The Homeless Cat Management Team is a volunteer force that traps feral felines, sterilizes and vaccinates them and makes sure they have food and winter shelter ... back in the wild of your neighborhood. Trapping and killing ferals doesn't work, says Carolyn DeForest, outreach director for the eight-year-old group, because more cats take their place. The group sees 1,200 cats a year at both free and paid clinics and is raising money to seek its own facility so it can handle more. But don't try to walk in, hoping to get free shots for Fluffy and Ginger ... even dedicated volunteers have to fight for appointments.
How many feral cats live here?
It's actually hard to estimate, because there are so many. Given the size of our city, we estimate that there are over a million in southwestern Pennsylvania. There are over 60 million in the U.S. They can have three litters a year.
Where do they hide?
They are everywhere. They go behind restaurants, shopping centers, barns ... anywhere that there is some kind of food source. They congregate because people either abandon their cats or they get lost. Some people just drop off cats if they're [already] congregated in a certain area. People tend to dump in farms because they think that's a great, nice life for them.
There are certainly a lot in my city neighborhood.
Around here, in the city area, we did have a problem because there are a lot of rentals. In the college campus areas, we have a huge problem. Sometimes students get a cat for a semester or two, and then they just leave.
But why do we need homeless cat management?
We cut down on the overcrowding in shelters, the cost for the average caretaker. And in general it's just much cheaper to trap, spay or neuter and release them than call Animal Control.
Is it true that kittens become feral if they don't have early human contact?
If you have a house cat that has been socialized by humans before eight to 10 weeks, then they are accustomed to human beings. If that cat is lost or abandoned, after a while it will revert to a wild state. It takes months, sometimes years, to domesticate a feral cat.
Shouldn't we avoid feeding strays?
No. Most people think, like I did for years, that if they see a cat running around, that cat is owned. That's not the case. These days, I assume the opposite. When you see a cat, don't be ashamed ... go ahead and feed it. If a neighbor is not keeping a cat indoors, you have a right to help it. Ask around ... try to get it back to its owner. At the very least, get it spayed or neutered. This whole thing where people are trapping ferals ... this seems really alien at first. When people bring them to our clinic and they're standing in line, they realize they're not crazy, they're part of a community. There are steps to take to begin trapping ... we can walk you through every step. We have dedicated volunteers who do it every day.
Jon Stewart's riff on the divide between dog people and cat people is that no one ever buys a cat.
People don't have the same sort of attachment that they do to dogs. If a cat runs off, sometimes people will wait three or four days before [looking]. You don't know how often we are trapping a stray where people have just moved. It's as if the cats are with the property.
What can people do?
It's not just a cat crisis that's going on: It's a human crisis. Individuals, families that routinely don't spay or neuter their cats or who abandon them, there is some disturbance going on. When dependent animals are being cast aside and neglected, it has to be a lack of concern and neglect within the families. It points to a problem with human beings.