Diagnosing Feral Cat Fever

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Bodega cats have been widely known and accepted in New York, protecting our midnight snack spots from rats, mice, and other unwanted visitors. They’re cute, independent, and taken care of, but what about the street cats? The AP reports that cats from the trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs have been repurposed as pest exterminators in the city, having four feral cats roam the Javits center grounds.

Due to overpopulation of felines in the city, The New York City Feral Cat Initiative was launched by the Mayor’s Alliance to take control of the problem. By using this method, street cats are picked up by various organizations at no cost or a low fee for neutering and then released back to where they were found.

The animals are not only neutered, but also vaccinated before returning to their colony; this helps control rabies and other diseases they might carry.

Patricia Simon, a registered veterinary nurse and veterinary recovery technician, advocates for TNR programs as they help to keep felines in their habitats, but also fix the problem with overpopulation. As she explains to BTRtoday, “The problem with the feral cat community is that these animals thrive and do well in their environment, but they reproduce at alarming rates that our shelters simply cannot keep up with.”

“Having cats around has proven to be beneficial to their environment,” Simon adds, “as they usually keep hidden from humans during the day and hunt disease carrying pests at night. A single feline kills three to six mice a day.”

The overpopulation of rodents in places of human activity can create a large threat by spreading deadly diseases, like leptospirosis. Rats and mice infest places with high amounts of food waste and garbage to naturally feed. To control the pest population at Disneyland parks, management has allowed more than 200 cats to roam the amusement park since 1955, and has successfully controlled the rodent problem (with Mickey and Minnie left unharmed). All the cats on park territory have been neutered and vaccinated, and if some feral cats show interest and friendliness toward humans, they’re adopted by cast members.

Simon explains that most feral cats are not put into shelters because it takes time to rehabilitate their behavior and it is safer to let the cats back into the wild. “Many animals are given only a week to be adopted before termination. This is just simply not enough time for most domesticated animals and certainly not enough time for a feral feline to adapt.” As the cats prove to be harmless and act as nature’s pest control, Simon sees no problem in returning them back into their colonies.

However, not everyone agrees. PETA believes TNR to be a cruel practice, leaving animals without shelter, food and medical care. While taking care of the population of feral cats, it is not actually improving their lifestyle and they continue to live in struggle. PETA concludes, “Having witnessed firsthand the gruesome things that can happen to feral cats, we cannot in good conscience advocate trapping and releasing as a humane way to deal with overpopulation.”

Ferals In Peril is a Brooklyn-based non-profit that spays and neuters feral and unowned cats in the community. It strives to reduce the population of homeless cats and advocates for a humane way to take care of the problem, stating on its website its goal “to relieve local animal control facilities of the financial and psychological burden of euthanizing healthy but homeless cats.”

“The average female has two litters a year, with three to seven kittens, so within two years the population quadruples,” Peter Szalaiko, founder of Ferals in Peril, tells BTRtoday. “The primary mission of our organization is to reduce the population of unwanted cats, but humanely.”

Regular citizens who care about cats and love animals are the people who maintain these colonies. Many times companies who have large parking lots or own land have feral cat colonies, but do not know how to take control of the population. They don’t know how to trap or treat feral cats, but there is a solution.

The Animal Alliance of NYC actually offers an online course that teaches and certifies new TNR caretakers. These courses are effective in teaching about colony feeding, setting up shelter, and care before and after neutering and spaying. This will help control the reproduction of feral colonies and their safety.

Szalaiko advocates for the use of feral cats who have been neutered and spayed. “A number of breweries in Chicago [http://www.empiricalbrewery.com/cats/] approached the ASPCA and requested to bring feral cats to their facilities to control the mouse and rat population. If we didn’t have these cats, we would have a lot more rats and mice around the city.”

Molly Armus, a staff attorney for Alley Cat Allies, a nationwide cat advocacy group, believes that, “trap-neuter-return is the only humane and effective approach to managing the stray and feral cat population.”

“They’re not being returned to shelters because the euthanasia rate is incredibly high, and their lives are actually improved,” Armus explains. “When the breeding cycle is stopped it makes them healthier, it stops roaming behavior and stops the stress of having multiple pregnancies, they get a general health check as well.”

However, unhealthy cats and cats that are not thriving outdoors are not returned; the felines are given medical attention and vaccinations and further precautions. Community cats that have always lived outside understand how to live outside, as Armus concludes, “studies show that feral cats are just as healthy as domestic cats and TNR only helps them. By their nature they don’t interact with people, so they’re not adoptable animals. It’s only good that they’re returned to their environment. It’s a community effort to take care of colonies.”

It will be an endless debate if TNR is humane, but currently it seems like the only method of controlling feline populations without euthanasia due to overpopulated shelters. While there’s an ongoing battle to get more funding for animal shelters, the cats can battle the rats.