Anyone who has moved with a feline friend knows this: cats despise change. Many do not adjust well to a new setting and it takes their owners extra effort to familiarize them with their new space. To show their displeasure, domesticated cats will do nasty things to your furniture and shoes. My problem child Solomon displayed his displeasure by leaving a rank mound of excrement by the front door every morning for many days after moving into my house three years ago. He also garnered the titular addendum “The Pisser” with a constant stream of urine on the couch, the bed, a stray blanket, family heirlooms and my favorite book. All of these things made me think he was just being a jerk but really, marking aside, he was trying to make things comfortable. What’s more familiar and comfortable than one’s own urine? If domesticated cats do these sorts of things when they are stressed, what do urban feral cats do?
Urban feral cats hold an interesting place in evolution; they are not quite as wild as their large wild cat relatives. They eat plenty of people food, hard and wet cat food and they typically find homes to curl up beneath or roofs on which to sleep. Yet, despite mingling with humans in neighborhoods and expecting food from them, they maintain an element of wildness. Most feral cats do not want humans to get too close; if we even hint at approaching them, their bodies freeze, their eyes bug out like a lemur’s and they run like they stole something. Like domesticated cats, they do not like the unknown.
As part of our living communities, they become our responsibilities—instead of shooing them, trying to relocate them or even trying to tame them, it may be best to help these cats healthily adjust to your neighborhood. Some of you may have been in situations where kittens continually appear: a feline community of three suddenly becomes ten. One way we can help to control the natural wildness of mass reproduction in our outdoor feline groups is to participate in Trap-Neuter(Spay)- Return (TNR) programs. In New Orleans and its surrounding areas, there are over ten veterinary clinics and shelters, including the Louisiana SPCA, that participate in TNR programs. Other than avoiding overpopulation, there are other benefits to consider. Neutering and spaying animals eliminates many life-threatening diseases common in animals, such as uterine cancer in female cats, which is lethal in 90% of cases. If caught before six months old, neutering a male animal prevents testicular cancer. In addition to health benefits, having a controlled population of wild cats helps to keep down the number of pests, such as rodents and insects.
How does one go about participating in a TNR program? Perhaps the best first step is to talk to your neighbors. If you have a group of locals willing to put in for a trap or two (and who are all eager to work with clinics nearby) it will split up the work while helping to make your community a better place for both you and your outside furry friends. The Louisiana SPCA offers classes about TNR but if you are ready to jump right in, you can either buy a trap online or at Home Depot, or rent one for a fully refundable $30 fee from the SPCA. You can rent more than one for a $50 refundable fee; if you have a group of people participating in TNR, then this seems to be the way to go.
In order to attempt trapping the correct cat, it may be helpful to plan in advance. The SPCA recommends feeding the cat for a couple of weeks in the same spot, at the same time, each day before putting out your trap. So that you don’t end up trapping a possum, raccoon or baby kitten that ends up becoming your indoor kitten, trying to familiarize the targeted cat by feeding is a good plan.
Also, most clinics will not accept dropins, so plan to schedule an appointment in advance; clinics participating in TNR programs tend to charge $25 per spay or neuter. This takes planning, but also a good amount of mind-control over the feral cat, so make sure you store your energy.
Be ready to have a few surprises in your trap during this process. My second cat is a product of failed trapping; while hoping to trap the mother to be spayed, one of her tiny kittens wandered into the trap. She was feral and frightened, but she quickly warmed up to me and ended up being my own indoor cat. There are plenty of other pests that may wander into your trap as well, so you may have something less cute or more dangerous awaiting you in the morning. If you catch a raccoon, read up on where you can release them; raccoons return very easily, so you have to release them really far away from your home and there are laws about where you can bring them. Possums can typically be brought around the river.
The existence of urban feral cats is unavoidable, so as part of the new year of promised changes, consider your part in making your neighborhood a useful living space. Having feral (and sterile) cats will add new life to your sidewalks and as long as they aren’t procreating with the rapidity of rabbits, you will have less pests, more life and balance.
1700 Mardi Gras Boulevard
ARK Animal Hospital
4025 Jefferson Highway
Metairie Small Animal Hospital
101 Metairie Road
Southern Animal Foundation
1823 Magazine Street in NOLA
Visit www.la-spca.org for more info and a full list of participating clinics, or call 363-1333.