Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon Steps in Early to Curb Feral Cat Numbers

 |  Aug 17th 2010  |   5 Contributions


If you walked into the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon's North Portland clinic any other time of the year, it would be eerily quiet, even though the shelves would be filled with feral cats awaiting surgery -- cats that have learned to keep quiet to not attract predators.

An anesthetized female kitten is prepared for surgery at the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon clinic. Photo by Jacques Von Lunen/Special to The Oregonian

But last month, a chorus of little meows accompanied the work of the organization's volunteers.

It's kitten season, and the babies haven't learned to stay mum.

The FCCO, whose mission is to prevent another generation of feral cats from being born, has experienced a record number calls for kittens.

The coalition's phone volunteers took nearly 900 calls last month. Most of the time they get around 400. July's calls brought more than 600 kittens to the FCCO clinic.

As they have every Thursday and Friday in July, helpers pull kitten after kitten out of traps. Technicians anesthetize them and hand them to veterinarians, who either neuter the cats right there on the prep table or take them into a full-blown operating theater for the more-involved spay surgery.

The process rolls along in a steady rhythm. Around noon, the intake shelves are empty and another large batch of kittens awaits pickup.

"Mommas and babies, mommas and babies -- that's the call right now," says FCCO Executive Director Karen Kraus. It's obvious from their behavior that a lot of those mommas are stray pet cats that weren't born feral -- they're not shy around people. But they are giving birth to future feral cats.

An e-mail Kraus recently received is typical of many she gets: "There is a momma cat and four kittens that I have been feeding. I'm thinking momma was abandoned young, because on occasion I have actually been able to scratch her head and back. The kittens are completely wild, though."

The same situation plays out millions of times each year around the country.

Julie Levy, a researcher at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, prepared a study on feral cats last year. One of the results was that four times as many feral cats are born in this country as are owned cats. The reasons are multiple, including irresponsible ownership and abandonment due to financial hardship. But cats' unusual powers to procreate play a part, too.

Unlike many mammals, cats can breed and get pregnant while they're still nursing the last litter. And they become sexually active at 5 months old.

That's why FCCO practices early-age spay and neuter. The veterinary community used to advise against sterilizing cats before they reach 6 months of age. Many still believe that guideline, although research has proven that it's fine to spay/neuter younger cats, Kraus says. The FCCO accepts cats for surgery that are 2 months old and weigh 2 pounds.

"You can wait until 6 months," Kraus says. "But that's a 5-month-old having babies."

She says it's fine for people to wait until 6 months with their pets, as long as they keep them indoors. But it's not fine for feral cats.

There are a lot of people with big hearts that put out food for free-roaming cats. But many who take care of small feral colonies don't know that there are services to help them get the cats spayed and neutered.

Levy's study also determined that only about 11 percent of feral-cat caregivers in the US know about available trap-neuter-return programs in their area.

If you are involved in caring for feral cats in your area, here are some guidelines for trapping them and getting them to spay/neuter clinics:

-- Find an organization in your area that is involved with TNR programs. A good way to start is a Google search for keywords like "Feral cat rescue [your state or area]."

-- If you are feeding feral cats, make sure the kittens are weaned before you set out traps. The easiest sign is that the mother is bringing the kittens out to eat the solid food you put out.

-- Put the trap near where you feed the cats. Cover the outside of the trap with the cloth provided and the inside floor of the trap with some old newspaper. The trap has two ends; one is the spring-loaded door, the other is a door that can be removed. Remove that door and put the food inside the trap for several days without setting it.

-- Once the cats are used to eating inside the wire cage, replace the removable door, set the spring-loaded door and place the food past the pressure plate hidden under the paper. Cats walk in, door closes. Done.

-- Never reach into the trap once cats are inside.

-- The process should be timed so that you trap the cats the night before your surgery appointment. Place the trap or traps -- you should borrow one trap per cat or kitten -- in a dry, secure area overnight.

-- Bring the trapped cats to your local feral cat TNR clinic.

For more information about how to care for feral cat colonies and conduct trap/neuter/return operations, consult the Alley Cat Allies and Feral Cat Coalition websites.

[Source: The Oregonian]

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