Off topic, again: Stray cats pose potential crises

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Update info: 2/5/19:  

The KCK Pet Help Program is having an open house on Saturday for colony caretakers to pick up food, winter shelters, straw and traps (for free). We lend traps to colony caretakers for free at no charge if they register their colony. 
Also, The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City is having a feral cat clinic on Sunday, Feb 17. Must register by emailing Marlee@hsgkc.org. It’s $15 per cat and they get spayed/neutered, a rabies vaccination and ear tip.

By Bob Evans

Amy Davis Caviness, Cat Rescue

Admittedly, I am a dog person.  I always had a dog in my life and cannot imagine my life without canine companionship.  Cats never interested me.  I thought they were pretty, cute, arrogant, independent, and loving, but, just not my thing.

I never gave cats much more thought until my neighbor started feeding a neighborhood stray. If I had one hanging around my door, I would do the same.  Soon, she was feeding three neighborhood strays. Over time, two of the strays disappeared and only one Siamese remained.

My neighbors (husband and wife) are very kind and sweet people who love animals.  They do not like the idea of animals being hungry or thirsty.  And, that was all fine and dandy.  She loved dogs and cats. He particularly liked dogs.   I did not see any harm in that until a female stray dropped a litter of four kittens in late September or early October.  My neighbor told me that the newest stray had a litter of kittens under the porch.  I did not think anything of it until just before Thanksgiving when the kittens were coming out and visible to me.  Four cute and differently colored fur balls could be seen on the porch.  Who could resist feeding them?

I never had a kitten and had no idea they needed to be handled, socialized, and tamed.  I have handled many puppies and just never considered what to do with cats.  Puppies just always seemed ready and willing to come to strangers and get picked up and cuddled.  I figured cats were the same.

Amy Davis Caviness, Cat Rescue

My neighbor said she was going to have them spay/neutered and find homes for them.  That was the plan, and she was going to start catching and fixing them after Thanksgiving.  Well, Thanksgiving passed; the cats were growing; nothing had been done that I could see.  I said I would pay to have two of them fixed.  Soon Christmas was approaching, and the cats were getting more wild, less cuddly, exploring more, and moving around more.  By this time they may have already been weaned or were nearly weaned.

I visited with the neighbor who said she wanted to get them all fixed and keep them, but the cost to spay/neuter and vaccinate was about $38 per cat. So, she planned to start catching them and taking one each month to the Humane Society to be fixed.  I applaud the decision, but math told me one per month could only lead to more litters of kittens.  Some cats can have their first cycle at five months.  At that point, I started to panic and focus on cats.  Thinking about cats, and specifically stray cats, led me to think about cat reproduction and cat colonies.  The more I thought, the more upset I became.

One cat dropped a litter of four kittens.  In five months, she could be pregnant again and the kittens could be pregnant soon afterward.  I researched, and cats can have three litters annually with average four kittens per litter.  So, one cat has four babies.  In six months, five cats reproducing could create 20 newborn kittens.  In another five months 20 cats could produce 80 more cats.  In just over a year, that simple litter of kittens could create a colony of nearly 100 feral cats–far more than a normal person can afford to feed, spay/neuter/vaccinate, tame, love, and give a good life.

Later, I found out that the two strays had four kittens, three female and one male.  So, at the moment, 2+4=6. That’s not a big number or difficult to understand, but the problem grows quickly.  The original queen would have four more kittens, and her three female offspring could each have four. So, now it’s 2+4+4(new litter from queen)+12(first litter from original kittens)=22.  No matter how I did the math, in a few months there could be the beginning of a problem. No, it does not seem hard to find homes for four kittens, but how many people can find homes for 22 kittens?

I looked on the internet about cat reproduction and my math was close.  Supposedly, one pair of cats can produce an average of 12 kittens per year (based on four cats per litter, two male and two female).  In one year, that is projected to be 68 cats.  Left uncontrolled the numbers grow quickly; 376 in 3 years, and 2107 in four years; and in five years, 11,801.

To resolve the situation I took to Facebook to see if anyone wanted the cats.  OMG, you would think I was the worst person in the world to just want the kittens gone to other Facebook friends.  I was maligned, scolded, scoffed, criticized.  I was told that I could not give away stray cats that did not belong to me or anyone.  I was told they belonged to the neighbor who was feeding them.  I was told I was heartless and cruel. I was told they would go to dog-fighting groups.  I was told they would be used as bait and tortured.  Really?  My facebook friends (2,500 of them)–all of whom I have known personally for years and years– are involved in dog-fighting rings and abuse animals?  I had no idea.

And then, I was told there were cat rescue services.  Who knew?  Certainly not me.  Fortunately, a name was dropped and tagged to get in touch with me.  My angels of mercy appeared from a dark cloud of smoke and confusion.

I was put in touch with cat rescue persons who know more about cats that I will ever want to know.  Soon, I would be free of the kitty litter.  I chatted with the ladies and explained the situation with a Siamese Tom cat, Simon, and his newest mate Queen Tiger Lilly.  The rescue squad was on it.  A lady arrived at my house one afternoon soon afterward with traps.  Soon, I saw a trap with Tiger Lilly loaded into her car.  About an hour later two more traps with kittens were loaded.

The cat rescue told my neighbor that she would return on Sunday to get the last kittens and hopefully, Simon.  She asked my neighbor to only feed the cats lightly on Saturday night and nothing on Sunday so they would be hungry when she came on Sunday afternoon.  The plan was to trap on Sunday and spay/neuter on Monday on an empty stomach.  But, even the best plans just seem to go haywire.  When the cat rescuer arrived, the three remaining cats were chowing down of a big bowl of cat food.

The cats scattered and the rescue lady waited almost an hour with no sign of the cats.  She drove off to see if she could spot them somewhere in the neighborhood, but no.  No, cats in sight.  Upon her return to the property, Simon had been trapped .  He was the one that no one expected to be captured, but he was secured in a wire cage.

Simon was taken away and traps were left for the remaining kittens.  But, before Simon left, Tiger Lilly was returned, papers and vaccination information was given to the neighbor.  The next morning, the rescue person returned and found the two remaining kittens in traps.  They were taken away to be spay/neutered and socialized for a new home.

About three days later, Simon was returned and set free to live the balance of his life as a stray and with Tiger Lilly.  Neither pose a threat of a cat colony with both of them now sterile.  Their lives will continue outside in the elements, but at least they will have regular food, water, a dog house, and straw bedding for the winter.  They are representative of the Trap-Neuter-Release initiative that curbs the number of stray cats and curbs growing cat colonies.

Both Simon and Tiger Lilly are feral with no chance of taming or making them family cats.  Both have scratched and bit the lady who feeds them.  I know Simon is old.  He was here when my mother was living, before 2008.  No telling how many of his nine lives are left, and no telling how many litters he has fathered.  But it feels good to know that he will not produce any more unwanted litters or be the King of Siam to stray females in this neighborhood.

Tiger Lilly cannot produce more kittens, but the thought lingers: Other stray females can produce three litters annually meaning Kansas City, Kansas has a feral cat crisis.  Within a year, if left unaltered, she could have been the queen to 100 new feral kittens.  As for King Simon, his reproductive prowess could have created 50-100 new litters in the same time.  Take a moment and do the math.  Stray cats, especially non-sterile cats, can create a problem in any city.  An innocent act of kindness can bring a problem to anyone’s doorstep.

Before the problem arrived on the porch next door to me, I did not consider the epidemic proportions this problem creates.  KCK has an animal control problem, but much has changed since the 1950s when there were no leash laws and enforcement was lax.  In my neighborhood, the dogs ran loose; and, I knew all the dogs, all their names, and could pet any dog that came down the street.  Today, most dogs in my part of the city are confined in fenced yards or tethered on cables.  Owners provide dog houses and straw for outdoor pets.  When stray dogs are seen, Animal Services are called to apprehend the four-legged escapees.

But, what happens when a person sees a stray cat?  Generally, nothing.  Animal Services do not come to trap or catch a cat.  So, the problem continues to grow.

Kansas City, Kansas knows about the problem and continues a positive action plan to resolve this crisis.  Three of the commissioners work with several animal groups to get ahead of this problem.  Of course, Animal Services and Humane Society of Greater Kansas City advocate the TNR plan by securing funding and grants to help resolve the problem.

“We have a very detailed and targeted plan for areas to focus in KCK,” Susan Hakes Kaufmann, KCK Pet Help Program Administrator (and Certified Crazy Cat Lady), said. “We are in the process of developing heat maps with both altered and unaltered colonies.

“A heat map is a map where data values are represented in shades or colors. For example, on our cat map a high density of green denotes a high density of cats that have already been spayed or neutered. A high density of red denotes cats that need to be spayed and neutered.  Basically, the heat map helps us track the colonies we have TNRd vs the colonies we are targeting to shows us where we need to go next.

“We have spent a great deal of time in many neighborhoods in KCK monitoring and trapping cats. Our outreach teams are very knowledgeable about the large colonies and are partnering with caretakers of all size colonies.

“We receive multiple requests each week from KCK residents asking for assistance with TNR. We track the requests by address and assign both available shelter/rescue outreach staff and community volunteers to help trap the cats, transport them to our participating vet clinics, and then return and release the cats.

“Our team has been living and breathing this issue for years and has a great deal of knowledge and expertise about the issues specific to KCK. I know for sure we are doing quite a bit of TNR the weekend of February 16 and 17. However, we will likely also trap a few days between now and then. Trapping days are dependent upon weather and availability on the surgery schedules of the vet clinics,” Kaufmann said.

One of the greatest changes in KCK came with the acceptance of the TNR program that other communities have used.  As best I remember this program was not “officially” allowed in KCK, but now stands as the best scenario to get the cat population under control.  TNR stands for Trap, Neuter, Return.  Strays are caught, brought in for spay/neuter and vaccinations, and then returned and released back into their same area.

KCK Animal Services approves and works in this framework.    One major component of this program is the combined work of KCK Animal Services and KCK Pet Help program.

“The KCK Pet Help program has assisted KCK Animal Services immensely, especially with the community cat population,” Jennifer Stewart, Director of Animal Services for Kansas City, KS Police Department, said.  While the number may seem minimal, ASU (Animal Service Unit) took in 112 fewer felines in 2018 than we did in 2017, so, I would like to think the TNR initiative is working.”

Animal Services does not perform sweeps at this time because they do not have the staff or space to complete such a task.  According to Stewart, citizens generally call in complaints regarding multiple cats in their neighborhood.  Then, Steward relays that information to the KCK Pet Coalition who helps with TNR in the city.

The good news is that numbers of intakes are dropping, which indicates progress and a decline in complaints.  Intake numbers for felines for 2017 was 1070.  In 2018, 958 were caught.  That shows that the plan works.    Add that up, and realize 2028 stray cats in the city can no longer produce kittens.  That represents a huge success.

The biggest need of services comes from the more central parts of the city.  So, that was the area targeted first.  Where there are more cats, the more unwanted kittens come.  By targeting known areas of heavy cat population, the numbers of new births needs can be controlled.

“It may seem that KCK has an animal control problem, but I believe KCK Animal Services works very well with the limited staffing and resources we have. Animal Services is often blamed for the stray and abandoned animals in our community, but that solely falls back to irresponsible pet ownership,” Stewart said.

“Luckily, we have an amazing partnership with the KCK Pet Coalition to help with the stray and homeless animals that is of no cost to our city.  Without grants, donations, and volunteers, this would an impossible feat.”

Stewart recognizes that education of pet owners and potential pet owners offers a key to better pet ownership and welfare.

“When funding can be secured, my hope is that we can develop a large scale education campaign on proper pet ownership and the importance of spaying and neutering animals.”

For residents who notice strays in and around their homes, traps can be rented to trap cats or dogs to get them off the streets, spay/neutered, and stop them from reproducing and compounding the birth problem.

It should be noted that citizens may rent traps from animal services, but most people do not want to place a $50 deposit for a trap Stewart said.  A new cat trap costs $200, and a dog trap costs $400 to purchase.  Rental fees cover the cost of repair and provide a way to purchase more traps.

“We have no other option than to require a deposit. Our traps are few, and we always take information from anyone interested in renting a trap.  When one becomes available, we will notify the person and teach them how to set it,” Stewart said.

She also said that she wants to purchase more traps as money becomes available.  “Traps are the only feasible way to catch a cat, because most of the stray cats are feral and unaccustomed to human touch or handling.”  On a side note, strays could scratch or bite and incur medical bills to those attempting to secure them.

The KCK Pet Help Program: A coalition for Animal Services, Assistance, and Education wants to help the city deal with the problem of over-population and stray animals.  According to their most recent poster:

The problem of homeless pets in KCK is far too big for just one organization to tackle. KCK animal shelters,  rescue groups, and outreach teams  have formed a coalition  to work together in making KCK a better place for people and  pets.

The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, The Rescue Project, Unleashed Pet Rescue, Spay and Neuter Kansas City, and Great Plains SPCA, in partnership with KCK Animal Services, KCK Livable Neighborhoods and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/KCK work together on this effort.

The programs include assistance with the cost of spay/neuter for pets owned by KCK residents.  A community cat program that includes:

  • Free TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) services as well as access to a pet food pantry for colony caretakers.
  • Low-cost vaccination and microchipping clinics at Spay & Neuter Kansas City
  • The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City and Great Plains SPCA
  • Access to Spay and Neuter Kansas City’s pet food pantry
  • Education regarding responsible pet ownership and outreach services for homebound pet owners through The Rescue Project, Spay and Neuter Kansas City, or Unleashed Pet Rescue and Adoption.

To access those programs,

  • Visit: www.kckpethelp.com and make a request.
  • Email kckpethelp@gmail.com with your name, phone number, address and services needed.
  • Call 913-229-6121 and leave a message with your name, phone number, address and services needed.

Tax deductible online donations can be made to the KCK Pet Help Program at www.kckpethelp.com. Or, contact Susan Kaufmann at kckpethelp@gmail.com or by calling 913. 229.6121.  For more information on volunteering, residents may email kckpethelp@gmail.com.

The program said it could always use volunteer help with the community cat program.  Anyone who is concerned about pets in need in your neighborhood, or if there is a colony of cats that needs our help, email us or call us.

KCK Pet Project suggests that persons wanting to add a pet to their home to consider adopting an animal from a shelter.  Shelter animals are always spay/neutered and up to date of vaccinations.   Adopting saves lives.  Please consider adopting a pet through one of our shelters.

Find available pets at:

No one can predict when a stray cat (a queen) will deliver her litter on their property, so it is important to know what to do and how to care for an unexpected nest of kittens.  Sadie Anderson Scott, former vice president of veterinary services and chief veterinarian for Wayside Waifs answered some questions to guide a novice though safely caring for a new litter of kittens to prepare them for their forever homes.

What should a person do when he/she finds a new litter of unplanned kittens.

  • It is always best to call your city’s Animal Control so they can guide you to the best option in your city for any stray animal. Another option is to call your city’s animal shelter and make an appointment for TNR (Trap Neuter Release) or surrender. For a minimal fee a feral cat can be trapped, safely sedated for sterilization, vaccinated and ear tipped. (The tip of the left ear pinna is surgically removed to communicate the animal has been sterilized after it is released.  This is especially helpful on feral cats)

How long does a person wait before beginning handling and taming kittens?

  • The most critical time for kitten socialization is between 2-7 weeks old when they are quickly learning how to survive in their environment. During this critical time of maturation, they are learning from observation of their queen, siblings, humans and the general environment; these interactions, positive and negative, will strongly impact their personality. Kittens will continue to learn as they grow past this critical stage of socialization as well and providing a positive environment is crucial.

When do kittens open their eyes?

  • Kittens, on average, will open their eyes between 7-10 days old.

How many kittens per litter?

  • The size of a litter has many variables; such as, the queen and tom’s health, her nutrition, stress, number of previous litters, all which factor into the number in the litter. Litter size ranges from one to more than ten kittens! The average litter is typically 3-5 kittens and queens can have a heat cycle multiple times per year with the ability to have different fathers during the same 63-66 day pregnancy.

When should weaning begin?

  • Orphaned kittens due to circumstance can be weaned as early as 3 weeks, but typically weaning from the queen is around 4 weeks of age. At 5 weeks old dry kitten kibble can be introduced in addition to having access to the queen’s milk. Gradually, the queen and kitten will wean entirely by 8-10 weeks and the kitten will rely on the dry kitten kibble provided.

How do you socialize kittens?

  • Provide kittens with many novel situations that are positive. Handle them often and vary their stimuli with different humans and different animals such as other kittens, cats and dogs. By providing kittens with a variety of different interactions they will likely be well socialized.

How do you prepare them for their forever families?

  • Socializing kittens during that critical time of development between 2-7 weeks old is crucial. Providing the kittens with a well-balanced nutritional diet appropriate for that animal’s life stage will keep them healthy. Keep them safe from harm as well as protect them from ectoparasites and internal parasites by applying monthly preventative. Lastly, establish a relationship with a veterinarian to administer vaccines as early as 4-8 weeks old.

When should kittens be vaccinated and spay/neutered?

  • Kittens in the shelter system are vaccinated starting at 4 weeks old and then provided a booster vaccine every 4 weeks until they are 20 weeks old. Kittens in private practice typically receive boosters until they are 12-16 weeks old. By working with your veterinarian and/or an animal welfare agency you can create a vaccination plan appropriate for the kitten’s situation.
  • Some progressive animal welfare agencies are starting to alter healthy kittens at 1.5 pounds or approximately 6 weeks old but traditionally kittens will be altered at 2 pounds or 8 weeks old at the earliest.

How young can kittens begin reproducing?

  • An unaltered female kitten can become impregnated as early as 4 months old, but most reach sexual maturity by 5-12 months.

How long after weaning can an active female become impregnated again?

  • As early as her next heat cycle.

What steps do you follow to stop future kittens?

  • It is so important to spay and neuter all animals. There are an estimated 6.5 million stray and homeless small animals in America.  Through robust TNR programs and education about the importance of sterilization, that number has been reduced by nearly half in the last approximately 15 years from over 13 million!  Also, consider adopting animals from shelters and rescues to help reduce the homeless pet population.

An advocate of animal health and wellness, Scott said she returns to private practice on March 4 after several years with Wayside Waifs where she saw and worked with stray animals, abandoned animals, owner surrender pets, puppy mill seizures, and national crisis animals from hurricanes and floods. Upon her return to private practice, Scott will offer services at Family Pet Hospital of Shawnee.

 




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