Cats – people seem to either love them or hate them, but even cat-lovers don’t love being overrun with stray or feral cats.
Take, for instance, the local home of an elderly couple who have not had pets for many years. An adult cat and several kittens show up in their backyard, making their home in the overgrown shrubbery. The elderly woman enjoys watching the kittens playing in her flower beds and even attempts to pet them. However, the kittens are skittish and scared and are too quick for the woman to catch. She starts putting out some scraps of leftovers for the kittens and continues to enjoy their antics from afar.
Sounds harmless, right? Fast forward a few months and the kittens have grown into adolescent cats. A couple of the kittens must be female because now some adult male “tom” cats begin hanging around. The couple begins to hear yowling and sounds of fighting coming from their yard. Before long, one of those now adult kittens is showing signs that she is likely expecting kittens.
Within a couple of months, another litter of kittens is in the backyard. Now, instead of the original three or four kittens, there are three or four adult cats and more kittens. This scenario repeats itself over the course of the next couple of years.
Now, the older woman is not so tickled by the antics of the kittens and cats. They begin tearing up her flower beds, there is constant “catfighting” going on, and the place is becoming overrun with cats.
Occasionally, a dead kitten is found in the yard. She worries that she or her husband will be tripped up by the cats and have a fall, which at their advanced age would be tragic. She doesn’t know what to do until someone tells her about Community Cats of Metter.
What is Community Cats of Metter?
Community Cats of Metter is a Facebook page that is dedicated to the goal of curbing the stray cat population in Metter. The woman’s daughter contacts the moderator of the page, Stacey Stanbro, who explains what the group is doing. She agrees to meet with the family to determine if there is a way to help them out with their cat problem.
What Stacey tells the family is that Community Cats of Metter uses a method called TNR.
“TNR is trap, neuter, return,” she tells them. She further explains, “We get the cats used to being fed in the same place at the same time. After the pattern has been established, we come with traps that are baited with food. When a cat is trapped, he or she is then transported to Fixing the Boro to be evaluated, vaccinated and neutered,” says Stacey. After that, the cat is returned to the site where he or she was trapped.
For the couple that was being overrun with cats, this is the answer to a prayer. Over the next weeks, Community Cats of Metter gets busy and things begin to change.
There is much more to the process and there is actual science behind it. Stacey states that the first thing is knowing the difference between a pet, a stray and feral cat.
Knowing the difference
A pet is a companion animal that is kept by someone primarily for company or entertainment.
Pet cats are usually attractive in appearance and usually have good personalities.
A stray cat is a cat that has been socialized to people at some point in its life, but it no longer has a home because of abandonment or being lost or straying away from home. A stray has lost its contact and dependence on humans. It may be frightened and wary of people.
A feral cat is different from a stray cat. A feral cat is a cat who has never had any contact with humans or any previous contact with humans was diminished over time.
Some people will call a feral cat a “wild” cat. Feral means “wild acting” or untamed, and a feral cat is just that. According to Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy program, it is highly unlikely that a feral cat will ever adapt to living indoors and will not become a “lap cat” that enjoys being petted and loved by an owner.
When Stacey first visited with the elderly woman and her daughter, she was “introduced” to the cat that they were calling simply “Mama Cat.”
Says the woman’s daughter, “We started calling her that because she has had so many kittens in the last couple of years.”
The cat is pleasant enough, Stacey notices, but she does recognize that “Mama Cat” is feral. The family admits that no one has ever been able to so much as touch her even though Mama Cat lounges on the patio of the home and doesn’t run away unless someone gets close to her.
On that first visit, Stacey saw that Mama Cat had a litter of four kittens that appeared to be about two weeks old.
“I explained to the family that it is unethical to capture the mother cat while the kittens are nursing because they will be without protection and food while the cat is being neutered,” she states. The process of neutering the cat takes a couple of days.
For Community Cats of Metter, the typical procedure starts on a Thursday evening with trapping the cat. When a cat is caught on Thursday evening, Stacey or one of her volunteers transports the cat to Stacey’s home where the cat spends the night in her garage. Fixing the Boro only alters animals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week, so Thursday night’s capture is taken to Fixing the Boro on Friday morning early.
During the visit to Fixing the Boro, the cat is examined, vaccinated and neutered. The ear of the animal is clipped, indicating that he or she has been ‘fixed.’ He or she is picked up at the end of the day by Stacey or another Community Cats of Metter volunteer.
Stacey has a place in her home where the cat spends the night of the surgery so that he or she is being monitored and cared for. On the third day, the animal is returned to the site of the capture. Stacey also traps cats on Friday and Saturday evenings, making the process take up about five days a week.
At the home Stacey visited, the family told her that there was an old Tom cat that they believed had fathered most of Mama Cat’s kittens. They described him as a yellow striped cat with a broken tail and an obviously broken leg.
Stacey explained that the policy at Fixing the Boro is to evaluate the cat’s condition and determine what is best for the cat.
Being that the Tom was suffering from long-term injuries, she warned that he would likely be euthanized. The family agreed that euthanasia was the most humane thing to do for him in his condition.
Setting the trap
The instructions Stacey gave the family was to feed Mama Cat consistently at the same place and time so that she would develop the habit of showing up.
“The best time to feed her is evening, because that’s when I trap,” she told them. They started putting cat food out every evening.
On Stacey’s first night trapping at the home, she caught the old “broken Tom.” She went through the process of keeping him overnight, transporting him to Statesboro and left him with the people at Fixing the Boro.
“Unfortunately, it was just as we suspected,” she reported to the family. “He had a dislocated hip, several infections and was overall unhealthy, so he was euthanized.”
Stacey continued visiting the home in hopes of catching Mama Cat.
“Before the kittens were large enough, I actually caught her a couple of times, but I had to let her go,” she says with a sound of defeat.
It appears that Mama Cat learned a little about traps and grew wary of them. Over the course of about a week, Stacey caught three of the four kittens.
“There was one little obstinate kitten who was as cute as could be,” she states. He was a black and white tuxedo cat who was quick and tricky. The kittens that she caught were too small to be ‘fixed,’ so they took up residence at Stacey’s house, not as pets, but as fosters.
In Stacey’s living room, she has a couple of large dog crates that are set up as kitty daycare. When Stacey is home, the kittens are in the crate where they hear people, television, Stacey’s dogs and the other sounds associated with a home. This is a part of domesticating them so that they can be adopted following their trip to Fixing the Boro.
When Stacey is at work, the kittens are placed in a bedroom that is set up with another crate that has cat beds and other things to keep the kittens comfortable. In that room, she also has a sort of “kitten hospital” where she treats them for various health problems that they might have.
“Once the kitten reaches two pounds,” Stacey explains, “he or she heads to the clinic.” Because the kittens have been fostered in Stacey’s home and have become domesticated, they are then able to be adopted out to families.
Stacey eventually captured the black and white kitten, but he was not very interested in being domesticated. During his time as a foster, he did not adapt to Stacey’s home. Instead of being adopted out to a home after his trip to Fixing the Boro, he was taken in by a family to become a barn cat.
“The good thing is that he will not be responsible for increasing the cat population while he is reducing the rodent population,” Stacey laughs.
The elusive Mama Cat remains at large at the home of the elderly couple. Stacey continues to try to trap her because she knows that unless Mama Cat visits Fixing the Boro, she will have litter after litter of kittens.
The statistics on cat population growth are astounding. One female cat can have an average of three litters a year. Each litter averages four kittens.
Theoretically, one female and one male cat can produce 13 kittens in a year. Exponentially, that means the two original cats can be responsible for the births of 42,409 kittens in six years.
Metter’s feral cat colonies
In Metter, it is not just at homes that the cat population has gotten out of hand. According to Stacey, there are colonies of feral cats all around town and throughout the county.
Community Cats of Metter has taken on two colonies – one at the Parker’s in town and the other at the Enmark near the Interstate.
“We have already fixed six females and three males at Parker’s,” she reports, adding that there are four more in need of visits to Statesboro.
The group keeps up with the cats and documents their numbers on the group’s Facebook page. Volunteers visit the two sites each evening, providing the cats with food and clean water.
“When we see a cat with an ear tip, we know it has been fixed,” she says.
Obviously, this whole process is time consuming for Stacey and her staff of volunteers. But it is also costly.
Services costs add up
Fixing the Boro does low-cost surgeries and treatments, but they cannot do it for free. The program in Metter is being funded by an anonymous donor who wants to see the animals cared for and the problem of feral cats solved in an ethical way.
“Some people think that the TNR method is not the way to go,” says Stacey. “They want the cats euthanized or moved, which won’t solve the problem.”
Stacey tries to explain to detractors that if a colony is euthanized or moved, another colony will spring up. She knows because she has been involved in TNR programs before.
“I did this for four years when I lived in Florida,” she explains.
Research also backs up the success of TNR programs.
In a study at the University of Florida, the number of cats on campus declined by 66% over an 11-year period. After the first four years of TNR, no new kittens were born.
According to Alley Cat Allies, cities such as Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA, and Jacksonville, FL have had success with TNR programs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals endorses the practice.
Community Cats of Metter doesn’t forget about the cats that have been returned to their colony. Each month a feeding schedule is posted, assigning volunteers with times to feed the cats.
The problem is that the group needs more volunteers.
“We need volunteers to feed, trap and transport cats,” Stacey says, listing the tasks volunteers can carry out.
She also sees a need for people to foster kittens. “After my experience with the kittens I have had for the past six or eight weeks, I need a break,” she admits.
She says she would like to be able to visit friends and family and maybe have a little fun without being worried about cats and kittens.
There is no cost incurred by the volunteers as Community Cats of Metter provides all food and pays mileage for transporting cats to Statesboro and back.
These services are not designed for pet owners
Something that is important for people to realize is that the TNR program and the feral cat services at Fixing the Boro are not ways for pet owners to have their animals altered for free.
Pet owners should take responsibility for having pets spayed or neutered as a part of the cost of owning a pet. For those who cannot afford to have animals “fixed,” many programs provide vouchers or discounts.
Fixing the Boro has lower cost rates for pet owners, even having “packages” that include immunizations and other pet necessities.
Anyone who would like to get involved in the TNR program through Community Cats of Metter is encouraged to contact the group through their Facebook page. They can also report or request help with a cat colony through the Facebook page.
As Bob Barker used to say at the end of each episode of The Price Is Right, “Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.”
Stacey says she will continue to visit the home of the elderly couple until Mama Cat is trapped, neutered and returned.