What we need is a neighborhood watch…for cats.
It wouldn’t be a typical neighborhood watch, of course, but the benefits would be similarly favorable. What if you kept your eye out for stray or feral cats in your neck of the woods and made a quick call if you saw one?
That is the hope of Kate Rich, cofounder of the Alley Cat Project in Seattle. Rich and her colleagues have a mission: to trap, spay or neuter, and return every feral or free-roaming cat in Seattle. In 2011 alone, they’ve already assisted more than 180 cats, and they are called upon by the public almost daily to deal with colonies of cats and pregnant or nursing mothers.
“These are the calls we like to get,” Rich said, referring to calls from keen residents who notice a mother cat. “If we can take care of the mother and babies now, it doesn’t turn into a bigger problem, like a colony of cats.”
Clearly a pragmatist when it comes to animal-welfare issues, Rich and five other volunteers started the Alley Cat Project in 2008. While there are many not-for-profit groups providing trap-neuter/spay-return (TNR), Alley Cat Project focuses on just the city of Seattle so as not to burden their volunteers with long-distance driving out of the city. Rich said it’s more efficient to work within an area where you live, and other groups do the same.
TNR is a free-roaming-cat management technique that involves trapping feral and stray, but tame, cats and sometimes entire colonies of cats; spaying or neutering them; and ultimately returning the cats to their site of origin.
While the Alley Cat Project takes care of the trap-and-return part, Rich and her colleagues turn to the Feral Cat Spay Neuter Project (FCSNP) in Lynnwood to spay or neuter the cats. FSCNP are focused on providing low-cost and no-cost spay/neuter services to humane trappers, nonprofits and the general public. “It’s all about removing the barriers to spay/neuter,” said FCSNP executive director Lauren Glickman. “We are a tiny organization with huge results.”
That’s an understatement, I thought as I toured the animal clinic on a beautiful Sunday morning in June. I was nearly overwhelmed by the speed, care and diligence with which every cat was fixed. In fact, this tight operation has fixed more than 66,000 cats since its inception in 1997 and continues at a rate of 200-plus cats per week.
Starting at home
While FCSNP was originally founded to spay/neuter the multitude of feral and freeroaming cats in the Greater Puget Sound area, currently, around 60 percent of the animals brought to the facility are owned cats. The requested donation from the public is just $25 for females and $15 for males.
This price point makes sterilization possible for any cat owner, and the shift to serve the public more frequently is a testimony to FCSNP’s success: The more the organization can reach out to cat owners to spay/neuter, the fewer feral cats are born onto the streets. As for the neighborhood watch, Rich said that cat colonies usually aggregate around a single food source: either waste food in a dumpster or compassionate individuals saving cats from starvation. But without population control, feeding freeroaming cats turns into feeding a colony of cats in a very short time. These cats have become feral because someone didn’t heed the call to fix their cat.
To learn more about the Alley Cat Project and the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project, visit their websites at www.alleycatproject.org and www.feralcatproject.org. Donations can be made to either group through their websites. FCSNP maintains an Amazon wish list, an easy way to purchase specific items required for the spay/neuter clinics. The Alley Cat Project can use donations of clean towels and canned cat food. Most of all, they advise that owners make sure their cat is spayed or neutered.
CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a freelance pet columnist who manages the website Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions at http://www.sniffingouthome.org.