A Cat Rescuer Needs Our Help

When you live on a farm there’s abundant room for a multitude of pets, but when you live in a town or city the limited space allows for much fewer pets. This has been on the mind of a gentle-hearted lady whom I recently met. “Anne”* has rescued over one hundred homeless cats, but, now that she’s approaching sixty-five, she feels it’s time to find homes for her remaining cat clan before she needs to move into town.

I didn’t have any power to change things when I was little but now I can care for them to my heart’s content.

Anne’s compassion for animals began as early as age four. Her family lived in a small town on a busy highway. She saw a cat in their yard and wanted to pet it, but the cat ran away and was struck by a car, an experience which Anne found traumatic. Soon after, Anne noticed some kittens coming and going from under the porch of an abandoned house. She tamed one of those kittens, whom she called Cinnamon, and her parents let her take him when they moved. At the new farm, Anne often fed table scraps to the stray cats that were continually drawn to the outbuildings One time a cat went missing and she found his body in a tree; the rest of the cats never were all that healthy. Anne believes that all these “harsh experiences” led her to become a cat rescuer.

I have always loved animals!  I thought we were going to get horses, cats, dogs, everything, but it didn’t work out that way.

Since 1985, Anne has lived on an acreage, where she’s continued to see more of the same lack of awareness by her neighbors of how to care for cats. A volunteer at The Cat House since 2007, Anne has learned so much through them and her vets. “I’m doing a much better job of taking care of my cats than when I started.” After a litter of kittens in her care died because they were “full of worms,” Anne’s vet told her to have her animals neutered. The advice propelled Anne into action. Not only did Anne heed the advice, but she also started a Trap-Neuter-Release program with local community cats. In addition, she began helping her neighbors get their cats altered and current on shots, paying the costs herself when needed. She’s helped even strangers with their cats by donating to All Feline emergency funds.

Highlights are when a feral kitty trusts and loves me! Finding good homes! Knowing that my cats would not be alive if I hadn’t helped them.

Naturally, when word got out of Anne’s willingness to rescue cats, people started turning to her when they saw a cat in need. To every cat that came her way, Anne gives housing, heated beds, premium food, and water. The cats are current on vaccinations and receive vet visits too. Anne spares no expense or effort. She’s daily fed cats, scooped litter boxes, and washed dirty laundry. Anne also takes time to pet and play with each cat in her care. “It takes about two hours a day to care for them.” As for the bills, let’s just say that Anne has spent thousands each year.

I have a great deal of knowledge and can offer advice to others.  I often don’t realize how much I have learned until I start visiting with others.

In addition to the time and cost involved, another major challenge has been deciding how far to go with medical treatment. While often her cats’ needs have been straightforward and reasonable, Anne’s also had quite a few die from cancer, kidney, liver disease, etc. She told me of ten-year-old Scout who had a heart attack, an experience which shocked her. Anne used to bury the cats she lost, but now has them cremated.

I want to place as many as possible, so that I’m not out in the cold and ice and snow in five years. I keep taking care of them because no one else will, but I don’t have a safety net if something happens to me.

While Anne has enjoyed the opportunity to care for cats the way she wants, it’s also been a daunting experience, and now she’s reaching out for help. “I’m 63, and would like to have my numbers way down within five years. I’ve rehomed most, but still currently have around twenty cats.”

This gentle-hearted lady, who only wants to see every homeless cat with a loving family, has reached the place that many rescuers do: she’s maxed out in space and expenses. Anne does intend to keep the oldest and the ones with medical issues, but the rest she’d love to find homes for. That’s where you can help. Anne has used local PetSmart stores, The Cat House, social media, and word-of-mouth to reach potential adopters, but needs more cat lovers to help her find adopters.

At a recent Best Friends symposium that I attended, the presenters encouraged animal welfare advocates to work together. Since I’ve started blogging for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, I’ve met many people passionate about homeless animals but who often work as individuals. While they do save many animals this way, if everyone united for one common cause we could save even more. The slogan for Best Friends Animal Society is “Together we can save them all.” Let’s follow their lead and unite as animal rescuers.

You can make a difference by contacting me if you’re interested in adopting any of Anne’s cats.  Anne herself wishes to stay anonymous, because she’s trying to retire from the cat rescue life. One of her charges that she’d like to rehome is Louis, a sweet and mischievous cat who’s front-declawed. Although he’s happy as an indoor cat, he’d do best as an indoor/outdoor cat because he also likes to spray outside. An approved home would be a single-family dwelling with a privacy fence.

* Name changed to protect identity.

National Feral Cat Day

A pet calendar date dear to my heart is National Feral Cat Day. Celebrated on October 16, the goal is to raise awareness of community cats and to promote Trap Neuter Release (TNR) as the best method for stabilizing cat populations. Alley Cat Allies initiated this day on 2001 on the group’s 10th anniversary.

feral-cat-day

Who are Alley Cat Allies? Founded in 1990 and headquartered in Maryland, Alley Cat Allies is the only national cat advocacy organization “dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats.” It boasts more than 600,000 supporters.

For more than 26 years, Alley Cat Allies has been leading the movement to protect and improve the lives of cats everywhere, and this year’s National Feral Cat Day theme reflects that. From the pet cats in your home to the outdoor cats in communities around the world, all cats deserve our care and protection. Together, we are creating change that saves their lives.

–Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, National Feral Cat Day® Is October 16

What is TNR? It’s a policy whereby community cats are trapped, brought to local participating vets to be neutered, and returned to their colonies. (While a cat is under sedation for surgery, a quarter of an inch is removed from the tip of the left or right ear, providing it with the universal mark of a neutered community cat.) By neutering feral cats, their populations won’t increase due to a continuous cycle of kittens. By returning feral cats to their colonies, they’re given the chance to live instead of risking their almost certain euthanasia in shelters. Typical TNR colonies will have caretakers who not only ensure that the cats receive vaccinations, but also provide daily water, food, and shelter, and monitor their health.

Why do community cats need their own day? There are an estimated forty million homeless cats in the United States. Some grow up never knowing human touch, while others are strays or abandoned pets. Most municipalities catch and impound feral cats, briefly attempt to find adoptive homes, and ultimately euthanize the majority. Feral Cat Day brings awareness to the plight of community cats.

How can you help? Foremost, you can have your cats neutered and thereby ensure that no more unwanted kittens will be born. Beyond this, here are some suggestions:

  • Educate yourself and others about issues that impact feral cats
  • Donate to local TNR programs (such as those run by The Cat House and Husker Cats here in Lincoln)
  • Volunteer for or organize your own TNR program
  • Encourage government proclamations (Christine Booras in Me, My Ferals, and I tells how she got her city’s mayor to declare a local Feral Cat Day)
  • Create a local Feral Cat Day and register your events with Alley Cat Allies

Feral Cat Day has been dear to my heart since my involvement with TNR through Husker Cats. I’ve come to know the name of cat in the colony I help care for. When one shows up during feeding time, my heart soars. In spring 2015, my husband and I even adopted a colony cat. You can read her story and more about TNR at the following links:

The Faces of Feral Cats

Trap-Neuter-Release is the most effective program for reducing the cat overpopulation. My first four articles on the topic presented the facts that support that claim. Personally, it wasn’t the facts alone that won me over. Even after wading through all the pros and cons of TNR, the cats themselves are why TNR is dear to my heart. What follows then are the stories behind three unique faces; ones which, if you’re unfamiliar with feral cat colonies, may surprise you.

THE KITTENS

Frankie and Annie are two cats who were born to a small, young, black cat in a feral cat colony. Caretakers affectionately dubbed that cat “Gravel Road Mama”. Those grown-up kittens now belong to Randy and Jill.

Back when Jill was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she would notice feral cats around campus. From day one, she worried about them, wanted to help them, and even desired to own one. She was understandably excited, therefore, when she learned about a volunteer group of students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university that formed in 2008 to ensure a high quality life for the campus cats. That group is called Husker Cats, which since its formation has stabilized and even reduced the feral cat population due to TNR.

Jill both donated to the group and kept up with news of the group’s activities. In the summer of 2014, through friends, Jill heard about the trapping of a feral kitten. According to the vet who checked the black cat, Frankie didn’t want to be feral. In fact, everyone who met Frankie was crazy about him. The Flagels requested a visit with Frankie, thinking they’d decide at the time whether to foster.

After returning from the Apple Jack Festival in Nebraska City, they jumped back in their car the next day and went to see Frankie. “We thought we were just going to visit,” Jill told me, “but they had Frankie ready to go.”

The Flagels took Frankie home. Because Frankie would need time to adjust before being introduced to the rest of the house and to their other cats, the Flagels isolated him in a bedroom with a litter box and food. In the morning, Randy would check on Frankie, and in the evening both Jill and Randy would spend time with Frankie in him room. As the days passed, it was evident from the number of paws being poked under the door that the Flagels’ cats were eager to get to know Frankie. It was also evident that Frankie wanted out of the room. One day the Flagels opened the door, retreated to the living room, and let Frankie venture out on his own when he was ready. He did this slowly, and none of the other cats bothered him. There were no disagreements, nor any hissing or fights. Frankie stayed out and became part of the family.


In the meantime, Frankie’s mom still lived in the colony and had eluded the traps. Not surprisingly then, several months later Jill heard that Gravel Road Mama had given birth to a kitten, this time a female. The Flagels now had three cats, with no plans for a fourth. But the kitten’s birthday fell on the same day Jill’s. In addition, the Flagels were tempted by the prospect of uniting Frankie with his sister. After some talk, they decided to ask to adopt Annie. Incidentally, this wasn’t their chosen name for her, but they decided to keep the name after learning it’d been chosen to honor a woman who had drowned during the floods that month.

Without early human contact, feral kittens will grow up wild. They’ll routinely face the threat of disease, starvation, flooded drainpipes, frostbite, and predators such as eagle and fox. They’ll also never know the safety, comfort, and love of a human family. In contrast, if captured at the right age, feral kittens can often be tamed within weeks. Such has proved to be the case with Frankie and Annie.

Today all four of the Flagels’ cats follow Randy around whenever he’s home. Frankie loves to have his head rubbed. At night, Frankie sleeps by Jill’s stomach and Annie sleeps next to Jill’s face. Jill notes that the cats have also connected her and her husband “into this family of cat lovers and special cats”. Pretty good for two cats who were born to feral parents and spent their first three months outside! And here’s a bonus: Gravel Road Mama herself was adopted this fall!

THE STRAYS

The dirty and skinny black cat looked like any other feral when he first showed up on campus. The shy and fearful cat was trapped, taken to the veterinarian for neutering and vaccinations, given a name, and then released where he’d been found. Day after day, caretakers of the feral colony brought food and water to JoJo and the other colony cats.

JoJo gradually began to warm up to one of the caretakers, even asking for attention from her before settling to eat. Then one summer day, this caretaker found JoJo soaking wet. She wrapped him in a warm blanket and picked him up. JoJo accepted this human contact and purred in response.

Adult cats that show up in feral colonies may be lost or abandoned, having long ago left behind memories of home and family. The longer these cats are separated from people, the more timid and defensive they can become. With time and patience, however, many of them can learn to reconnect with human companions.

JoJo is a testament to what can be achieved. When Ellen and Rob Shutt heard about JoJo, they wanted to get him off the streets and into a warmer environment before winter. Although JoJo was initially terrified, preferring to hide, he eventually learned to trust the Shutts. As Rob sat with JoJo and talked to him, JoJo became more relaxed. One day, JoJo even ventured onto Rob’s lap.

Only a month after that significant breakthrough, JoJo progressed from wanting to be held for only a few seconds to enjoying regular snuggle time with Rob. JoJo also began to rub up against Ellen’s leg and accept her gentle caresses. Ellen says that one of the highs of being a pet foster parent is seeing the transformation of a once feral cat into a loving companion.

In the spring of 2014, JoJo was placed in The Cat House with the hopes that he would find a forever home. Only a few months later, the feral colony caretakers received the news of his adoption. When his new guardian met JoJo for the first time, JoJo walked right up to her as if he had been expecting her. As one volunteer for Husker Cats said, “Obviously, he recognized LOVE when it walked in the door.”

THE FERALS

As far as anyone knows, Bootsie was born outside. She has been seen on campus as a kitten, so her age is known to be about three years old. I first met Bootsie while volunteering with Husker Cats. Immediately, she shattered my stereotype of feral cats being wild. Instead she became for me the poster cat for the potential of feral cats. You see, Bootsie would come up to her caretakers for back scratches and even would occasionally even show a playful side. Therein lay a dilemma.

Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species. The three groups, however, differ from one another in their relationship to and interactions with people. Feral cats are those which were born in the wild or have experienced minimal contact with humans. As such, they have socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, rather than to people. These cats, who have learned by necessity to survive outside, typically do not allow humans to touch them.

In contrast, Bootsie seemed to have the potential to become someone’s pet cat and so, this past spring, my husband and I began the adventure of fostering Bootsie. At first, because we weren’t sure how she would adapt to indoor life, Bootsie stayed in a crate in our library. Within only a few days, Bootsie made it clear by her growing agitation that she wanted more freedom. In response, we opened the door of her crate and gave her the run of the library. By her interest in eating outside of the crate, playing with toys, and interacting with my husband and me, Bootsie showed us that we had made the right choice.

The next challenge would be our feisty and standoffish Tortoiseshell, Cinder. To acclimate the two cats to one another, we followed all the guidelines about initially keeping cats separated and then slowly introducing them. Initially, this involved exchanging scents through swapping beds, toys, litter, and even rooms. When the day of introductions arrived, we put a partition between the library and the hall to limit their exposure to each other. In addition, at first, the library door was only opened about a foot. We increased that amount daily and within a week, the cats were able to eat and play within sight of one another. When Bootsie tried to climb the partition, we realized it was time to fully integrate her into our household.

Doing such required introducing her to our toy poodle. The two quickly realized that neither proved a threat or even a competition to one another. Integrating her fully into our household also meant allowing Bootsie to explore the rest of our house. My husband and I had to learn to respect Bootsie’s timidity and to allow her time to realize that our home truly would be a safe haven for her. We also had to figure out that the first sound of rain will send Bootsie running for cover under our bed. Oh, and apparently, Miss Bootsie doesn’t care for robes or coats.

Bootsie_LapCatAt the same time, we’ve also been given the privilege of getting to know one of the most polite and loving cats you could imagine. Without our ever training her, Bootsie knows how to wait patiently for treats. She also responds well to: “No!” Every morning while I write these articles, Bootsie curls up on my lap. In the evening, wherever I am, Bootsie seeks me out.

Even now as I scroll through the hundreds of photos I’ve taken of Bootsie, I feel amazed that just over a year ago I didn’t even know she existed. In addition, when I finally did meet Bootsie, I simply thought of her as a cat who would safely live her life outdoors thanks to TNR. Now this gray-haired cat has not only been living inside with our family for almost eight months, but she’s become the most affectionate of our pets.

AND ALL THE REST

From the stories I hear from other TNR caretakers, I have no doubt that for every feral cat that has overcome its wild nature and learned to be a house cat, there are many others that can’t make that adjustment. Some are just too wild. Others do not get enough regular exposure to loving caretakers. For those feral cats to have a chance at a long and healthy life, the best place for them is in a TNR community.

No matter whether the feral cats remain outside or eventually find a forever home inside, my goal in introducing you to a few of them is to help you see past the debate. When thinking of how best to solve the problem of 40 million cats, we need to remember that each cat is an individual and each individual is important. Take a step today to help just one. For that one you do help, the difference might be their life.

Many thanks to Dick and Olga, who provided daily attention and affection to Bootsie’s feral colony and no doubt were instrumental in teaching Bootsie to be comfortable and even loving with people. Also, thanks to Husker Cats, who first introduced me to TNR and to Bootsie. I’m so blessed to have Bootsie in my life.

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat HouseHusker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

The Cats of Parliament Hill

Until 1955, Canada’s most famous feral cat colony was located at the Cat Sanctuary of Parliament Hill, where cats were employed as natural exterminators of mice and rats. After that date, the cats continued to receive care until recent years, when the last four feral inhabitants were adopted. Being from Canada, I was interested in my birth nation’s Trap-Neuter-Release.

To my surprise and pride, a 2011 tourist booklet called Guide to the Hill includes as one of Parliament Hill’s prominent locations the aforementioned Cat Sanctuary. (Parliament Hill is the Canadian equivalent of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.) The guide describes the site in this way: “Through the kindness of volunteers and the generosity of public donations, this ‘cat sanctuary’ has cared for the animals of Parliament Hill since the 1970s. Today, it is home to cats, raccoons, groundhogs, squirrels, pigeons, chickadees and sparrows.”

When did the feral cats first appear on Parliament Hill? According to a blurb on North Country Public Radio, their ancestors arrived in the early 1900’s. The Cats of Parliament Hill Blog further expands the story by stating, “There is a story that Colonel By brought hundreds of cats with him when he built the Rideau Canal in 1826, to take care of the rodent population.” The blog recognizes that this tale can’t be confirmed, but then goes on to report that what can be confirmed is that cats on Parliament Hill were used as pest control until 1955 when they were replaced by chemicals.

From that point until 1970, ground keepers fed the cats in various locations. That’s when Irene Desormeaux took on the job of being a caretaker. In the 1980’s, she began receiving help from a gentleman named Rene Chartrand, who built wooden shelters for the cats. In 1987, Chartrand took over as the cats’ primary caretaker when Desormeaux passed away. He continued to loyally feed the cats until operations ceased in 2003.

When did Parliament Hill begin its TNR program? According to Wikipedia, neutering all the cats only occurred in the last ten to fifteen years of the sanctuary’s operation. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports, “The sanctuary was once home to as many as 30 strays, but spaying and neutering has reduced their ranks to just four today.”

Why did the Cat Sanctuary close? The Cats of Parliament Hill Facebook offers this explanation as one of the reasons. “The lease expired when Rene Chartrand went into a retirement home in November 2008 and didn’t renew it. The caregivers kept it open until January 2013 until all the cats were adopted.” And there were another factor: renovations were about to be made in the location where the cats lived. Offers were made to relocate the colony, but suggested sites were deemed unsuitable by the caregivers because of the high volume of traffic.”

The bottom line is, that having reduced the colony to a population of just four cats that were then adopted, Cat Sanctuary’s TNR program can be considered an unqualified success.

Despite the numerous success stories, critics of TNR doubt its effectiveness. However, while certainly some TNR programs have failed, it seems clear that they can succeed when done right. The Cat Sanctuary on Parliament Hill is one such example.

There is a wealth of material online  about The Cat Sanctuary on Parliament Hill. There are news reports, an archived blog, one book, and even a current Facebook page. If the sanctuary is closed, why does it continue to receive so much publicity? One volunteer is quoted by CTV News as saying, “We’ll remember them and tell people about them. They won’t be forgotten.” Besides the fact that caretakers become attached to the feral cats that they feed and so would simply want to remember them the way all pet-owners would like to honor their own beloved pets, there’s an additional hope. It echoes the reason I share here at LAA Pet Talk:

We would love to find ways to bring attention to the need of shelter and awareness to cat colonies…. The Cats of Parliament Hill colony has opened our eyes, and it would be amazing to continue with that legacy.

–comment on Facebook, Cats of Parliament Hill

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

CATS OF PARLIAMENT HILL

How Universities and Prisons Help Cats

Amid the students, professors, and college administrators, there are other residents on campus—feral cats. You may not even notice them at first. They typically hide during the day and come out at night, and they are generally leery of humans.

Alley Cats Allies

Great Meadow Correctional Facility has become home to four unlikely inmates. Some might call them cute and cuddly. A litter of tan kittens found its way into the bowels of the prison a few months ago and since then, into the hearts of some of the staff and inmates.

PostStar

While searching for positive Trap Neuter Release stories, I frequently came across examples within two very different type of institutions: universities and prisons. I wondered, why would feral cat colonies be found at either of these institutions, and why these institutions care about feral cats?

A university student’s research paper entitled TNR and Campus Cat Organizations described to campuses as “hotspots for feral cats”. Why? One reason often given by university TNR programs is that students and campus neighbors don’t have their cats fixed, which then results in litters of kittens. Another common explanation is that campuses are apparently viewed as an ideal dumping ground for an unwanted cat. Finally, a reason given in the aforementioned research paper is that wild cats will congregate where food and shelter are available. TNR and Campus Cat Organizations notes that “Dumpsters and crawl space under buildings alone attract cats.”

Stanford University is regularly cited as being a model for all other universities, including that of our own University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who embrace TNR. In January 1989, reports a news release from the Stanford University Service, Stanford announced that it planned it would be taking steps to deal with an unmanageably large feral cat population on campus. After plans were announced to trap as many as 1,500 cats and ship them to humane societies where they would likely be euthanized, “a group of volunteers approached university officials with a proposal to humanely trap the cats and have them spayed, neutered, vaccinated and tagged so that they could remain alive on campus.”

This group formed the highly successful The Cat Network. On the fifth anniversary of The Cat Network the number of feral cats had dropped to a mere 300, while on the tenth anniversary the numbers had declined to just 150. In addition, one of the network’s founders is quoted in 1999 by the Stanford University Press as saying, “Litters are a thing of the past at Stanford since the current cat population is spayed and neutered. We really don’t have kittens born at the university anymore.” In 2012, Stanford’s Daily Post reported that another of the network’s founders estimated the cat population to be as low as two dozen. In addition, a volunteer observed, “One thing people comment on when they look at the Stanford Cat Network webpage is that all the cats look really healthy. People expect feral cats to be all skinny, scrawny and unhealthy-looking but that’s exactly what we try to avoid.”

According to TNR and Campus Cat Organizations, other universities who followed Stanford’s lead have also seen success. To name a few:

  • Southern Methodist University’s feral cat population went from 62 cats to 50 in four years
  • California Polytechnic State University’s feral cat population went from over 400 cats to 60 cats in nine years, and its adoption program has found homes for 450 cats and kittens
  • University of Texas’s feral cat population went from over 200 cats to 15 cats in fifteen years, and no new litters of kittens have been born in ten years

As part of my own research, I also found that Saint Mary’s University practices TNR and reports success too. Numbers started at about 120 and dropped to 60 after five years.

In contrast to the successes of TNR, City of Berkeley Animal Shelter cites the failure of trapping and removing at Georgetown. Officials took the feral cats to the local animal control agency where the cats were killed. In under six months, 10 new unaltered cats and 20 kittens appeared on the campus, leaving Georgetown with an ongoing problem of cat overpopulation.

Kudos aside, the above numbers could suggest that spay/neuter efforts alone were responsible for the success of reducing the numbers of cats on campus. However, an issue that all universities face is that new cats will appear each year, left behind by students. The solution? Many universities will place in foster homes and later put up for adoption those cats which are recognized as non-feral. They also recommend animal welfare education.

With an estimated 30 to 40 million cats being homeless, both TNR and adoption are needed to curb our pet overpopulation crisis, as prisons have found. Global Animal contends that TNR has become mainstream. It states that more than 430 municipalities nationwide, along with numerous prisons (ten of which are specifically named) have started TNR programs. Regards the latter, Global Animal states, “Inmates are often the cats’ primary caregivers and their biggest supporters, constantly advocating for the cats, with whom they form deep bonds.”

One of the most recent examples of a successful prison TNR program is the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York.  According to PostStar, the feral cats wandered from a nearby farm to the prison. Not only is TNR being used to manage the cat colony’s population, but ten cats have been adopted by employees and their extended families.

When I first started my series on cat overpopulation, I said that there were at least three ways the average pet owner could help.

  • Ensure your cat is spayed/neutered
  • Keep your domesticated cat indoors
  • Support Trap Neuter Release

In reality, other ways exist too. Some I have discussed in earlier posts such as fostering and adopting. Others, such as educating yourself, you’re doing simply by reading these articles. There may even be more ways. What’s clear to me is there isn’t just one single way; instead we need passionate people and creative individuals to continue to work together find a mix of ways that will help our feline friends have the best lives possible. Will you be part of that solution?

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

UNIVERSITIES

Cat Network Celebrates Five Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Network Marks Ten Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Tales, Stanford Daily

Stanford Cat Network

TNR and Campus Cats

PRISONS

How Prisons Are Keeping Cats of Death Row

Kittens Break into Prison

How Disneyland & Google Help Cats

Maybe the world will take the lead of Walt Disney and his feral cats of Disneyland.

–Al Hunter, Weekly View, The Feral Cats of Disneyland

Disneyland does TNR! This is the news my husband gave me earlier this year. Ever since I started volunteering for Husker Cats, a volunteer group “working to ensure high-quality life for cats living in feral colonies on campus”, my husband and I have been interested in the topic of Trap-Neuter-Release programs. Disneyland being a well-established entertainment park, the fact they embrace their feral cat colony speaks volumes.

When did feral cats first appear at Disneyland? According to Disneyland Cats, the cats have been around since the California them parked opened in 1955. The basic gist of the story is that as a new attraction was being considered, planners made two discoveries: scores of feral cats, and an infestation of fleas.

To make way for the new attraction, something needed to be done about the cats: Weekly View reports that the cats were considered to be a bit of a nuisance and even a possible threat to the guests. And yet Disneyland Cats suggests that the traditional method of trap and kill would not have been well-received by patrons. Back then, Trap-Neuter-Release wasn’t an established practice, and so the chosen solution was to adopt out all the cats.

Ultimately, however, a more permanent and long-term solution was needed. It was likely that cats throughout the park. In addition, new feral cats were arriving at the park every day, drawn there by the abundant food scraps left behind by park guests and by rodents seeking the same food scraps. Adopting out the cats simply could not keep up with the influx of cats.

The park decided to put the cats to work as ratters. Being feral, and so shy and reclusive by nature, the cats stayed hidden and out of the way during the day when patrons swarmed the park. Then at night, when these colonies of cats were free to roam the grounds unobserved, they would act as natural exterminators. (More than one article points out the irony of a park known for its cartoon rodent mascot now finding itself at war with the real thing. ) “We view them as partners. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship with them,” explains Gina Mayberry, who oversees the Circle D Ranch where Disneyland’s animals are housed, to Alley Cats Allies.

For many years, Disneyland let nature take its course. It embraced their feral cats as allies, but did not actively manage their population. So when did TNR first get started at Disneyland? Disneyland Cats doesn’t specify a date, but just says that the relationship established between the company and the cats “still operates in basically the same fashion today”. Some articles say Disneyland introduced TNR in 2001, others say 2007. There is also no consensus about the program’s catalyst: maybe it was former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker, or maybe it was animal welfare volunteer groups, or maybe the park took it upon themselves. In any case, according to Disneyland Cats, the TNR program is now in place: the cats are all spayed or neutered, feeding stations are located throughout the park “where the cats [can] get their fill when they [can’t] subsist on hunting alone,” and medical treatment is provided when needed.

Various articles estimate that the Disneyland colony numbers about 200 cats. Although visitors aren’t encouraged to get close to and/or feed the cats, Disneyland Cats does note that some of the feeding station locations where guests are most likely to spot a cat include: the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Disneyland, Taste Pilot’s Grill at DCA, White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian, the Rose Court Garden at the Disneyland Hotel, and in the ditch that runs parallel to the path for the Mickey and Friends Tram. Also, you can see photos of them here: Disneyland Cats Will Make You Purr. Apparently, if any cats do start getting overly comfortable with humans, they are found forever homes with cast members.

Disneyland Resort’s TNR program proves that large, high-profile organizations and feral cat colonies can not only peacefully share the same property, but also strike up a mutually beneficial relationship that improves conditions for both parties.

–Alley Cat Allies, TNR At Work

Another large company that embraces TNR is Google. On the Gcat Rescue site, the reason given for its TNR program is increased sightings of cats, and particularly kittens, drew their attention. Volunteers trap regularly throughout the year when the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (HSSV) holds their low cost clinics, as well as anytime the group is aware of new cats on the campus. To date, the group has rescued, adopted, or placed almost 150 cats.

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

DISNEY

Our Most Euthanized Pet

According to a 2015-2016 survey by American Pet Products Association (APPA), 35% of all households in the United States own a cat, with the total number of pet cats reaching almost 86 million. Of those, almost 97% of households consider cats to be family members or companions. Obviously cats are important to Americans. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that 1.4 million cats are euthanized each year, according to the ASPCA. Just as bad is that cats are being euthanized at a higher rate than dogs. For the timeframe of 1994-1997, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy Shelter Statistics Survey reported that 71% of cats that enter shelters are euthanized, whereas only 56% of dogs are euthanized.

Even here in Nebraska, cats aren’t doing well. On its website, The Nebraska Humane Society claims to be unique among animal shelters, by being the facility that houses all animals with nowhere else to go, and states that it is “proud to say that we have not had to euthanize a healthy, adoptable dog, for lack of space, in several years.” At the same time, it states that for cats, the story is less happy. “Cats are a major challenge for every shelter in the country, due to their overwhelming numbers…. at times, we run out of space.”

If we love our cats so much, why are so many being killed? Or as the author of The Top 10 Book of Mysterious Mousers, Talented Tabbies put it, “Cats, the most popular pets in the United States, are also the most euthanized animals in the world.”

So what can the average cat owner do? Over the next few weeks, I’ll cover three ways. First, you can ensure your cat is spayed/neutered. Organization after organization is reporting that sterilization programs result in significant drops in euthanasia rates. Perhaps that’s why The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken the position that “the only method of population control that has demonstrated long-term efficacy in significantly reducing the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets.” In addition, the veterinary community has formally acknowledged the importance of safe, efficient, accessible sterilization programs as the “best antidote to the mass euthanasia of cats and dogs resulting from overpopulation.”

For anyone who wants to join this latter fight, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay/neuter voucher program, in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics. People pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Coming in February, LAA will offer a Fix Me Meow voucher. For just $25, you’ll be able to get your cat spayed/neutered, and vaccinations will also be covered. Since 2010, LAA has altered about 2056 pets, averaging about 372 pets per year.

LAA_FixMeMeowFlyer

Second, you should keep your domesticated cat inside. It’s obvious why you should keep your cat inside if it hasn’t been altered. Letting an unaltered cat run freely is a recipe for accidental breeding, which contributes to the pet overpopulation. There are also indirect ways that outdoor cats contribute to overpopulation, which I’ll cover in an upcoming series of articles.

Third, you can support Trap-Neuter-Release. According to The Humane Society of the United States, cats are divided into three distinct populations: those living in homes as personal pets, those being cared for by shelters and rescues, and those residing in our communities. This latter group, known as community cats, consist of abandoned, stray, and feral (unsocialized) cats. In the United States, there are an estimated thirty to forty million community cats. Many animal welfare groups advocate for a TNR approach to their management. In future posts, I’ll share information about successful TNR communities.

Through the above efforts, many cats have already been saved! To find out more about spay/neuter, the indoor pet initiative, TNR, and check back in the weeks ahead for posts by myself and other bloggers on these important topics.