Feral cats not an easy issue to resolve

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:53

    Warwick - Last month, residents of one Village of Warwick neighborhood contacted Mayor Michael Newhard about a feral cat colony that has settled and grown in their neighborhood. The cats, which number about 20, are very bold, according to some neighbors. They spray and cause the neighborhood to stink of urine. Mostly, the neighbors are afraid of disease that may be spread because of the colony. There is no easy answer, according to Suzyn Barron, president of the Warwick Valley Humane Society. "This is a big, broad issue," said Barron from her cramped office at the Humane Society off DPW Drive. "There is no one answer." What Barron does recommend is the trap-neuter-return program that is advocated by most humane organizations, such as Alley Cat Allies, to make neighborhoods safer from and for feral cats. "People think they are doing a good thing when they feed feral cats," said Barron. "What they are doing is making these animals more dependent on humans. What happens when the food source is gone? They no longer know how to hunt for their food." Barron said people who really care about animals have to take action. They can't just give the cats something to eat-they have to give them care, and that begins with having them sterilized so that the colony does not continue to grow. "A mother cat can become pregnant two weeks after giving birth to a litter," said Barron. "By the time one litter is weaned, another one is coming." Barron said folks who want to control a feral cat colony in a neighborhood must be part of the solution. The neighborhood has to work together, she said, and share the costs associated with it. The trap-neuter-return (TNR) program requires capturing each cat in a Have-A-Heart Trap, which can be rented from Wadeson's here in Warwick or Great Bear in Florida. Residents must then transport the cat to a vet, who will inoculate and sedate the cat through the cage, spay or neuter it, and then return the cat to the resident. Although male cats may be released after one day, females should be watched and cared for for an additional day. This can be a major challenge in itself since feral cats do not like human contact. "You can't just let the cats back out on the street without taking care of them," Barron said. "Someone in the neighborhood must agree to feed and provide basic medical care to the cats. It's a big job and more than one person should agree to do it." The Humane Society receives funds from the Town of Warwick to help out with the feral cat problem, which affects several neighborhoods throughout the area. Last year, the town gave $2,500 toward the feral cat problem. Unfortunately, there are no nearby vets participating in a reduced fee TNR program. But that doesn't mean they won't give you a reduced rate if you ask for it, Barron added. "The vets have been wonderful," Barron said. "Believe me, they don't charge us for office visits but they have to for surgery and hospital stays. They give us a reduced rate." The shelter spent $52,000 last year on vet bills alone. About half of their budget is from donations. "We are not a sanctuary," Barron said. "We have expenses so we have to charge people. Some organizations, such as TARA - the Animal Rights Alliance - have a spay/neuter mobile van that travels throughout the county. The Port Jervis Humane Society does low-cost spaying and neutering. The shelter will reimburse residents who have feral cats neutered up to $35. Some vets or organizations will do the surgery for $50, which would also include a rabies shot. The neighbor would pay the $15 for the shot and be reimbursed the remaining $35 out of the town fund. If the TNR program is not followed, the cats will continue to breed constantly. Just take a stroll through the cat room at the shelter and you will see the tip of the iceberg of unwanted cats. Just past the cat room is the isolation room. This room is filled-overfilled actually-with feral kittens. They must be kept in isolation because they have had little or no human contact and respond by hissing and swiping. Here, the hope is they will eventually get used to the shelter employees and volunteers and someday will be adoptable. There are 24 feral kittens in that room. Walk into Barron's office and there are seven more. These are the real tough cases, including Stevie. Stevie came in when she was just one day old. Her mom abandoned her under some bushes. The homeowner gave the mom some time to return but then brought the kitten in before nightfall. Stevie has Coccidia, a parasite that lines the intestine. She is bottle fed throughout the day and night. Barron goes home with at least two cages each night to bottle feed the most fragile of her guests since they can't go all night without nourishment. Stevie still isn't out of the woods, although she is much better than she was when she was brought in three weeks ago. "She may not live," said Barron of the kitten that still fits in the palm of her hand. "We just try our best. Some will survive. Some won't." But there is hope for them. Barron points out that many feral kittens can be saved. "Generally speaking, if you get a kitten off the street by about eight weeks, they can be tamed. At five months, it is nearly impossible." What are the choices? Some residents want the cats to be euthanized. "We don't want to be an extermination organization," Barron said. It is a tough choice. Do you end a cat's life to prevent it from having a horrible life or do you give them some sort of life, even if it's not the best? That's a decision each person must make, she added. "To put feral cats back out on the street-that's a hard life," said Barron. "They'll live maybe two to four years. They die either by a car, disease, injury or by another animal." Bottom line, according to Barron, is that people have to be part of the solution. "People think they are doing the right thing by feeding these cats," said Barron. "Instead, they are doing a disservice if they just feed them. Spend $30 or $50 and have them spayed or neutered. It's the very best thing someone can do. It is the most humane thing you can do." For more information on the TNR program or to get answers to many questions regarding feral cats, log onto alleycat.org, the website for Alley Cat Allies, the foremost experts on feral cats. ACA promotes nonlethal control for feral and stray cats.