Sources of Information on Sterilization for Population Control
Feral Colony Care from Tompkins County SPCA
Alley Cat Allies (national education/lobbying)
Community Approaches to Feral Cats (downloadable book, HSUS)
Feral_Cats Listserv, a community of independent residents, dealing with cats on their own
As a wildlife control business, our first reaction to seeing uncared for cats and kittens wandering from property to property is "get them out of there and into homes if possible." We do not believe cats belong on the street. While other groups may say "there is nothing wrong with being feral," we say "Yes there is, just as there is something wrong with a perfectly healthy child growing up hungry and scared on the street." Let's aim for the day when there are no more feral cats.
However, any number of variables may prevent the "removal" of cats. If there are no shelters, there is no place to take stray cats. If all local shelters are no-kill, they will not euthanize ferals, and may refuse to accept them if they are full or if they do not have the facilities or programs to handle ferals. Local veterinarians may refuse to euthanize forty perfectly healthy cats, just because they are wild.
But the usual reason we encounter that prohibits the removal of cats is....the owner doesn't want them removed or killed. What the property owner requests, usually goes. It is all well and good to say "all cats should be in indoor homes." But if a landowner has fourteen cats and kittens running around that aren't suitable as friendly pets, and he or she refuses to consider euthanasia, the best way to stop that population from growing is sterilization.
Dithering about the problem ("But cats kill birds! They shouldn't be out there at all!" ) will not stop the cats from breeding. More kittens will be born, become ill and die, or survive to give birth to even more kittens. Something must be done, and it is likely no one else is going to step forward and volunteer to either save or kill the cats. It might be up to you to make these difficult decisions.
Controlling a cat population via sterilization requires capturing, altering, rabies vaccinating (required by law in NYS), releasing, and providing food and shelter for cats in need, rather than simply ignoring them to breed up and starve down, over and over again. Repeat rabies vaccinations will be required in a year. Then the cats will be fully and legally immunized for the next three years.
Sterilization is commonly called Trap/Neuter/Return by cat advocacy groups. Some groups will tell you "TNR is simple." They think it is simple because they would do anything for a cat, anywhere, and saving cats is like breathing to them. Some of the rest of us are merely human, and TNR will take a little work. It simply takes dedication and diplomacy. A little money helps.
Citizens nowadays often think "I should be able to call someone and they will take care of this." But the truth is, the State of New York requires towns to provide dog control, but not cat control. Funding for dog control in your town is partially provided by dog licensing. There is no cat licensing in Tompkins or Tioga County (NY). Therefore, New York State municipalities seldom financially support cat rescue or cat euthanasia programs.
More and more shelters are going "no kill" in one of two ways. Either they shut their doors when full, which means there is no place for you to take a stray cat at all; or they seek imaginative alternatives for animal placement such as foster homes, low cost spay/neuter programs, creative adoption methods, behavior counseling to encourage people to solve pet problems rather than bringing the pet to the shelter, and sterilization of feral cats, rather than a five-day holding period followed by euthanasia.
This new breed of "no-kill" doesn't let the caller off the hook with an easy place to dump an animal. Dog is chewing furniture? The person on the phone won't just give you the hours they are open so you can drop off the dog. They'll explain to you how to teach your dog not to chew. Feral cats? No more free euthanasia. Instead, free or low-cost spaying and neutering, along with education on caring for the cats.
These programs will hopefully reduce the numbers of homeless animals in the region, to the point where one day the shelter can place every adoptable animal that comes in the door. However, creative programs take significant funding and staff resources, and require the cooperation of the community. No-kill success is not just the responsibility of the shelter--it is a community responsibility as well.
Sterilization for population management is:
STOPPING THE BREEDING via capture/spay/neuter.
IMMEDIATELY REDUCING COLONY NUMBERS by capturing and adopting kittens and friendly cats into homes.
PROVIDING FOR THE WELFARE OF UNSOCIALIZABLE FERAL CATS via vaccination, shelter, de-fleaing, and feeding.
EDUCATING STAKEHOLDERS to prevent continued abandonment of cats.
Sterilization for Population Management is NOT:
Returning pettable cats to the colony that enjoy human company. That is "outdoor sheltering." Those cats can be placed in a home or taken to a shelter for adoption.
Putting back kittens after pediatric neutering. That is wimping out. Tame those kittens and get them homes. What costs more money...two months of taming, or ten years of caretaking? A kitten in a home is a colony that is one cat smaller.
Keeping cats that have "tamed up" in the colony because you simply enjoy them. That's "cat gardening." This may be fine on a farm that is isolated from the public, but it's unacceptable in the parking lot of a McBurger where customers may grab at the cat to "save it," and be bitten.
(continued; under construction; please visit Tompkins County SPCA link above).