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Volunteers work to tame the problem of feral cats

Discussion in 'Pet News' started by testmg80, Aug 16, 2009.


  1. testmg80

    testmg80 PetForums VIP

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    By Kim Grizzard
    The Daily Reflector

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    From a distance, the orange tabby looks like it could belong to anybody. But one feature tips Patty Allison off to the fact that it is one of hers.

    It is the left ear. The missing tip lets Allison know that this is nobody's pet; the cat is feral.

    In the city, they may be called alley cats; in the country, they are simply strays. They hide in wooded areas, abandoned buildings or Dumpsters. Animal advocacy groups estimate there are anywhere from 40 million to 100 million feral cats in the country. Accurate statistics on ferals are as illusive as the cats themselves.

    “I don't think people realize how many ferals are out there,” Greenville veterinarian Betty Williams said. “When you actually start looking for them all around the city, then you start noticing. The average person who isn't paying attention doesn't realize that behind that restaurant there's a whole colony of cats.”

    Behind a few of those colonies is a volunteer like Allison. A clinical instructor for Pitt Community College's radiation therapy program, she goes home after work and mixes four cans of wet food with six pounds of dry for cats that wouldn't otherwise come near her.

    “Your heart just goes out to these guys,” Allison said. “It's because no one cares about them.”

    That is the way Joanne Elkins felt 10 years ago when she saw television footage of a kitten struggling in the floodwaters of Hurricane Floyd.

    “I was here with this little battery-operated TV and saw this little kitten floating on a log, a little orange kitten. I'll never forget it,” Elkins recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. There are kittens out there starving and drowning.'”

    The homeschooling mom signed on as a volunteer with Emergency Animal Rescue Service, spending up to 12 hours a day caring for cats that had been fished out of floodwaters from the Tar River. Elkins and other volunteers soon discovered that they had caught more cats than there were owners. Many were feral.

    Feral is a term that describes the behavior, not the breed, of a cat. Feral cats are simply the untamed versions of their pet counterparts. They can be tabby, calico or solid color, short- or long-haired.

    “They're just cats,” Elkins said. “They're just cats that have not had human contact. They grow up without humans ever touching them.”

    Elkins and fellow volunteers found that they were able to socialize the youngest feral kittens and place them in adoptive homes. But taming the problems of the adult feral population would be no quick fix.

    In 2002, the ferals' friends formed Saving Graces for Felines, a nonprofit organization to help stray, abandoned and feral cats. Though Saving Graces now places 100 or more domesticated cats and kittens a year in adoptive homes, ferals were the group's first focus.

    “Our big goal was to try to impress on the people of Pitt County that if they spayed and neutered their pets, these things wouldn't happen,” Elkins said. “These same situations would not develop.”

    Elkins and other volunteers began by trapping feral cats and taking them to Raleigh's Operation Catnip as part of a process known as TNR or trap, neuter, release. The process involves inoculating the cat against rabies, spaying or neutering it and returning it to the area it was found.

    Volunteers took turns shuttling as many as 10 cats a month to such clinics until Greenville veterinarians like Mark Hayes and Arthur McMillan began volunteering their services and their offices on weekends to perform as many as 30 sterilizations in a day.

    In May 2006, Saving Graces, along with Friends of the Pitt County Animal Shelter and the SPCA of Pitt County, opened Spay Today, a low-cost spay and neuter clinic on County Home Road. The clinic, which alters animals adopted from the neighboring Pitt County Animal Shelter, also sterilizes an average of two to three feral cats a day.

    Williams, Spay Today's founding veterinarian, said that in three years, the clinic has spayed or neutered nearly 6,000 animals, including nearly 800 ferals. For ferals, the process includes not only sterilization and a rabies shot, but also basic veterinary care such as treatment for fleas or ear mites. While under anesthesia, feral cats also have the tip of their left ear removed, providing a form of identification recognized nationally by advocacy groups like Alley Cat Allies.

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    #1 testmg80, Aug 16, 2009
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2009
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