Why can’t real life be more like a cartoon? You know, the one where a scruffy stray cat sits on a fence behind an Italian restaurant, meowing at the moon and licking delectable bits of recently eaten dinner from her furry little paws….
Unfortunately, an estimated sixty million cats (of the very real sort) live in the streets of the United States every day. They’re offspring of stray, lost or abandoned domestic cats and they’ve been without human contact for so long that they’ve reverted to their basic survival behaviors. Too distrustful of people to be seen, the late night screaming, hungry meowing and backyard brawls can’t be missed. You smell the pungent spray and might even catch a glimpse of the cycle’s beginning: the endless supply of scrappy little kittens born every day.
Feral cats may be desperate and diseased, but they’ve finally found a friend in Alley Cat Allies. “We started this nonprofit organization in 1990 when we discovered that feral cats in the U.S. were either, for the most part, ignored by the authorities, or trapped and killed,” explains Louise Holton, President of Alley Cat Allies. “We took the British-born TNR (trap-neuter-return) system, and modified it for the States.”
What started as three women in Washington D.C., has grown into a network of over 60,000 people working to stabilize the population. “Cats are trapped in humane box traps, taken to a veterinarian to be sterilized, vaccinated against rabies, health-checked, and treated for any existing injuries or illnesses,” says Holton. “The cats are then returned to the site where they were trapped. A caretaker provides daily food, water and shelter and monitors their health.” Sometimes a friendly kitten or cat even makes it’s way into a home, but any new cats that appear at the site are immediately trapped, sterilized, and returned to the area. According to Holton, it all works out. “Over time, the size of the colony is reduced through natural attrition.”
Through the success of TNR, Alley Cat Allies has gained respect from groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association, Tufts Veterinary Medical School, and the Cornell Feline Health Center, and saved many communities a lot of money, too.
In 1998 Orange County Animal Services, for example, reported a fiscal year savings of over $100,000 after implementing the TNR program. How is this possible? “Simple math”, says Robinson. “At $56 a cat, sterilization costs less than euthanasia ($105). And of course there is the benefit of not contributing to the breeding population, or crowded shelters.”
What can we do to help? “Attend conferences conducted by SPAY/USA, Alley Cat Allies, And Doing Things for Animals, held in many locations around the country,” advises Robinson. “Research the low-cost sterilization and TNR programs that might be available in your community. Volunteer. Provide foster care. Assist with fundraising events. And most of all, become informed about local shelter operations, problems, and policies, and how you can help implement progressive programs to stop overpopulation.”
For information about upcoming conferences, contact Alley Cat Allies at 1801 Belmont Rd. NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC 20009-5164; telephone 202-667-3630; Fax 202-667-3640; or www.alleycat.org. What else can we do? Visit our Cats board and let us know what you think!