Controlling Feral Cat Colonies

Cats are the nation’s most popular household pets. But despite this, millions of cats are abandoned each year. These free-roaming cats grow up without much human contact. They live in cat colonies near apartment buildings, strip malls, or anyplace else where food scraps get tossed into dumpsters or trash cans. And they have an impact on the environment as they compete with other wildlife for food and shelter. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has this report:

Transcript

Cats are the nation’s most popular household pets. But despite this, millions of cats are abandoned each year. These free-roaming cats grow up without much human contact. They live in cat colonies near apartment buildings, strip malls, or anyplace else where food scraps get tossed into dumpsters or trash cans. And they have an impact on the environment as they compete with other wildlife for food and shelter. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rick Pluta has this report:


It’s late at night and Donna Dunn and a couple of friends are sitting in a parked car in a suburban Detroit cemetery.


They’re smoking, eating fast food, and waiting for cats.


“There’s the pregnant female, right there under the truck…”


They’re hoping the cats wander into one of the dozens of live traps they’ve set up. The prize catch is a pregnant female.


“What’d you get? Is it a girl? Yeah, it’s a girl… a pregnant female. Yes! Alright!….”


Donna Dunn is a veterinary technician, who learned about feral cats through her job. She hooked up with a sprawling network of thousands of feline lovers who take care of feral cats living in cat colonies.


Dunn figures there are about 75 wild or abandoned cats wandering the grounds of this cemetery. Some of the cats live in tunnels burrowed in the dirt, or in buildings on the cemetery grounds. Wild cats can also live in vacant buildings or abandoned vehicles. And, Dunn figures, there would soon be a lot more cats if something wasn’t done about it.


“One female will have a minimum of two litters a summer, average litter is five kittens per litter. So you’re looking at 10 kittens average per female in here. The first nine females we took out of here, eight were pregnant. That would’ve produced 40 kittens.”


(Sound of trap)


The trapped cats will spend the night in cages stacked side-by-side in a volunteer’s garage. They’ll go the vet’s in the morning, before they are returned to their feral cat colony. Donna Dunn says the neutered cats are more content, and less likely to fight with other cats and wild animals.


She says “trap, neuter, and release” is a humane alternative to turning strays over to a shelter, where most of the cats would be killed.


But “trap, neuter, and release” is also controversial idea. Critics say it doesn’t really address the problem of feral cats roaming the streets. They say it’s simply not possible to sterilize millions of these cats.


Eileen Liska is with the Michigan Humane Society. She says wild cats have a profound effect on the environment. They can upset the ecological balance of a field or a neighborhood by killing off birds and other wildlife. They can also carry feline leukemia and other diseases. Liska says euthanizing un-adoptable felines is the most compassionate approach.


“Cats living out in the streets equals suffering. I mean, they are suffering. They don’t have proper food sources. They’re exposed to the weather and they’ve got the danger of being attacked, injured or killed by other wildlife, especially when they’re fighting for the same ecological niches. The cats absolutely are in competition with possums, skunks, and raccoons, and raccoons can grow quite large and be quite aggressive and we know that they kill cats that come, that get in their way.”


But Liska also says the growing number of wild cats shows the current approach isn’t working. She wants to raise more money to fund new animal control programs. But she’s not finding a lot of support for a tax to do that among Michigan’s politicians.


Michigan, like most states, requires dogs to be on a leash or fenced in when they’re outside. Farmers demanded the laws at the beginning of the twentieth Century because wild canines were attacking livestock.


There’s no similar cry yet to do something about feral cats, and no one seems to think that licensing cats would begin to get at the problem. Wisconsin proposed allowing hunters to shoot strays. That idea was tabled after animal rights groups protested.


“Right there. See it? Right out here. That’s a little one. Judy, is there food in there? Should I check it?”


Donna Dunn and her friends would like to see every state to adopt trap-neuter-and-release for dealing with stray cats. Until then, she says, her cohorts will try and deal with the problem one cat colony at a time.


For the GLRC, this is Rick Pluta.

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