wouldn't have a need for CNR/TRN/TTVAR programs if we, as pet owners, act responsibly by spaying and neutering our pets.
Excerpt from The Feral Cat Spay Neuter Project :
"Many people and organizations set a different standard for free-roaming cats than for other animals. They argue that any cat is better off dead than living a natural outdoor lifestyle. For example, they contend that a car may hit a free-roaming cat during its lifetime, therefore, a more humane approach is to trap and kill the cat before that happens. If we expand that logic, we would need to kill every bird, mammal, fish, and insect – basically all life forms, to spare them the suffering of a natural lifestyle. Why kill an animal living a natural lifestyle simply because it isn’t living a lifestyle with people"