Thursday, July 18, 2024
animal welfarecat photographscatsHCMTHomeless Cat Management Teamspay and neuterTNR

Herding Homeless Cats

Cats in carriers and cages
Cats in carriers and cages waiting for their time in surgery.

On Mondays I usually feature cats who need homes, whether they are rescues, in shelters, or an individual needs to rehome a cat or two. But though we had fun with yesterday’s spay/neuter clinic it brings the point home that there are still too many homeless cats—and something very easy we can do about it. SPAY AND NEUTER! And don’t think of only your own cats. It’s up to those of us who know spay/neuter is the right thing to do to convince others and even help them carry it out, or to rescue and assist cats we suspect are stray or feral and keep them from reproducing on the streets.

five cat carriers
My passengers to yesterday's clinic.

Yesterday I transported five cats to the low-cost clinic for a local woman who has been rescuing stray cats from her neighborhood and trying to rehome the cats and their kittens though craigslist, not knowing any other alternatives. Michelle Miller, manager of the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT) who organizes the clinics, looks over craigslist entries for people giving away or selling cats and kittens and approached the woman about spaying the mother cat, then learned about the other cats she has. The woman was glad for the assistance through HCMT and has two more cats to be spayed at the next clinic in three weeks, and she’ll pass the word around her neighborhood. Others have found HCMT through this same sort of outreach.

Other volunteers and participants in the clinic transported cats for individuals as I did, and still more trapped and transported cats from stray and feral colonies they are watching or managing, often four or five per person, and will take them home for recovery then release them in to the colony when they are ready, move them to a safer place than where they’d been, or try to socialize and rehome the friendlier ones. No cats will be sent to places that are unsafe or where there is no one to feed and watch over them.

That was a network of caring people all working together for one goal: reducing feline populations, and getting as many cats off the streets as possible in the most humane manner available.


The issue of feline overpopulation, and why humans are part of it

stray cat nursing kittens outdoors
Moon, Sputnik and Thistle, a stray and her kittens.

Cats left unspayed and unneutered whether in free-ranging colonies or in your own home will produce as many kittens as their bodies will allow, leading to disease and suffering and way too many kittens, who then go on to produce more kittens. Some hoarding situations begin with two kittens who were never spayed and neutered, and many stray/feral colonies begin with one pregnant female who someone tossed out to fend for herself.

It’s not likely, but a cat can have up to five litters in a year, bearing 6 or more kittens per litter over the course of as many as ten years, which adds up to about 300 kittens from one female cat in the course of her lifetime, not to mention the kittens her kittens produce.

More realistically, say she only has three litters of four kittens per year as Mimi did, that’s still a dozen new kittens; Mimi gave birth to 24 kittens in two years. All of Mimi’s kittens survived, but even with an average 50% survival rate, that could be as many as 60 kittens born over five years. Now add in all the kittens that those surviving kittens produce in addition to their mother, and it’s just out of control.

Ever-expanding colonies are also often the targets of abuse and “extermination”. Shelters are already full of cats who need homes, so rescue is possible but unlikely.

Why now? There’s still snow!

One of the most important considerations is to do it NOW, before cats start breeding in earnest, before last year’s kittens who may not be spayed and neutered answer the call of nature as the days grow longer and we start talking about “kitten season” again. While you may find new litters of kittens in the middle of the winter, a cat’s reproductive system responds to the length of the day, likely a biological response to keep them from reproducing during times when, seasonally, there isn’t enough food or the weather is inhospitable to kittens. Fellow blogger and vet tech Teri Thorsteinson, formerly a breeder of Cornish Rex cats, has written an excellent explanation of “Kittening”, explaining a cat’s reproductive cycle and giving birth.

Why we need to step in and help cats

“You know, I was totally powerless against my hormones, and I needed a human to get me spayed or I’d still be out there producing kittens,” Mimi, a great advocate for spaying and neutering, tells us each year. If you won’t listen to a person about spaying your cat, listen to the cat herself. Mimi gives us 30 good reasons to spay your cat and hopes that you’ll celebrate Spay Day USA on February 28 by either getting your cat spayed or convincing someone else to get their cat spayed.

black cat on sidewalk
Big Daddy comes for Mimi (actually coming to the door)!

The boys don’t have kittens, but they are still part of the problem

Boys do have babies, they just don’t give birth to them. But that doesn’t leave them off the hook for issues of animal overpopulation, not to mention the nasty behaviors unneutered cats indulge in. I had a friend who thought she lived too far from anyone else and decided not to neuter her male kitten, but not to worry, the girls found him! Read about that and why, just as we spay our girls we also need to neuter our boys and encourage others to do so as well.

Chances of feline breast and reproductive cancer, reduced to nearly nothing

Feline breast cancer is the third most common cancer among cats after lymphoma and skin cancer. In a 2005 study done at the University of Pennsylvania, “cats spayed prior to 6 months had a 91% reduction…those spayed prior to one year had an 86% reduction in the risk of mammary carcinoma development compared with intact cats.” Spaying between 1 and 2 years of age only reduces the risk by 11%, and after two years it doesn’t reduce the risk at all. Actually giving birth to kittens doesn’t change the risk factors, either. Read more about feline breast cancer.


Yes, it is expensive, but affordable alternatives are available

In Pittsburgh, the Homeless Cat Management Team offers “Trap-Neuter-Return”, or TNR, services for stray and feral cats which is an internationally-recognized method of helping to solve feline overpopulation. Both females and males are altered as well as any kittens, and where possible kittens are removed from the colony to be socialized and find a permanent home. They just can’t produce any more kittens—and they don’t engage in the most annoying feline behaviors, such as spraying, calling for mates, caterwauling and fighting, noisy and odorous activities that often turn people against cats and colonies of strays and ferals. This service is also available for rescue cats, household pets or even cats simply kept outdoors if they are owned by a person. For more details on the process and a list of clinic dates, please visit the Homeless Cat Management Team’s website at

Other low-cost clinics are available in the area as well. The Animal Rescue League has a weekly program where form Tuesday through Friday you can have a cat spayed, neutered and given basic veterinary care for $50.00, and a special clinic for strays and ferals for $20.00 or $30.00. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society also has a low-cost spay/neuter program for cats and dogs, a $65.00 Spay Day just for cats, and ongoing TNR services for feral cats only for $30.00.

If you’re not near Pittsburgh and you’d like to find out if there is a TNR organization near you, visit the Feral Cat Organizations listing on the Humane Society of the United States’ website. You can also find information on the Alley Cat Allies’ website under Make Connections. You can find yet more resources on the ASPCA website under TNR and Colony Management.

You don’t need to manage a colony top help feral cats. You can donate to, assist or even start a local TNR program in your area. The HSUS’s article What You Can Do to Help Feral Cats covers finding local organizations, listing options and how to pursue helping or starting a local organization, and they also have a Program Fund that you can donate to in order to assist them in helping local organizations form and operate.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

5 thoughts on “Herding Homeless Cats

  • Bernadette – thank you for participating in the BTC4A World Spay Day Blog Hop and for spreading the word about the importance of spay/neuter! I know this is something you do throughout the year and not just in February. The more people who know about low-cost spay/neuter programs the better!

  • Very thorough review of spay/neuter – and you’re so right, it’s very important, and something us humans have a responsibility to see to. Kudos to you on all the work you do in the TNR community!

    Thank you for blogging the change for animals,
    Kim Thomas

    • Kim, I’ve been writing about it for years and I’m so glad more and more people are realizing the need for it as well as having so many opportunities for low-cost spay and neuter. I hope in a few years we’ve managed to change things.

      Thanks for blogging the change!


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