Tonawanda News

June 25, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Dealing with colonies of feral cats

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Feral versus domestic. Cats versus birds. Indoors versus outdoors. These strong adversaries have been fighting for a long time. 

Other strong opponents include those in favor of trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs and those who believe in eliminating feral cat populations. Having friends on both sides, I knew I had to approach this subject delicately.

The problem is that there are cats outdoors.

One side of the equation says that outdoor cats kill millions of native wildlife a year and carry disease. They do not belong in the United States or many other parts of the world because they most likely originated in northern Africa. The cats you see outside in the United States did not appear here until around the late 1800s.

The other side sees outdoor cats as more of a free-ranging pet. They provide them with shelter, food and sometimes medical attention. These people believe that the cats can live a happy and healthy life outside, and they are beneficial for acting as vermin control.

The Invasive Species Specialist Group, a specialist group of the Species Survival Commission, published a booklet in three languages titled “100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.” Species were chosen by meeting two criteria. They must exemplify biological invasion and have had a serious impact on biological diversity. Cats made the list.

I have seen cats kill wildlife. Sometimes they bring the dead shrew or bird to the back door. Sometimes only feathers remain. Yes, the loss of habitat and human development are the leading causes of declining bird populations. Most scientists believe that invasive animals, including cats, are the second-largest threat.

Cats have been known to wipe out entire bird populations. The effects are easily shown on islands. According to the American Bird Conservancy domestic cats are considered the main reason for the extinction of eight island bird species, including Stephens Island Wren, Chatham Island Fernbird and Auckland Island Merganser. They are also responsible for the removal of 41 bird species from New Zealand islands.

I believe that cats should stay indoors partly so they don’t kill wildlife but also for their own safety. If I think about all the possible diseases (feline distemper, FIV, feline leukemia) or the parasites (fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, ringworms) or the potential threats (cars, dogs, rodent poisons, antifreeze) it just seems safer to keep them indoors. If you are considering that they are not “happy” indoors, reference my many articles on enrichment to keep them entertained.

I can say that cats should stay indoors but it is not going to magically fix the estimated 60-100 million cats that currently live outdoors. Many cats are considered feral, meaning they are not sociable towards humans.

In March, Community Cats Alive began servicing all of Western New York with a trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program. It was started to develop communities that protect and improve the lives of cats living outdoors.

The group is volunteer based and operates on donations. The group falls under the umbrella of Buffalo Humane. I spoke with Kelley Casale from Buffalo Humane and one of the founders of Community Cats Alive to find out how the trapping process works.

“When we are contacted, we go out and access the situation. We then secure clinic time. Once we have all of the details, we go out and do a ‘blitz,’ which means we trap all cats from the colony at once.” 

She went on to explain, that they do not return the cats from the colony until they are all trapped. 

“We pull any kittens under the age of 12 weeks, socialize them and eventually put them up for adoption,” she said.

In addition to being neutered, the cats receive rabies and distemper vaccinations. Currently they are estimating that they are TNVR’ing between 50-100 cats per month.

“People are not educated properly on TNVR and don’t understand it. If we can educate properly and show the effects of a well-run TNVR program, I truly believe much of the controversy would end,” she said.

If you see a feral cat, Casale urges you to contact an organization that can help with TNVR. If you are currently feeding a colony of wild cats she adds, “They need to get the entire colony TNVR, to stabilize the colony, making it a healthy, manageable colony.”

Community Cats Alive believes their TNVR program is extremely beneficial to the cats, and can humanely and ethically reduce the population of unwanted cats. Their upcoming goals include going to each municipality and educating them on the benefits of TNVR.

TNVR may be a small fix for a large problem, but at least it is a start.

For more information you can visit their website at www.communitycatsalive.org or their Facebook page.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.