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2007-04-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Feral cats, society's discards and their progeny, as many as 70 million in the US alone, share our world. Beautiful creatures to some; intrusive pests to others. Catch the cats, sterilize them, and bring 'em back? The idea seems counter-intuitive. However, TNR (Trap/ Neuter/Return) when combined with proper colony management and community cooperation is the only method proven to curb cat overpopulation and improve quality life for both the cats and the people they encounter.

Convincing neighbors, merchants and government authorities that all will benefit from TNR is the first step that many cat caretakers overlook. They rush in to "fix" the cats without assessing the situation. This puts both their hard work and cats in peril. There need not be "cat fights" between feeders and residents. Everyone can be on the same page if caretakers lay the groundworkcanvas the area and educate locals about the rationale behind TNR before initiating a trapping project. They need to dispel the myths and explain why the alternatives- doing nothing, trapping and removing, and feeding bans- do aggravate the problem.

"You're not just working with cats; you're working with people," said Bryan Kortis, founder of Neighborhood Cat while speaking at CW Post last weekend. "Cats don't live in isolation. They interact with people. You'll have the full range of attitudes." Kortis, our instructor on implementing a community-wide TNR program for feral cats, shared his successful organizational, practical and diplomatic strategies.

Bryan is a cat's Kissinger. With a calm, articulate approach, he knows how to think outside the litter box to get feline folks, government, and the public to team up. He reminds us that mindsets need shifting on both sides. Welfare volunteers can't regard animal control and municipal officials as the "evil empire", rather as allies who can contribute skills and facilities already in place to address a common concern. It's also in the tax payers' best interest to cut the birth rate of unwanted cats. The Doris Day Animal League estimates it costs shelters $100 for each cat ultimately euthanized. Limited town shelter resources could be better spent.

Bryan, stumbled on his activism in 1999 when trying to help stray cats in his Upper West Side neighborhood. As an attorney with a background in film, Bryan had no idea what a feral was but soon realized few options were available: the shelters were overflowing; the unsocialized cats not adoptable; the rescue groups overwhelmed; the low cost clinics non-existent. A lot has changed. Since then the NYC based Neighborhood Cats has grown from a tiny grassroots group to global TNR guides. By partnering with larger humane groups such as the Mayors Alliance, HSUS, and ASPCA, the finetuned Neighborhood Cat group is able to reach many people.

Basically TNR involves humanely trapping ferals, having them spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies, then returned after a short convalescence in a holding area to their same territory where a caregiver provides food, shelter and monitoring on a daily basis. Kittens and newly abandoned (or long lost) pet cats are adopted into homes whenever possible. Those cats returned are eartipped while under anesthesia- and is painlessly cut from the left ear- the universal sign that a cat is already altered. Recently 300 NYC cat colonies have been registered into a database for closer checking.

At first Neighborhood Cats set up model colonies. The 30 original Upper West Side cats have dwindled to 1, and cat intake at shelters nearby fell 73%. Later the group shifted to mass trappings including the publicized Rikers Island project that showed what could be accomplished with joint efforts. Long Beach and Atlantic Beach have feral totals under control with the help of Neighborhood Cats too.

TNR works. The act of neutering stops the reproductive explosion, and often eliminates nuisance behaviors like spraying, yowling, and fighting. The cats are healthier and content so they wander less in search of food and mates. Vaccinated cats are protected now that raccoon rabies has touched LI. Disease, suffering, and malnutrition subside. Creative solutions exist for other complaints- even ultrasonic and infrared devices that deter cats from digging up gardens and sleeping on cars. TNR advocates have worked with conservationists so the cats and endangered species can co-exist peacefully.

Do you have feral cats needing your intervention? Neighborhood Cats (212- 662-5761) is www.neighborhoodcats. org. The NYC Feral Cat Council at www.nyc feralcat.org/services contains a complete list of services. The Long Island Cat Project (www.licp.org) is an educational referral network. It lists a hub of organizations, traps on loan, trappers, and participating vets.

Space only allows me to 'scratch' the surface of TNR. Dr. Gay Senk of the LICP (516-626-3020) will be doing a power point Feral Cat Lecture on Mon. 5/7 at 8 p.m. at the Syosset-Woodbury Community Center in Woodbury.

Kitten season has begun. The adult cats at Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon must now compete with the cute babies for the few homes available. "Louisa May All Cat" a lovely semi-longhair tabby in C-3 came so close to getting a wonderful home. The couple said they'd give her more thought but never returned. Meanwhile "Tina" in the Puppy Room is a sweet, but terrified young Beagle found at Home Depot in Deer Park. She has responded to massage and the company of a Poodle puppy, but still craves more reassurance.

+Cats: "Soxie"- a spayed, tuxedo declaw in C-2; "Emily"- a playful tabby in C-4.

+Dogs: "Noah"- the Chow mix in Cage 9; a small wirehaired Terrier mix in 41; "Sunny"- the yellow Lab moved to Cage 49; the brindle mother Pit- waits patiently in Cage 57.

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