If you are near Pittsburgh and manage a colony of stray and feral cats, you need to know about the Homeless Cat Management Team and how they can help you care for your colony, especially with their spay and neuter clinics.
If you’re not near Pittsburgh, read on and see if there may be an organization that can help you do the same for strays and ferals near you. I’ve also included links to information about caring for strays and ferals in winter and how you can help stray and feral cats in general.
This is especially important now, in January and February, because unaltered female cats will begin going into heat as the days lengthen in the second half of February and into March, and cats can go into heat as young as four months.
Cats left in colonies will produce as many kittens as their bodies will allow if left unaltered, leading to disease and suffering and way too many kittens who then go on to produce more kittens.
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. Being more conservative, say she only has three litters of four kittens per year, that’s still a dozen new kittens, and even with an average 50% survival rate, that’s 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 unlikely.
The Homeless Cat Management Team offers a “Trap-Neuter-Release”, or TNR, service for feral cats. A TNR program literally helps people who have “trapped” feral cats with a free or low-cost “neuter”, necessary vaccinations and veterinary care, after which the cat is “released”.
This process has become an internationally-recognized method of helping to solve these problems by stopping the cycle of kittens and overpopulation. 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.
Homeless Cat offers both no-charge and Fast Track clinics where feral cats receive a spay/neuter, rabies vaccinations, treatments for fleas, ticks and earmites and a mandatory ear-tipping, the universally-recognized sign of a cat who has been “trapped-neutered-released”. The no-charge clinic is just that—neuter, vaccinations and care at no charge for feral cats. They advise that the no-charge clinics fill up quickly, so they also offer the Fast Track clinic which offers the same service for $45.
The first no-charge clinic date is January 24, and the first Fast Track clinic date is February 21 at the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania, so if you are caring for feral cats get in touch with Homeless Cat as soon as possible.
This service is not available for household pets or even cats simply kept outdoors. This is intended to reduce stray and feral populations in colonies, so before registering for the clinic you must first register as a colony caretaker. For more details on the process of registering yourself as a colony caretaker and registering for a clinic, please visit the Homeless Cat Management Team’s website at www.homelesscat.org. You can also find other clinic dates and information on how you can help feral cats in many other ways.
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.
Alley Cat Allies is all about assisting colony managers, and you can also donate to this organization in order to help the larger effort of local organizations.
And Alley Cat Allies has what I think is the most comprehensive information on just what feral cats are and how to care for them, including several articles on winter care, outdoor shelters, feeding and providing water in winter and avoiding hazards from chemicals like road salt and anti-freeze.
In addition to the articles, they also have a Video Library that demonstrates how to trap ferlas, how to care for them, the clinic procedures and even how to speak to the public about feral cats.
You’ll also find information on other topics, such as feeding strays and ferals, letting your cat mix with strays and ferals and legislation around the country and in Canada regarding their treatment.
It’s difficult for we who love cats not to think of each of them as potential companions for us, but true feral cats are not pet cats. They are a few generations removed from human contact and they’ve adapted to life without the assistance of humans. The TNR program stops the cycle of reproduction and provides them with vaccinations and care that help to protect the larger society of all cats, but the intent is not to provide them with ongoing veterinary care as we do our indoor cats.
That’s not to say that feral cats can’t come in. I’ve seen some feral cats who’ve been brought in to shelters for various reasons, usually because a colony was threatened by abuse or extermination, and I even rescued a single cat from a feral colony years ago, my little Moses who was near death from starvation, literally laying down and not moving she was so far gone. She was young and learned to live in the house, and she and I enjoyed nineteen years of a close and loving relationship, but I could never pick her up, she was terrified of other people, but she was timid and never acted out.
A friend adopted a rescued feral from a shelter where she volunteered, and MacKenzie mingles with the other cats but has her rules, especially the one about not being put in a carrier or she’ll offer to slice open your hand, and other clever cat tricks.
3,000 kittens are born every hour in the United States, many of these to stray and feral cats and the cycle continues. Find out how you can help stop the cycle.