Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Dirty Little Secret

I have admitted to my crafting addiction.
I have been forthcoming with my un-natural attachment to triathlon.
I think it's time to come out about my "cat thing".

Quite simply, my "other passion" is for cats, namely feral cats and Trap-Neuter-Return.

What is a feral cat, exactly?
A feral cat is what some people might call a "stray" cat or an "alley cat". A truly feral cat is the result of a once domestic un-fixed cat...and at least one irresponsible human. The domestic cat is either lost or abandoned and it, and/or its offspring have reverted to a feral state, not knowing the love of or trusting a human. They eek out a survivial as best they can wherever they are, but left un-fixed, are able to reproduce up to four times a year (as are those offspring!) as early as four months of age. Not being easy to approach or catch, breeding goes unchecked. Overpopulation continues and suffering needlessly ensues. If these cats are taken to an animal shelter, they cannot be re-homed (unless they are caught at a very young age and rehabilitated) and are killed.

What is Trap-Neuter-Return?
TNR is the humane alternative. All of the cats in a group (called a colony) are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian for spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations and ear-tipping (a universal symbol indicating they have been neutered). Then they are returned to their home territory (where they were found) and a person (caretaker) assumes responsibility for providing them with food, water, shelter and monitoring for any newcomers to the colony.

Why is TNR the answer?
The bottom line, and what I tell people, is that when you encounter a feral cat or group of feral cats, there are simply 3 options.
ONE: Do nothing. Turn a blind eye and hope the problem will get taken care of somehow or just go away. Unfortunately, this option just results in unchecked breeding, and a problem that grows exponentially, with all of it's ensuing suffering, fast.
TWO: Trap-and-Kill, the traditional means of controlling feral cat populations. Trap them, take them to a shelter to be killed, and think your problem has been eradicated. Wrong. I have now seen it in action. Invariably, one or two cats will be left behind. They now have even more of whatever resources led the cats to this spot in the first place. And nature doesn't like a vaccuum, so these leftover cats will start to have even larger, healthier litters until the void is filled. Also, there is now room/resources for un-fixed cats from down the street to join in. So the colony will very quickly return right back to the number it started at.
THREE: Trap-Neuter-Return. Once the majority of the cats in a colony (and hopefully all of them) are fixed, the colony number stabilizes. The annoyance behaviors associated with mating (roaming, howling, spraying) disappear, the cats become healthier, there are no new kittens and the colony itself becomes a more cohesive unit, showing more assertion to it's territory, limiting un-fixed newcomers from this space. With the compassion of a caretaker, these cats are allowed to live their lives with quality and over the years, the number gradually dwindle naturally and the colony eventually disappears. It is the difference between life and a horrible terrifying death in a shelter for these cats, who are no different than our own pets.

And THAT, my friends, is how I came to start my spay-neuter program, Tri Valley Fix our Ferals ( Every 8 weeks I recruit about 10 veterinarians and about 40 volunteers and we borrow the clinic facilty at our local SPCA. We bring every last supply we will need, down to our own drugs, surgical instruments, autoclaves, needles, cottonballs, whatever we will need--and we fix about 80 or 90 feral cats that day brought in by concerned cat lovers who have trapped them for the clinic day. These cats lives are changed and improved immediately that day, and UNTOLD numbers of kittens are prevented. We just fixed our 2000 th cat. The math is mind boggling.

Now, back to my cute picture up there. These two kittens, and another young black adult male I found while stopping to pee behind a bush on a bike ride up near our mountain house last month. So, last weekend, I shlepped up 3 traps, headed from our house down the mountain at 4:00am both mornings, set my traps, and waited.....I got em! ( I swear, I should take up fishing.) Brought em home and they were all fixed on Friday. Now, the only other thing about Trap-Neuter-Return: if the cats look at all like they are going to be able to be socialized (which is a ton of work, I might add, and a very imprecise science based completely on the personality of each cat), you always TRY not to have to put them back if you think you have any shot at all at giving them a life somewhere as a domestic, loved, pet cat with his or her own human. This little siamese cross (he's a boy) is a total muffin and will have no problem. The black adult male is actually showing huge promise as well. This black and white one is a pistol! But I'm not giving up yet. So, if you know of any potential homes, I will be hot on the trail very soon for some and a little stressed out that I cannot absorb even one more here.

Besides my early morning trapping adventure, we had a wonderful day at Bear Valley Cross Country skiing...and I got to use my Skate Skis! I hadn't been able to do that since breaking my leg and was so pleasantly surprised that I could do it. The break being on the far right side of my right tibia at the knee, I was somewhat doubtful if that scar tissue would ever break up to the point of me being able to make the skate-ski motion again. So great!

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