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Feed the Ferals, Fine - But Then What?

Interest in Affecting Policy Starts with National Survey, Local Tabby

At dinnertime we watch from our side porch table as the neighbor's caretaker across the street puts a bowl of cat food on the path leading to their front door.

We've seen the feral tabby in our yard, but can't convince it to approach either of us.

Our cats see it through the screens too and probably know more about it than we do. With interest, Sistercat discreetly follows it from window to window as it travels through our yard and, somehow always safely, crosses North Hambden Street. Once I even lifted her in the doorway so the two could enjoy a few moments of direct eye contact before the tabby scuttled off.

It's clear the neighbor across the street isn't the only one giving it health. Personally, my concern is whether the cat is neutered or spayed — and whether I may, at some point, be able to assist with this part of its life before it lands a litter under that side porch.

Last month, Alley Cat Rescue reached out to me about an important new study it conducted. The international nonprofit organization, based in Mt. Rainier, MD, sent out more than 600 surveys and, from completed responses, compiled feral cat colony information from 120 animal rescue groups in 37 states.

According to Louise Holten, the organization's president and founder, who helped pioneer Trap-Neuter-Control (TNR) in the U.S. in 1990: “Back then there was only a handful of forward-thinking groups and individuals working on implementing TNR in America. Today ACR found nearly 700 groups.

"This survey proves that TNR works and that many groups and individuals volunteer their own time and their own money to control and stabilize the nation's feral cat population.”

Got to love studies that nurture some new faith in people.

Among report findings:

  1. Most feral cat groups provide spay/neuter services to “owned” cats as well as offering TNR services for ferals, which prevents future colonies from forming.
  2. One quarter of the groups report their colony cats are 6 to 8 years old, 35 percent report their cats are between 9 and 12 years old, and more than 14 percent report feral cats 13 years old, with some reporting even older.
  3. One third report there were 26 to 30 kittens in each colony before TNR; 42.86 percent said there were zero to five kittens in colonies after TNR.
  4. Sadly, 61.34 percent said their local animal control agencies do NOT offer TNR, and 36 percent said animal control agencies had trapped and killed whole colonies in their areas. And as expected with trying total eradication, 27.73 percent said cats moved back into these areas where they were all trapped and killed, most within 2 to 3 months after the cats were removed.
  5. Nearly all groups (82.35 percent) educate the public about feral cats and TNR — 65 percent report this has been “somewhat” effective, and 17.65 percent report their outreach programs to be extremely successful.

After reading this, I quickly scanned these TNR FAQ. So maybe I'm not comfortable trapping that tabby for surgery — yet. But I'm now moved to discuss TNR policy with my city council woman, and to discuss a community issue article with my weekly newspaper editor.

I'll also be keeping a close eye on that tabby. Every change starts somewhere.

Chris Glazier July 03, 2012 at 01:52 AM
what are you waiting for? if you can get trained to do TNR you'll be trapping in no time and you'll see how easy it is. sure it's a little crazy the first time you nab a feral, and it's a few days of annoyance while you care for it post-spay, but you'll feel so much better about it when it's all over. and remember, the longer you wait the more likely the cat is to reproduce ...
Walter July 03, 2012 at 06:07 AM
It is much easier to trap the single cat you are seeing than to have to trap, tame, and seek homes for all of the kittens that will inevitably come if the cat has not yet been sterilized.
Patricia Hughes July 12, 2012 at 03:47 PM
I'm an old TNR trapper of several colonies and a caretaker of one. After I trapped my colony of eleven, I found them a delight to feed. No new cats came into the colony as they have their own 'colony' rules. Only once in the seven years did I gain a new cat who was also TNR'd. It is a delight because they know the sound of my car and come down the hill to the feeding spot with their tails in the air in excitement and greeting.

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