Stray and feral cats are a huge problem across the US. The numbers are spiraling, and more and more cats are living short, hard lives as a result. But while most of us are happy enough to leave the problem to someone else to deal with, there are others trying their best to help… even if it comes at considerable cost to themselves. Take the example of Patrick Manning. Even when the snow is heavy on the ground and the temperature is icy enough to keep the rest of us in our beds, Manning is already outside starting his day in the exact same way he’s been doing for the past 18 years – feeding the needy stray cats of the neighborhood.
The Community Cats of Watertown
For the past 2 decades, Manning has been keeping the community cats that gather around a vacant lot on Watertown’s Burlington Street well-fed on two meals a day. It’s not without its cost (according to wwnytv.com) Manning spends around $40 a week on chicken and cat food) but for Manning, it’s well worth it. This winter, the cats got an extra special treat when the lot’s owners decided to help Manning’s efforts by donating a new home for the cats. “He said ‘I will bring the chicken coop up so you will have something for them.’ So graciously, he brought the chicken coop up and I have modified it, insulated it so it works out really well for the kitties,” said Manning. As well as seeing to the cat’s immediate needs for food and shelter, Manning is doing his bit to help reduce the problem by trapping the cats and paying for them to be neutered or spayed before re-releasing them. Unfortunately, adult feral cats can be almost impossible to rehome, but spaying or neutering them can at least ensure the problem doesn’t continue to escalate.
Unfortunately, Manning can only work to reduce the population growth caused by breeding. He’s less able to do anything about the increasing number of cats being dumped and abandoned in the area – something that’s starting to stretch his resources to breaking point. “I want people to know that these cats did not come here on their own,” he says. “They were either dumped off, or they have been put here, or they have been let go and found this place.” Manning is currently doing as much as possible to whip up community support by asking anyone who’d like to help to leave donated food and blankets by the chicken coop on Burlington Street. In the meantime, he’ll be continuing to help the homeless cats for as long as they’re still around.
How You Can Help
If Manning’s story has inspired you to help the stray and abandoned cats in your own neighborhood, animal welfare organizations such as the humanesociety.org have plenty of suggestions about how you can help. To start with, identify if the cat is tame or feral. This will help decide the most appropriate form of action.
How to Help Tame Cats
If a cat approaches you and appears tame, the first step is to see if you can track down the owner. Check whether they have a collar with any contact information. If they don’t, see whether you can get the cat into a carrier so you can take them to a vet or animal rescue shelter for them to be scanned for a microchip. If they aren’t chipped, call around local shelters and rescue groups to check if anyone has reported a missing cat. You could also try asking around your neighbors or posting some fliers. If all that fails, you can work with a shelter or rescue group to try and find the cat a permanent home. If you’re able, you could even offer them one yourself.
How to Help Feral Cats
If a cat is reluctant to approach you even after you’ve fed them for several days, they’re likely to be feral. Feral cats will be too nervous to allow you to handle them, and may even refuse to eat until you’ve walked away. Unless they’re very young, most feral cats can’t be rehomed. Check whether the cat has been spayed or neutered by looking at their ear. Most neutered or spayed cats will have a topped or notched ear to signify they’ve been ‘fixed’. If they haven’t, then it’s crucial to get them spayed or neutered as soon as possible. While feeding feral cats is important, preventing the problem from developing further is even more so. As feralcatproject.org writes, the average feral cat has 1.4 litters a year averaging three kittens per litter. Within 6 months, 75% of those kittens will have died or disappeared. A Trap Neuter Release Program is the only way to cut those numbers humanely. As catching a feral cat without injuring either them or yourself can be challenging, make sure to research the appropriate trapping techniques in advance. If your community has an existing Trap Neuter Release program, be sure to contact them in advance to request assistance. If any of the cats are young enough to be successfully rehomed, they may also be able to help with the process. If no groups in the area offer the program, it’s worth calling around local vets to see if any are willing to offer low-cost services for community cats.
Other Ways to Help Out
If your community isn’t served by an organization that helps community cats, why not start one? Obviously, this isn’t a project to undertake lightly, and not everyone is going to have the time and resources to even consider it. But if you have both and are willing to put in the effort, it can be a hugely rewarding experience. You might even find other like-minded people in your community who are willing to help. If you don’t have the time or resources to launch your own organization, there are plenty of other ways you can help. You could try contacting your local shelter in case they need help socializing feral kittens; organizing a fundraising effort to raise money for food, water, and shelter for the cats; volunteering with an organization that supports community cats; spreading the word about the dangers faced by feral cats and how other people can help; and, of course, ensuring that you get your own cats neutered at the right time.