Community Cats Deserve Love, Too

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There is a wonderful documentary out now about community (another word for stray, feral, barn or free-roaming) cats in Istanbul. “Kedi” opened in larger cities in February and is opening in my city of Salem, Oregon tomorrow. It’s in Turkish with English subtitles, and based on the reviews, it promises to be utterly endearing.

Cat overpopulation in the United States is a real problem. It’s estimated that there are as many 70 million stray cats here. Many cats were born on the streets and have never had a home. Many others end up on the streets after being abandoned by their guardians or when their guardians die. Female cats can go into heat as early as 4 months of age and generally have 2-3 litters of kittens per year, so the cat population increases exponentially when the cats are not altered. Intact males are prone to fight and spray, which can create problems between neighbors. Many people complain that the cats are pooping in their yards, yowling all night, killing birds, and fighting with other cats. As for the bird killing, there is controversy about the truth of this. Research shows that the birds being killed by community cats are generally older or weakened birds which are easier prey, and also that humans are the biggest threat to the bird population due to encroachment on bird habitats.

Often people just want the cats removed from their property, thinking removal will solve that pesky “cat problem.” However, research shows that when these cats are removed, a situation called the “vacuum effect” results. The cats have obviously been finding food resources in a certain location, and when they are removed, new cats move in to take over those resources. “Removal” often means death for feral cats (who are not socialized to humans), as they are not adoptable at most animal shelters. Many shelters do relocate the cats or find barn homes for cats who are semiferal.

My shelter recommends the practice of TNR (Trap Neuter Return). The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has recently issued a position statement advocating that an “M” (for “Monitor”) be added to TNR, with dedicated community cat caretakers feeding and monitoring their colonies closely. TNR just WORKS. It removes the reproductive capability of the cats, calms them down, stops males from spraying, and allows female cats to be free of the toll constant litter bearing takes on their bodies. The cats are spayed or neutered and receive parasite treatment and vaccinations, helping to stop the spread of disease. They also receive an eartip, in which about 1/8″ is clipped from their right ear (on the West Coast; cats on the East Coast have their left eartipped) under anesthesia. The wound is then cauterized, and the cats are never even aware that it happened.

Community cats tend to live 5-7 years. Their lifespans are shorter because they are not being taken to the vet as often as owned cats, if at all. TNRM allows them to live out their lives healthily and happily, without the burden of constant pregnancy and birth.

I was in Karachi, Pakistan, where my husband grew up, last year for a family wedding. While there, I saw many community cats on the streets. A darling kitten made its way into their building, and the kids gave it milk until its mother showed up to retrieve it. Another cat loves to lie on the seat of someone’s motorbike (which are ubiquitous in Karachi). I saw several other cats strolling around the streets as we drove through Karachi. When I asked the family about them, they said the concept of TNR is unknown. Only wealthy cat guardians are able to afford any kind of vet care for their cats. I would love to see someone develop a TNR program in Karachi; in a city of over 25 million people, imagine how many community cats there are!

We teach kids to appreciate animals, including community cats. They have every right to live their lives as happily and healthily as possible and receive the respect they deserve. I’m really looking forward to seeing “Kedi” tomorrow night and urge everyone who gets the chance to see it, too!

For more information about the movie, visit “Kedi.”