You may have seen them slipping through a fence or scaling a wall. A quick flash of movement, with glowing eyes reflected in car headlights. These are only fleeting glimpses of the community cats who share our neighborhoods. Many times we are not aware of their silent and stealthy presence until a chance encounter alerts us otherwise. Typically referred to as “feral,” they are the homeless, the abandoned, and the forgotten cats who coexist with us in almost every setting, be it rural, suburban, or urban.
Community cats have lived alongside humans since before the time of the Pharaohs. They traveled with European settlers to the United States on the Mayflower, helping to control rodents onboard ships and protecting the limited food supplies. They are superb hunters and have helped humans control the rodent population for centuries. In warmer climates, community cats are prolific breeders, having two to four litters per year, each litter consisting of up to six kittens. This breeding pattern contributes to an overabundance of community cats in some regions, resulting in unsafe living environments for them, and at times, causing issues for their human neighbors. Many of these cats end up at public shelters across the country, physically and psychologically stressed by the confines of the small cages, only to be euthanized after the mandatory holding period has expired.
Many techniques to control the population of community cats have been tried with no real, lasting success, until recently. The Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programs are now being effectively deployed by shelters, rescue groups, and municipalities in the United States and elsewhere to manage and care for community cats. Cats are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and treated for any health issues that may be found, then returned to the original location where they were trapped.
The obvious benefit of TNR programs is that cats are no longer producing offspring, thereby limiting population growth. But there are other benefits. Any nuisance behaviors like yowling and spraying cease. Over time, the cat population diminishes through natural attrition. TNR also eases the burden on local shelters by lessening the number of kittens born and surrendered. The program is humane and effective. Coupled with low-/no-cost spay & neuter clinics, as well as public education, Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter (FPSAS) has made great strides in managing community cats within participating TNR communities in the Coachella Valley.
Many community cats belong to established colonies managed by caregivers who monitor the colony, ensuring any newcomers are spayed/neutered, as well as supporting the health of the colony by providing commercial-grade food and a fresh water source.
For the past three years, FPSAS, along with several Coachella Valley partners, has worked tirelessly to spay/neuter over 11,000 community cats throughout our region, thanks to a generous grant from Best Friends Animal Society. Statistically, this has lessened the euthanasia rate at the Riverside County Coachella Valley Animal Campus by 76.3%, while increasing the live release rate by 102.8%. These numbers indicate that a robust TNR program is a cost-effective, humane way to manage the community cat population and maintain the symbiotic relationship humans and cats have had for more than 10,000 years.
Jana Hayes serves on the Board of Directors of Friends of Palm Springs Animal Shelter and has volunteered her time for the past three years overseeing the organization’s Community Cat Program.
DID YOU KNOW? Eartipping is the universal sign of an altered feral cat. A small portion of the left ear tip is removed in a straight line cut. Eartips are readily visible from a distance, making it easy for caretakers, trappers and animal control personnel to identify a cat as spayed or neutered.