Feral felines find friends: Northern Colorado organizations take on spaying and neutering
A car slowed down and pulled over to the side of Interstate 25 near Fort Collins. The vehicle never came to a complete stop. Instead, its passenger opened the window and flung out a cat. A farm owner working in her nearby field observed the cruel act and feared the worst. About an hour later, a confused, bedraggled feline slunk up to her barn seeking help. The kind lady took the cat in, adding it to her already large menagerie that included other such ‘strays’.
Those discarded kitties were the lucky ones. Far more face slow starvation, death by accidents or disease or a lifetime of producing more unwanted felines.
Cats don’t literally have nine lives but, if left unaltered, do produce multiple kittens. Called feral, wild or unsocialized, those that shun or are denied human contact and care breed more indiscriminately than do intact house cats. This sexual behavior, although natural in a natural environment, produces unnatural consequences, especially in rural or congested urban areas. Lack of natural predators allows feline numbers to rapidly climb. Such overpopulation has been shown to decimate songbird numbers, as well taking a big toll on foraging cats as well.
Ashley Boothe, marketing manager for the Fort Collins Cat Rescue Spay/Neuter Clinic (FCCRSNC), advised that Larimer County’s 2014 estimate of ferals is 21,600.
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To alleviate the suffering of sick, injured or malnourished strays and domestic animals disposed of and left to fend for themselves, the FCCRSNC has established programs to assist farmers, ranchers and urban residents as well to maintain feral colonies (i.e. for mousing duties) or relocate them elsewhere.
The group will rent live traps to residents or, for larger colonies, their staff and volunteers can capture the felines. Citizens transport the animals to Fort Collins Cat Rescue (FCCR) or can request assistance for large numbers. Once at the facility, feral felines are assessed for personality and health status, vaccinated, spayed/neutered and ultimately either returned to the point of origin or, if friendly toward humans, adopted out. Cats born and raised in homes only to be abandoned, or those born feral but young enough to be acclimated to life with people, can be placed as pets in indoor or indoor/outdoor homes. The remainder become “working cats” that serve as mousers in barns or other rural settings, like workshops.
Another option FCCRSNC offers is a waiting list for rural folks with an excess of barn cats available for re-homing. Likewise, people seeking the animals can sign up to acquire Community Cats. The current adoption fee for one of these mousing felines is $30.
Three distinct personality types help adopters select which fluffy little workers they prefer:
• Friendly Farmhand is the indoor/outdoor type, comfortable with an environment change from time to time.
• Modest Mouser is a shy but non-aggressive sort of cat.
• Nighttime Ninja prefers no human contact and will best do its job under cover of darkness. Ninjas aren’t the friendly sort, but rather are focused, dedicated mousers.
FCCR will provide feed from the Kibble Supply Pet Food Pantry for ferals returned to their caretakers, who generally do need to pay for spay/neuter surgeries. Depending on grant funding, residents of certain locales qualify for free procedures. These are available currently to residents of zip codes 80537 and 80538. Barn cat spay/neuter surgery fees for 2016 are $35 per animal. Due to staffing restraints, only four such surgeries per owner, per day are available. Larger numbers can be scheduled over subsequent days. Included in the sterilization surgery fee are vaccines and ear tipping — this cropping allows easily identification of community cats that have been released.
Boothe commented on the benefits of spaying/neutering ferals, as well as domesticated felines.
“A neutered tomcat will be less likely to wander, fight and bring disease back to the property, which also means it will live a longer, healthier life. An intact female cat and her offspring reproduce exponentially and can create dozens of unwanted kittens in a short period, kittens that can get infections easily and that frequently die,” she said. “Spayed/neutered cats tend to stay closer to home.”
Another Colorado group devoted to helping feral cats and their caretakers is Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals. They advised, “The overpopulation of feral cats did not just happen recently. It has evolved over a very long period of time. While the exact number is unknown, there are an estimated 60 to 100 million in the U.S. alone.”
Friends of Ferals’ Director Leslie Vogt advised that the group of 30 steady volunteers and four veterinarians has been working in both Larimer and Weld Counties since 2009. Vogt reported that they trap mostly in rural areas including LaSalle, Kersey, Nunn and Wellington. More than 5,600 feral felines have been trapped, neutered and released through their program to date. Monthly clinics each handle about 100 cats.
Friends of Ferals prefers that their own volunteers trap animals rather than rent/loan traps to the public. Since they have no brick and mortar facility, they work with no-kill shelters for pre-release veterinary care. Kittens 10 weeks of age and younger can almost always be socialized and are adopted out into homes rather than released as ferals.
The group began offering veterinary care for low-income individuals in 2015 so that people desiring to keep their working cats but are unable to afford veterinary support can do so, thus reducing the numbers of surrendered felines. ❖
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