I started feeding a few stray/feral cats in my backyard last year, and now they’re reproducing, including a litter of four in my shed. The other house tenants are angry and don’t want any cats around at all. I know there are TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs, and it is illegal to abandon them elsewhere. I pet two of them daily. What am I supposed to do to get rid of the rest? The shelters are full and they can’t adopt out feral cats anyway. — Robert Stundis, Bohemia, N.Y.
You’re a kind person to feed and look after these cats. There’s not many people willing to do that even though, ironically, feeding them keeps them from digging through trash cans and becoming a nuisance in your neighborhood.
If you feed feral cats, however, without also getting them fixed, these well-fed felines will eventually reproduce litters of kittens. Cats can get pregnant as young as 4 months old and have a litter about every two months, so those new born kittens can be producing kittens before summer is over. We need to stop the potential for any more litters before you and your housemates are overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, there are no overnight answers here. It takes time to do what needs to be done, but if you are willing, I can make some suggestions on how to reduce the number of cats you feed and stop the births going forward, so that you are only feeding a handful of cats who will someday die of natural causes. (The average outdoor cat only lives about seven years compared to an indoor cat who could live 14 years or more.)
All the felines must be fixed as soon as possible. The mother cat could already be pregnant with her next litter. Most local spay-neuter clinics offer subsidized surgeries — sometimes as low as $10 or $20 per cat, depending on their funding. Don’t sterilize a female cat while she is still nursing. Start with any non-nursing female cats, male cats and weaned kittens.
I know animal shelters are full, but if there are any social cats or kittens that you can part with, I would call the shelter every day until I got them all placed for adoption. I would also reach out to neighbors and friends through social media to see if someone would like to adopt a cat. Take pictures and name those social felines to encourage a connection with potential adopters.
For feral felines, some nonprofit animal groups across the country operate “barn cat programs.” These programs place fixed feral felines with people who have barns or operate local businesses as a means of rodent control. It’s a win-win for everyone. Contact your local feral cat group to see what other help might be available to you, and get started now to prevent any more births.
Thanks for trying to help them.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.