During the daylight hours they are virtually invisible. They sleep under porches, in sheds, garages and other sheltered areas. They are abandoned and feral cats that live in our neighbourhoods. They come out in the early morning and evening hours to find food, often visiting places where they’ve been fed before. You will know who feeds them on your street because you’ll see a procession of cats going to their property around the same time every day.
At first I thought these were owned cats that were allowed to roam, although illegal in Hamilton (By-law # 12-031). It wasn’t until one of them was hit by a car on our block that I found out it was a stray. Not owned by anyone, fed by a few. Most of these cats are not neutered/spayed and have kittens on a regular basis. Kittens that would have to be caught and socialized and adopted out. A single female can have up to 25 kittens in a single year! This problem clearly needed a solution. It doesn’t make sense to feed cats unless you’re going to keep them from reproducing; it’s just not sustainable.
Last spring I noticed three cats were spending a lot of time in our backyard. Our house is one of few on our block that does not have a resident dog. Naturally, our backyard became refuge to not only wild animals like birds, squirrels, etc, but also feral cats. Our house cat did not like that at all. She only comes out with us in the garden, usually cautiously exploring our back yard before basking in the sun. Letting our cat out in the backyard was starting to become problematic; she attacked any visitors, fighting for her territory and chasing them off. She got beat up pretty bad and after a couple of vet visits I decided to get involved in stopping the growing number of strays on our street. At this time there were about ten feral cats coming to eat at a neighbour’s yard.
I did some research. Found the Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Release (TNVR or TNR) program through the Hamilton Burlington Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HBSPCA). Then talked with another neighbour who soon after became a TNR colony caregiver. I offered her financial help, each TNR costs $45. Shortly after I saw a couple of the strays had the identifying clipped left ear. A mark that tells everyone that the cat has been spayed/neutered, had a rabies vaccine and is part of a TNR colony.
I checked in with my neighbour a few times over the next few months. When I found out she had to take a break trapping I took over. We trapped three females between September and November last year. As far as we knew, only three males were left to be spayed. For the first time in years there will be no more kittens in our colony this spring!
We attempted to catch the males for the next 2 months but it wasn’t until early February we got the dominant tom cat of the colony. We took him in for the TNR appointment to find out a few hours later that he had to be euthanized. He was in a lot of pain due to several infections in the mouth. We had to remind ourselves that a feral cat is not a pet, you cannot give them pain meds or antibiotics. They cannot be held or snuggled. They are wild animals.
Two weeks later I got a call from the SPCA that one of the TNR females chipped to my name was hit by a car and died. This made me very sad. She was the reason why I got involved in TNR, she was a beautiful long hair grey and white beauty. I miss seeing her around.
We continued to trap the remaining males. A large tabby which has lived in our neighbours back yard for about five years was already neutered and chipped, but we didn’t know that. He came through the SPCA adoption program in 2012 and was abandoned soon after. He wasn’t lucky enough to be taken to a vet or SPCA for a chip scan. It’s really too bad because now that he’s been on the street for five years he’s reverted to being wild.
The colony caregiver is responsible for the well-being of all cats in the colony. They must protect the cats from harm. Being a registered colony caregiver also protects you .
He retains some socialized aspects of a domesticated cat but he’s unpredictable and may act aggressively. The good news is, he’s had his rabies shots updated, had a physical exam, and has been treated for fleas. Now he, too. sports a tipped ear. We have two more male cats to be trapped and TNR-ed for now. Loss of cats in the colony brings in new ones. A new cat can bring in disease and cause fights. Feral cats, just like raccoons or skunks can carry rabies. Even a single scratch can result in an infection.
So, what are the responsibilities of the colony caregiver besides feeding and trapping cats to be spayed/neutered/vaccinated? The colony caregiver is responsible for the well-being of all cats in the colony. They must protect the cats from harm. Being a registered colony caregiver also protects you from being charged for feeding community cats/wildlife if one of your neighbours complains (By-law #12-130). There are best practices one must follow regarding feeding, caring for the colony and trapping. You can find out more about being a colony caregiver in TNR 101 workshops put on by the Hamilton/Burlington SPCA and the city of Hamilton.
If you are not interested in caring for your own colony perhaps you want to support a colony caregiver or one of the local organizations like Hamilton Street Cats or donate money to the HBSPCA. They accept donations of food and money to support colony caregivers. They can also connect you with one of the other organizations that foster cats for adoption, etc. If you have any questions, want to become a colony caregiver or need more information regarding the TNR program, call Michelle MacNab at the SPCA 905-574-7722 x 303 or sign up to TNR 101 workshop with Michelle at email@example.com, next one is March 23, 11 am at Pat Quinn Parkdale Arena, 1770 Main St. E.
I would like to thank my neighbour Dina who graciously offered financial support for TNVR. I would also like to thank Josie from Hamilton Street Cats (HSC) for her support. Without HSC two of our colony cats would have to wait longer for TNVR.