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2010-05-05 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Last Saturday evening a friend called when she encountered a terrible surprise while pulling out the lawn furniture. Nestled in the back of the dark shed was a dead cat. On closer flashlight inspection there seemed to be kittens still nursing on Mama. Only one out of four stirred. The rest were stiff like Mom. Their three week old littermate cried. She was ice cold, struggling to breathe. With a bottle feeder lined up, the swaddled kitten atop a hot water bottle was rushed to the emergency hospital. There would be no happy ending. The kitten was too far gone so the vet humanely put her to sleep.

Thisfeline family tragedy didn’t have to happen. With Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) and proper management of a colony (which includes removing the friendly cats and kittens into an adoption program) these kittens would never have been born. Mama may have been spared her agony too. Did she succumb to sickness, injury or lack of sustenance? Ultimately it doesn’t matter. Ferals are not a cat-caused problem, but a human one, calling for a compassionate, comprehensive and often cooperative solution.

Feeding the cats is not enough. Calling yourself an animal lover doesn’t suffice. To provide strays nourishment without spaying and neutering only leads to overpopulation and suffering. Cats replicate themselves at geometric proportion. When the source of additional kittens is a cat caretaker who doesn’t alter, as suspected in this case, diplomacy and offers of TNR assistance will sometimes be convincing. If not, the cats need to be helped from a remote location.

TNR works. The alternatives do not. “Trap and kill” in a habitat where cats are known to be dumped is a temporary and cruel fix. A new cat crew will fill the vacuum. Stopping the food source doesn’t make strays move away. The cats subsist on whatever they find, even bugs, forage closer to houses and still reproduce unhealthy offspring. Neither total rescue nor relocation is a plausible method. Relocation is an iffy process. There are no homes for adult ferals while true feline sanctuaries are few and full. “Take ‘em for a ride; out of sight out of mind” is miles from the ethical answer; as is indifference.

Time for a reality check. According to the vets and rescuers of the LI Cat Project (www.licp.org), “in feral cats, statistically half the kittens die shortly after birth; of the remaining surviving kittens, 70% will die before they reach six months of age. They die of starvation, illness and abandonment. They endure prolonged suffering and die a slow unmerciful death. For this reason we spay ferals in early pregnancies. TheLICP will not spay to term mothers if a care giver will foster her to have her kittens in captivity, who are then adopted. The mother is spayed and returned to her colony.”

To add to the problem, kittens are born seasonally usually from April into November with the biggest surplus exploding in late summer. By that time, everyone has kittens for adoption while the list of prospective homes waiting has been exhausted. Warm weather coincides with the female’s heat cycle. During the season a female cat can go into heat every 2 or 3 weeks, and a nursing cat can become pregnant again. Typically, cats are pregnant for 65 days, so a cat can conceivably have three litters in one kitten season.

Mother Nature adheres to a tight schedule of fertility. In 2009, Last Hope hosted a free mass TNR day on March 1 where 93 cats were spayed or neutered. Only a few of the females were pregnant. This year a similar TNR clinic was held on March 21… exactly three weeks later, where about 75 of the 103 were female, and almost every one was pregnant. See “Pets” Mar. 31 (archived under “Columnists” at www.amityvillerecord.com).

The common goal of all stakeholders, pro and anti-cat, is to cut down on the feral cat population. Last month Babylon Town hosted another TNR seminar open to the public. Chris Elton, Babylon Shelter director, spoke about how ferals are a community concern. Therefore, it is important to set up communication between the volunteers, neighbors, business owners and employees to avoid “cat fights” and instead work together. Joan Phillips, president of the Animal Lovers League (www.animalloversleague. us) in Glen Cove while outlining a working TNR model stressed that “the volunteer army must present themselves as the answer rather than the enemy.” Then Phillips advised, “You need a plan. The bigger the colony, the bigger the plan.”

If you are new to caring for ferals, the task may seem overwhelming. There are organizations and programs ready to guide you. On the national level, Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org) and Neighborhood Cats (www.neighborhoodcats.org) are excellent tutorials. Locally, the LI Cat Project updates a complete list of free and low cost spay/neuter services, traps, rescue groups and advice. Animal Lovers League offers free mass TNR days throughout the year. The next Last Hope free clinic will be in the fall, but the group’s Fix-A-Feral certificate program which cuts the altering price in half at participating vets is in effect now. Visit www.lasthopeanimalrescue. org or call 631-425-1884 for details.

Despite what some folks think, municipal shelters do not pick up stray cats unless they are injured. Ear tips are the universal IDs of altered ferals. Since some cats are allowed to roam, it is hard to tell which tame ones are owned. Thankfully, many town shelters will not take in trapped feral adults for adoption or euthanasia. And then there is misguided North Hempstead contributing to the feral overload because the shelter is the only LI one that will not accept any cats for adoption even socialized kittens or friendly beauties from the old lady who died. Their promised cat shelter never materialized. Instead they pay a well-known exterminator $200 per feral to do TNR. Each town is allowed different cat intake policies because cats are not covered under NYS law in the same way dogs are.

If you or your ferals are residents of Babylon Town, the shelter (631-643-9270) lends out Have-Heart traps for TNR with a deposit plus offers $50 vouchers ( no added charges) for spay/neuter at a cooperating animal hospital. Chris Elton, an advocate of TNR, is willing to speak to groups/ landlords as a feral good will ambassador. I’d call him our “Kat Kissinger” but he thinks that title is a bit extreme.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Winnie” #20248 and her tabby sister are young cats that a tenant left behind while “Tigger” in Cage 16 is the current brindle Pit mix gentleman. He is a mellow fellow. “Rocky” in Cage 13 is another Pit who seems to “get along with others” well.

Male: “Marconi” Hound mix Cage 18; “Teddy” Retriever Cage 6; another American Bulldog Cage 14.

Females: “Jinni” the mix who carries her dish Cage 48; “Heather” Pit mix in the color scheme of a muted calico cat Cage 33.

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