Monday, September 13, 2010

Catch Me If You Can

Neighborhood feline friend

I had the privilege of joining a TNR expert this past weekend, on his usual weekly mission to trap, neuter and then return cats who are strays.  Some people refer to wandering cats as ferals; I don't like the term, it implies a wild animal.  Cats who have no home are no different than those living in the lap of luxury, other than maybe some social issues.  Think of homeless people, and orphans in streets - they're not wild and ferocious, but they might not be familiar with societal etiquettes and expectations.  Some can learn, others are too set in their ways.

For all the fuss over stray cats invading neighborhoods - disrupting urban gardens and establishing quite a number in brood - you'd think people were talking about wolves.  Although a large number of them in one place can present quite a "mess" with deposits and sprays, they are otherwise very clean animals who prefer to keep to themselves.  They aren't after the family dog.  They aren't vicious, wild animals after all.  The downfall for the population of cats is simply one of procreation.  They multiply at astonishing rates.  In a short period of time, "just a couple cats" can explode into a huge colony consisting of all ages and both genders.  

The gentleman I accompanied is passionate about cats, and about TNR.  He is at once both gentle and soothing with them and in command of knowledge for handling their behavior.  He is experienced with TNR ways; I was impressed with his preferred trap which is a wooden frame covered in a soft, yet durable, netting.  He sets the trap by propping it up on one end with a wooden stick.  Tied to that stick is a long string; after cats go in under the box-shaped frame to sample the food placed there, he quickly pulls the string.  The stick pulls out from the frame, allowing the "box" itself to fall quickly yet softly, leaving the cats inside the a frame and mesh.  I found this much gentler than the standard metal live-trap.

It requires a great amount of patience.  After he places the food under the box, he must simply wait for the cat(s) to come, work up the nerve to go under the box (hey, cats aren't stupid, they know when something's up!) and finally attempt to satisfy their hunger.  The stick is pulled out, the box surrounds them.  He then throws a thick sheet over the box, covering it entirely from top and sides, so as to minimize the stress the cats are feeling.  It is at that point he can use a carrier or a metal trap box to transport them from.    There is a "door" on one side of the trap box: once he's positioned the carrier entrance in front of that, he slides open the door and they run into the carrier (thinking they are escaping).  They are now in a safe container, they are provided a slight bit of wet food, then they are left to calm down in a covered carrier.

This is usually done in the evening, a time when most cats are looking for their food.  His destination for neutering is in the city with daytime hours.  PAWS Chicago Spay/Neuter Clinic provides low-cost services for TNR.  So, the next morning he heads into the city with his trapped cargo in tow, waits the hours it takes for them to be spayed/neutered/ear-tipped, then drives them back safely to their original home. From there, they are released back outside, with no chance of making more babies.  What he does takes true dedication!  I was exhausted from the 4 hours I spent with him, and didn't even go the next morning for that whole trip!  Kurt, you are truly a Cat Man!!

In the not-so-distant past, the usual remedy communities employed for strays was euthanization.  Catch the cats and kill 'em.  That didn't work so well - they multiplied much faster than they could be caught and terminated, euthanization alone can get expensive.  The only alternative was to catch the cats, then turn them over to shelters; where they would languish in overcrowded conditions and be considered not suitable for adoption, or euthanized.  Since the 1950's, beginning in England, TNR practices have been introduced to communities. The statistics have been astounding:  in a short period of time, not only did the numbers stop multiplying, they actually decreased in many cases.  The mathematical formula is very simple really - stop the procreation, subtract for eventual deaths from age, illness, disease and predatory or accidental deaths, and wallah!  Attrition.  With little to no addition.  And so much more humane.

Despite the soundness and effectiveness of the TNR programs, many communities have been very slow to adopt one as policy.   The needless killing of animals continues.  While nooone wants their yard, garden, even house sprayed and filled with deposits, there are ways to tackle a group of outdoor cats without getting draconian.  Many if not most of these cats have someone who provides for them - a colony caretaker - who has taken on the responsibility of seeing to it they are provided with food and fresh water, shelter from extreme weather.  These same people can either on their own, or with the help of someone experienced, trap and neuter the kitties.  The program works, if you choose to do it.  As for cost, there are many vets who offer special discounts for the spay/neuter of these, along with an ear-tipping (the tip of the left ear is cut, it is now a universal signal that the cat has already been neutered and prevents repeated, unnecessary surgery).

Then, if the cat is deemed one that would be a good candidate for socialization and eventually living in a home, it is transferred to a rescue group or shelter that will work with it and see that the feline friend is eventually adopted.  For those set in their ways - they are returned to the colony, to live out their days.  The howling from mating ceases, the screams from territorial spars decreases along with the awfully smelly spray, thanks to the decrease in male testosterone.  The neighborhood is at peace.

What a way to treat our fellow earthly creatures!  With kindness, yet also a way to allow them to remain in our neighborhoods, we can solve the "problem" of being overrun by cats.  They can live out their lives peacefully, and bless us with daily sightings of them.  Kudos to the caretakers - they generally take on the financial as well as physical responsibilities of the cats.  And best wishes to the TNR groups who work tirelessly (and voluntarily) to provide their expertise.

- Kurt volunteers with Alley Cat AlliesFeral Fixers and Friendly & Feral Cat Rescue, as well as the rescue group I met him through, Almost Home Foundation.  If you're interested in helping, donations or volunteering are all welcomed by these worthy groups.

CindyLu says:  Personally, Mom, I think the cats have intentions of taking over the world.  Good thing you're keeping their number down!  Maybe us dogs should unite....

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