Many cities have a problem with feral cat colonies. Madrid, Spain is home to over 1000 feral cat colonies causing concern among its residents. The city government, like other city governments, has tried to control these cat populations in many ways. Many have argued for inhumane ways to control the problem, but the city now adheres to a more humane police to control the feral cat population of Madrid.
Who are the crazy cat ladies of Madrid?
It’s a common joke that women who have lots of cat are crazy cat ladies. This is not the case in Madrid. Almost a decade ago, Victoria de Lucio, a librarian at National Long Distance University, looked out her window and was saddened to see a cat with her two kittens struggling to stay warm in the snow. Heartbroken, Victoria began feeding the cats. She didn’t stop there. She took them to a vet to have them de-wormed, vaccinated and sterilized. Then she found them safe and happy homes. Since then, Victoria de Lucio has saved and found homes for over 60 cats. She has paid veterinary bills for at least 100 feral cats.
Victoria’s volunteer work is not without controversy. There are many in Madrid’s neighborhoods who believe the cats should be euthanized and not saved. There is fear that cats will cause disease and remain a nuisance in the neighborhoods of Madrid. For this reason Victoria de Lucio has to sneak food to the cats in her neighborhood after dark. Victoria is not the only person to care for the feral cats. Over 750 people in Madrid have a special license from City Hall to help manage the feral cat population in the city. Not surprisingly, most of the helpers are women.
Struggles of the city government
Not long ago, it was illegal for residents to feed feral cats. Because of concerns that feeding the cats would attract insects and rodents and spread disease, people who fed stray cats could be fined up to €300. The strays were caught in cages and euthanized. Many people objected to the practice, but some still agree this is the only way to control the population.
The fear of such a large feral cat problem is not without its basis. Feral cats are certainly a nuisance. Male cats in heat will spray to mark their territory and get in “cat fights” to protect it. The homeless cats will continue to mate leading the population to continue to grow. Stray cats are at risk for disease because they are vaccinated. They also roam the neighborhoods including back yards and playgrounds. There is a fear that these cats will spread disease and attract insects and rodents.
Feral Cat Management
In February 2017, the city of Madrid passed the “Zero Tolerance Law”. This law makes stops people from euthanizing feral cats. It may seem like a drastic decision, but the law comes with the TNR (CER in Spanish) program to carry out feral cat population control in a ethical and more effective manner. TNR stands for Trap, Neuter and Release. It’s just what Victoria de Lucio has been doing all along. Now the government of Madrid supports this process.
Citizens can be licensed to carry out TNR with the support of the government. Stray cats are caged and taken to a vet where they are de-wormed and vaccinated. Then the cats are released back into the population. The theory of this form of feral cat management is that once the cats are released, they obviously won’t mate and they will be healthy and not prone to disease. Without breeding, the cat population will gradually dissipate.
The TNR program has government support and assistance but relies mostly on volunteers. La Fortuna Animal Protection Center of Madrid has performed about 2000 sterilizations operations for free. However there is a long waiting list for the procedure. This means that the program relies largely on the “Colony Caretakers” like Victoria de Lucio to spend their own money on the vet bills.
For people like Victoria de Lucio, the money spent is well worth it. Victoria still remembers the feelings she had when she saw the cat and her kittens struggling in the cold and snow to find food and stay warm. Opposition to the “Colony Caretakers” continue to find problems with the TNR program. They claim that the cats continue to create a nuisance and that feeding them only provokes birds, insects and rodents. Victoria and the other “Colony Caretakers” take great care when pursuing their volunteer work. The method for feeding the cats is very careful to not attract varmints or birds. People like Victoria are attacked for their interest in caring for cats over caring for children. Victoria, however, donates regularly to two organizations that help children in need. People like Victoria and the other “Colony Caretakers” do this volunteer work out of the goodness of their heart, not just to help the cats, but more importantly to help manage the feral cat population in a healthy and ethical manner. So far it’s working.