One year ago, a family of cats were given a reprieve from overbreeding, the health risks that come with every pregnancy, and the very real threat of euthanasia. Even if they had avoided birthing complications or being hauled away by animal control (and the resulting death, as ferals rarely are adopted), their colony/clowder/family would have grown in number to an unmanageable level in a short period of time.
These poor cats have to deal with fighting, aggressive behavior due to females constantly in heat (think of a hormonally challenged barroom full of testosterone-charged males vying for a little action—talk about a cat fight). And then there's the threat of their population growing, not only due to the in-breeding of this family, but also the other intact, virile cats within a miles's radius looking for a good time (yes a female in heat can attract suitors from as much as a mile away). Various studies and data bases seem to agree that this family of nine ferals (five females and three males) outside our shop would have grown, in just one year, to a possible 120 cats all with breeding potential. Exponentially, this becomes a nightmare.
New Orleans, with its near-tropical climate, is ideal for overbreeding, since cats tend to breed year round. Our city is estimated to have the largest population of feral cats in the United States (nearly 350,000). The most humane and economical solution is the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. I personally can attest to the amazing benefits of TNR and sing the praises of our SPCA's Feral Cat Program. But it took one little soul to really drive the point home for my partner and me. Her name is Frankie.
Not every little girl kitten has the fight in 'em to waddle (she was just weeks old) their way from a feral family that, without some intervention, would repeat the cycle of litter after litter of kittens with the promise of short life spans, poor health, hunger, and the constant advances of ne'er-do-wells wanting a good time but with no commitment to the welfare of the kits. But all is not fun and games for those rover toms either. They, too, tire of life on the streets with its constant turf wars, stray dogs with issues of their own and ready to prove something, and cars—oh, those cars, with no regard to a cat's right-of-way.
We will never know exactly why Frankie was hell-bent on being heard, why she wanted, needed, out. Did her mother reject her (it happens) or was she merely gone too long searching for food? Perhaps she was in the process of relocating the litter and left Frankie just long enough for her to become frightened? And where were the supposed litter mates? We observed Mama Cat, Baby Daddy, and several adolescents, all obviously related—but no kittens. Did a raccoon, dog, or the heavy rain storm that week get to them? Life on the streets is far from glamorous for animals. And perhaps this is why Boyfriend's theory makes sense: it must have been Frankie's instinct for survival that made her leave them, and … she was damn well gonna turn 'em all in. Okay, a kitten the size of a flea was too young to have an agenda, but that's what happened.
We made the call for Frankie.
Our SPCA has an ambitious and amazing program set up for the catch-and-release of feral cats. Using humane traps in over-populated feral feline communities, cats are captured, taken in for spay/neutering, post-surgery monitoring, antibiotics, and rabies shots. Then they are brought back to the neighborhoods and lives they're accustomed to, while returning the favor by culling the abundant herd of rodents we have here. Feral cats far outnumber the domestic homes available and often are just too wild to become pets, so these cats with their newly tipped ears (this minor clipping identifies them so they are basically left in peace and avoid harassment from the authorities and neighbors) are able to live in their familiar surroundings with their own colony. This is what happened for Frankie's family—along with her siblings who popped out from under the house next door a few weeks later. Frankie was domesticated easily due to being raised by us, and she has become a part of our family.
Her (former) feral family enjoys one leisurely meal a day outside our shop provided by us, and culls the rodent and insect population with their hunting, for other meal times. They also hold down their turf so other feral cats, raccoons, and possums tend to shy away. In situations like the one outside our shop, neighbors might be inclined to complain. But what they often do not know is that even if the feral colony could be removed, more would come to fill the vacuum. And these newcomers most likely would not be spayed, neutered, or vaccinated, and before long, the replacement clowder of cats would begin to multiply and whatever nuisances the "fixed" ones caused would mushroom.
Trap-Neuter-Return has proven to be the most humane answer to the difficult and costly problem of the inevitable overbreeding of feral cats. TNR is not only the compassionate thing to do, it is less costly than euthanasia. Another plus for the "fixed" feline is that he or she will not suffer from mammary tumors or testicular cancers. And, as already stated, these wild cats simmer down and are just not as inclined to fight and howl. Face it, the whole mating/dating game can get pretty damn messy and a testy tom cat ain't no fun to be around.
Please visit la-spca.org for so much information about this very important issue. You will be impressed with a variety of wonderful programs not only for our feral community, but for the adoption of shelter cats and dogs and the very affordable veterinarian services offered. Educating ourselves is the first step towards a more humane world.