Solutions for feral cat colonies
By Nicole L. Czarnomski
A feral cat is akin to wildlife and tolerates very little human interaction. Many people believe it’s best to eradicate the feral cat population due to a questionable quality of life in the wild or because they’re a nuisance.
But consider this.
“When the population is monitored and controlled, cats live in a community and help control the rodent population and are no different than a squirrel or raccoon,” says Michele Quandt of Camp Companion. “Feral cats are a part of the ecosystem.”
Cat Lives Matter
Six years ago, one southeastern Minnesota community learned how important feral cats are to the ecosystem. They chose to eliminate a large feral cat colony in the area despite Camp Companion’s efforts to convince city council members otherwise.
Because there is a granary in this town, a rat infestation developed without the cats. The community turned to Camp Companion for help, so they brought in a colony from the Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) program, which sterilizes cats to reduce the population. Sterilized cats don’t allow outsiders, so it kept the colony small and eliminated the rat infestation.
A feral cat lives an average of seven to nine years and can have three litters each year, each litter containing four to seven kittens. Quandt says each year 1,500 to 2,000 feral cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, and released through Camp Companion. Each cat receiving the procedure has its ear clipped for identification. This saves the lives of approximately 20 kittens per cat each year. Quandt encourages people with a colony living on their property to try the TNR program.
In southeastern Minnesota, when Camp Companion traps a cat, they work with veterinarian clinics in Blooming Prairie, Dodge Center, Kenyon, Zumbro Falls, Kasson and a mobile vet in Winona County depending on where they find the cat. Sterilization cost is $50 per female and $30 per male. The price decreases for more than five cats.
Colony Out of Control
Last spring, real estate agent Rebecca Cartwright reached out to Kari Cedergren, an animal advocate in St. Joseph, Minn. Cartwright was selling a property that was also the home of a colony of feral cats.
The homeowner had cared for the colony for many years. She created shelters in old sheds, filled them with blankets and straw and made sure the colony was fed. But when she moved to a nursing home and could no longer care for the cats, feline lives were on the line.
Cartwright’s prospective buyer would not purchase the property until the cats were removed. Cartwright captured approximately 50 cats on the property and placed them in various humane agencies.
Tri-County Humane Society (TCHS) in St. Cloud helped the majority of the cats. The friendlier kittens were placed in adoptive homes while the adult cats were placed in the Barn Cat Program. This program relocates to farms cats that are unfit to live indoors.
“Part of the reason we have such a cat problem in Minnesota is due to the many sweet and caring people who think they are actually helping by putting food out for cats,” says Marit Ortega, TCHS director of philanthropy. “One or two unfixed stray cats can turn into a very large community of stray cats very quickly if they are being well fed, as they have larger litters with an unlimited food supply.”
TCHS used money from their outreach program to cover the cost of sterilizing the 50 cats. Chuck & Don’s Pet Food & Supplies stores provided grant money to cover a portion of the cost for sterilizing this colony.
Stray Cat Huts
“By sterilizing colonies, it reduces, and in some cases eliminates mating, fighting, spraying and wandering. The colony’s health and environment improves,” says Quandt.
Without sterilization, as witnessed by TCHS in St. Cloud and Camp Companion in southeastern Minnesota, overpopulation occurs and housing is a challenge, especially through the winter months.
Rochester animal advocate Sue Stanek recognized this growing problem and wanted to help. “They’re overpopulating farms and urban areas,” she says of feral cats. “In the winter, shelters fill up, leaving fewer homes for feral cats.” Three years ago, Stanek and her friend Pam Eggler put their heads together and decided to construct mobile housing units, dubbed “stray cat huts.”
People donated time, money and supplies, including plastic totes, Styrofoam containers, duct tape and heavy plastic. The Rochester Feed & Country Store donated hay for bedding.
They spent six hours one Saturday constructing 168 totes to give away to anyone with a feral cat population.
Stanek and Eggler agree the growing project has become too big for them. They’ve been interviewing people interested in taking over.
Nicole L. Czarnomski is a writer and cat mom to a sassy calico cat and a cuddly tuxedo cat.
Feeling Feral Friendly?
To help the feline TNR program: www.tricountyhumanesociety.org
To assist with the stray cat huts project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org