Outdoor cats that are intact, meaning not spayed or neutered, produce exponential numbers of new kittens each year. These kittens, when left on their own, become feral, meaning they are not very friendly towards humans. Often, the cats fight for territory, yowling and arguing, and in the process, they spread FIV to each other. When people call animal control services, these feral cats get picked up and, most often, euthanized because they are un-adoptable. (That’s what almost happened to me!) There is, however, another way to contain these feral colonies, without employing euthanasia, called TNR, or Trap Neuter Return. Today, we have with us Indigo and Jackson, cats affiliated with Feral Fixers, a group that specializes in TNR. Started in 2007 by Tammy McAuley and Ted Semon, Feral Fixers has neutered almost 5,000 cats so far! Let’s learn more.
Crepes (C): Welcome, Indigo and Jackson! Explain to me a bit about TNR and about Feral Fixers. What is your goal?
Indigo (I): Well, MY goal is to have hugs and be petted all the time. I would like to have a home with my new buddy, Jackson, that has no children, but adults that we can shower with affection.
C: Mmhmm. Excellent plug for yourself. I’ll be more specific: What is Feral Fixers’ goal?
I: Feral Fixers’ goal is that all cats have a home. Until then, their goal is to reduce cat overpopulation and euthanasia thru TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return), using low-cost spay/neuter for ferals, strays, and owned cats in DuPage County in Illinois.
I: Wow, that’s a hard question to answer, because you’re measuring something that didn’t happen. We have neutered almost 5,000 cats. If half of them were female and each of them had just one more litter of 4 kittens, most of whom would be at risk, you could say that we saved 10,000 cats from euthanasia. Since those litters would have gone on to have more kittens and so on and so on, then 10,000 is a good starting number.
Jackson (J): I would have been euthanized. I’m FIV+ and a few years ago, before people learned more about FIV, I would have been “put out of my misery.” I am not miserable, I’m very happy and healthy. I eat some special food – I’m a special cat for many reasons – but otherwise I’m just like any other cat.
I: A “colony caretaker” is typically someone who is already feeding cats, which is only half of the “care.” In order to really and truly take care of ferals, you must neuter and vaccinate them and follow up with health care. Feral Fixers loans traps, instructs in their use, and helps with low-cost spay/neuter – that includes vaccinations and a microchip. If the cats need additional healthcare – wounds, worms, upper respiratory illnesses – we help the caretakers find an answer for that, too.
I: It is long-term. Neutered feral cats can live more than 10 years. That means feeding at least once a day, putting out water even when the temperatures are freezing and watching for illness or new, unneutered cats joining your group. A big surprise to people are the number of cats that become friendly – like me and Jackson.
J: I was a surprise? How come? Isn’t everybody just like me?
C: Jackson does seem rather friendly. Tell me, how did you curb his, shall we say, unwanted attentions?
I: Well, Jackson’s way of communicating that he wanted attention was to whap! and claw at his caretakers. They were elderly and could not risk this behavior and asked for Feral Fixers’ help. Jackson came to the “Tammy training camp” for new friendlies so that he could understand that the way he would treat another cat simply would not work for getting attention from people. It took months but he was finally moved to a foster home.
C: Essentially, it sounds like caretakers need to pay attention to behavior changes and make plans for homes for their former ferals who want to come inside and be friendlies.
I: We are contacted by people from out of state. We usually connect them with other organizations in their area, point them towards some of the resources we used when we started, and share how we did it. There are so many differences just in our own county, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for everyone who wants to care for one colony or start a larger scale program. There are national organizations like Neighborhood Cats, Best Friends, Alley Cat Allies, HSUS – all can be huge resources of information and can be slightly different, so its good to look at them all to get a good overview.
C: Do you do any sort of adoption assistance? What do you do with cats that you pick up that aren’t feral and are adoptable?
I: Almost 40% of the cats we encounter are kittens (tameable), strays who were in a home once and want to go back to that, or ferals who have decided the indoor life is worth a try. We try to determine that as soon as possible to make a plan for the individual cats. We are always in need of more fosters for the kittens and the friendlies and have had to return some cats that would have needed just a few days or week of interaction to be placed in a home. We are in contact with several shelters to give them cats for adoption and we do whatever we can to get the cats that want a home into one.
C: I heard you had a harrowing story yourself, Indigo. Tell me about it.
I: My people were feeding me and saw that I had gotten covered with blue paint. While they were trying to get me into one of those traps , I had cleaned all the blue paint off. I was much happier! My people contacted Feral Fixers, said how much I liked being petted, and asked if I could possibly go for adoption after being neutered. I was at Tammy’s house, she took care of me after my surgery. Boy, did I feel like crap! See, there’s nasty stuff in paint. Most of my hair fell off, I was drooling – talk about embarrassing! And, I couldn’t control myself, I needed to be petted! So when Tammy would put me back in my cage, I didn’t know how else to tell her I needed more (communication skills improve with time), so I would try to bite her arm. But Tammy and other people who came to take care of me made it clear that that was unacceptable and I learned the right way to get attention. And, thank goodness, whatever it was got out of my system and the drooling stopped! But I still had no hair! There was talk about food allergies. I got a new food called “duck.” So, my hair is growing back and I don’t feel crappy anymore, life is pretty good.
I: We don’t have a facility. The base of operations is Tammy’s home. Cats going for spay/neuter are housed in her garage the night before and return there for recovery for a day or two after. The water in the basement reached 6 feet, so a lot of stuff had to be put into the garage to work on the basement, which meant no cats coming and going from there. One of our volunteers has been staging cats from her neighbor’s garage, and Tammy hopes to return to using her own garage after a thorough cleaning.
C: Has it changed the way you operate?
I: The flood has changed our organization a bit. We will be focusing more on getting the friendlies on to shelters sooner so that they do not come to Tammy’s house for foster, we now have off-site storage, we will be marketing harder to get fosters. There might be a brick & mortar location in our future, a spay/neuter mobile clinic. We hope to work more closely with shelters to control the cat overpopulation problem as a whole.