“Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species; they are all domestic cats. But stray cats and feral cats are also different from each other in a very important way—in their relationship to and interactions with people.” (SOURCE: Alley Cat Allies)
Most everyone agrees on the problem: There are way too many stray cats in Lancaster County.
The Humane League of Lancaster County estimates there are about 84,000 feral cats here. Many are furtive felines that people never even see.
These are the cats that scream in the night, spray shrubbery, bury poop in gardens and kill birds, small rabbits and other animals by the tens of millions nationwide each year.
Forced to scrounge for themselves, they often live brief lives of constant hunger and infections.
The dumping of unwanted house cats only exacerbates the problem.
Most everyone agrees that the number of feral cats is a problem in Lancaster city and across the county. Solving that problem, however, has become a thorny issue here.
Until several years ago, feral cats taken to the county Humane League were euthanized at a rate of about 1,500 to 2,000 a year.
The shelter hated doing it, and it took a toll on its staff. But feral cats’ wild nature ruled out adoption as an option. Killing them was considered the most humane option.
On farms, when a barn cat population got too large, kittens were, well, taken care of.
Former state Sen. Noah Wenger got a state law changed that exempted farm cats from having to have rabies shots.
But the feral cat population continued to grow.
Now, at the Humane League and among local cat rescue groups, a new approach known as trap-neuter-return, or TNR, has taken hold.
Colonies of feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered en masse at clinics run by local vets who often charge reduced fees.
The cats also are given a rabies vaccination and their left ears are tipped for identification purposes. They then are released into the wild at the same spot where they were captured.
People who live near the colonies, known as caretakers, or volunteers from local animal-rescue groups promise to feed the cats and make sure they have shelter in inclement weather.
The idea is that healthy, fed cats will be less of a nuisance and live contented lives on their own. Males no longer will inflict wounds on each other as they fight for females. If fighting is eliminated, it is hoped the cats won’t spread diseases to each other.
Without reproduction, the hope is that the colony eventually will die out.
The local Humane League made the monumental shift from euthanasia for feral cats to TNR in 2008.
An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 cats are now treated and returned to the wild each year at clinics sponsored by the Humane League or local cat rescue groups.
Currently, with an $80,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, the Humane League is entering the second year of a two-year effort that has a goal of capturing about half of the city’s estimated 5,000 feral cats and maintaining them under TNR. Captured feral cats in the city get TNR treatment for free. Click here to read the article in its entirety at Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era