Solutions for feral cats take work, patience, and networking
Animal lovers who have compassion for feral cats are using social media to help protect the free-ranging cats that they enjoy. That includes Facebook groups, websites and more.
Their goal is to compassionately care for and control a growing cat population, and one key action is to participate in a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. This can be done with help from volunteer and non-profit groups who can advise and possibly help with the cost.
Have you seen a wild cat with one lopsided ear? That’s how veterinary clinics mark feral cats they have treated, clipping the tip of of the left ear to signify that the animal has been fixed.
This spaying/neutering practice can be a useful strategy in areas that tolerate feral cat populations. (Bartlett residents, however, should be aware that the city has a cat leash law, and violators can be cited for non-confinement of their animals.)
Two Bartlett residents in their 70s who asked to remain anonymous said they started out innocently taking care of a feral black-and-white cat about nine months ago. The animal hung out in a small wooded area behind their home, and she occasionally squeezed under their fence and hung around on their patio when the couple started putting out food. They soon saw her with two kittens.
Time went by, and she disappeared. Then her two half-starved kittens wobbled into their back yard, and they knew something had happened to their mom. They couple started feeding the two, who were soon both pregnant. Each had five kittens, and the smallest one died for each litter. One other also died.
The couple found themselves with nine cats to feed and thought, “Oh gosh, what are we going to do now?”
They got in touch with a local organization, who helped them arrange to trap and sterilize the animals. Now the cats are no longer a growing population, and the couple have nine healthy animals who crowd onto their patio in the mornings and sometimes return at night when they need shelter. There, they get daily food, water and a dry place to sleep with heat provided in the colder months. There are beds, kitty towers and all the amenities a cat could want.
The two have nicknamed their patio “the catio.”
“It’s a lot of work,” the Bartlett woman said. “My better half is the one who does the majority of it. In the morning, they’re waiting at the back door.”
She said their animal care was an unexpected development, and they were fortunate to get help from local agencies.
“It’s a responsibility once you do this,” she said. “You are responsible for this. You’re the one who brought them back here. You’re the one who has to take care of them.”
The cats aren’t destructive as they have been spayed/neutered, and they are good hunters who keep their yard free of moles, she said. “I’ve been presented with several of those.”
For other feral cats, the conversations online about them can be encouraging or heartbreaking. For example, a Jan. 16 thread on the Memphis Area Cat Rescue and Networking page included a plea to help the six feral cats that were being fed by an elderly Frayser woman who was going into assisted living. A neighbor allegedly threatened to start shooting the cats. People on the forum responded with offers to help with sterilizing and moving the animals to a new rural area where a property owner expressed interest but was unable to provide shelter. Another offered to send someone to talk to the trigger-happy neighbor about the legality of shooting the animals. Unfortunately, the final disposition was the trapping of the animals and delivery to a shelter that humanely euthanizes feral cats.
But that is only one of hundreds of stories about feral cat populations that are threatened, and there are other ways the stories can end.
Just one feral cat and her kittens can lead to 2,905 cats in seven years or 49,000 in 10 years (including mortality rates for feral cats and other factors), according to the calculate-this.com website. Other calculations predict that one unsterilized cat could lead to 420,000 cats in just seven years. Whatever the number, it’s too high, advocates say.
Cindy Dewey, who operates the non-profit Kitty City Inc. in Memphis, said there aren’t enough cat rescues in the Mid-South, and there are far too few resources for feral cats.
“I work on prevention,” she said. She also noted that some shelters, such as the one in Collierville, have helpers who trap feral cats for spaying/neutering and releasing.
It takes an investment of time and money to trap, neuter and release the feral cats, she said. Her organization alone paid to sterilize about 1,000 cats last year.
Strays and colonies of wild cats exist in many Mid-South areas. This year, Dewey is overseeing a grant to trap and neuter the estimated 1,300+ feral cats in Tipton County alone. The process includes traps, fuel for transportation, bait food, and the surgical procedures.
She is continuing efforts in Memphis and hopes to begin working with the University of Memphis’s Department of Urban Affairs and Social Policy soon to help educate people about feral cats. She also operates the Tennessee Barn Cats organization that helps to place wild cats in rural areas where cats are needed to control rodent problems in barns.
Facebook groups provide forums where people can share tips on helping these animals, advice on building them warm shelters for the winter and leads on possible placements. Not all of the following groups are exclusively for feral cats, but all offer some type of information or assistance. Search Facebook and the Internet for:
- Kitty City, Inc. (Memphis-based), as well as kittycityinc.org
- Tennessee Barn Cats (Memphis-based)
- Memphis Area Cat Rescue and Networking (Cats must be within a three-hour radius of Memphis)
- Memphis Pets Alive
- Street Cat Communique by Beth Frank or streetcatcommunique.org
- What's the difference between "feral cats" and "strays"?
- The Humane Society's list of Tennessee feral cat associations
- Municipal guide to managing "community cats"
- Scientific studies and data about community cats
- PetMD on understanding and caring for feral cats
- PETA's discussion of pros/cons of using TNR for feral cat control
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or firstname.lastname@example.org.