Time to Fix Feral Cat Problem
March 27, 2006
In this acronym-happy world, TNR has become the mantra of every cat advocate.
Feeding feral cats may be kindhearted, but it's only one piece of the puzzle: Trap, neuter and release, or TNR, is the only hope for controlling and eventually eliminating wild cat colonies, which spring up anywhere there is a food source, from deli Dumpsters to industrial parks. Unneutered and well-fed cat populations reproduce like, er, rabbits, only exacerbating the problem.
"If someone takes the responsibility to spay and neuter the cats, they can be assessed, and any cat that is tame or a kitten can be adopted out, which right away reduces the number in the colony," says veterinarian Gay Senk of County Line Veterinary Clinic in Farmingdale, who limits her practice to feral cats.
Cats that are too feral to be in home situations are returned to their outdoor stomping grounds, where they can live out their lives in a static population that will eventually disappear by attrition.
The humans in the neighborhood also benefit, Senk adds, because spaying and neutering eliminate most of the annoyances associated with breeding cats - males fighting over territory, yowly females in heat, smelly urine from spraying, and a proliferation of kittens that are sick and malnourished.
While TNR is wonderful in theory, it's often difficult to execute in practice. "Some people have big hearts and want to help, but they don't know where to go," Senk says. To that end, she has helped form the Long Island Cat Project, a resource and information network that currently has eight contact points, or "hubs," across the Island.
"If someone calls, they're directed to a hub in their area, which will educate them about feral cats," Senk says. The hubs loan out traps, and some have volunteer trappers who can assist elderly residents. The hubs also direct rescuers to local veterinarians who will do spay or neuter surgeries for as little as $50. The hubs work with colony caretakers, not with those wanting cats permanently removed or euthanized.
Starting next month, the Long Island Cat Project will also take its show on the road, using a spay-neuter van lent to them by the Suffolk County SPCA. On April 1, the surgical suite-on-wheels will be parked at an auto-body shop in Island Park, where pre-trapped cats will be brought in to be snipped. Thirteen more of these mass spay-neuter events are planned through October and are coordinated through the individual hubs (listed at the end of this column). As far as success stories go, Senk points to a Pathmark in Centereach, where individual rescuers were feeding a cat colony but leaving the area disheveled and trash-ridden. Senks says volunteers from her group put signs up asking feeders to contact them and met with the supportive supermarket manager to explain the basics of TNR. Not only are all the cats now spayed and neutered, and friendly ones adopted, "but all the people who were feeding them have met each other, and they have a schedule," Senk says. "So now each person goes to feed every week instead of every day."
In an effort to reach the humans involved in these complicated feline societies, one of the Cat Project's hubs, Long Island Cat/Kitten Solution - which has a catchy acronym of its own, LICKS - is sponsoring a lecture about feral-cat management on April 29 at the Long Beach Public Library. (For more information: 516-431-8794.) Senk encourages those who don't like the colonies in their communities to attend, too, since the focus is one they will welcome - working to lower the number of stray cats.
Senk has been donating her time to helping feral cats on Long Island since 1992 as a way to "give back" to her profession. She wishes some of her colleagues would follow suit. "If every vet did two free spays or neuters a month, how many would that be in a year?" she asks.
More, certainly, than if they did none.