Pet owners have probably heard the reminders to get their cats spayed or neutered but what about the ones that don't belong to anyone? It's often up to local animal organizations to step in and manage the feral cat populations.
"They're kind-of my family, you know," says caretaker Cindy Lavigne.
A growing feline family that was a financial problem for Cindy Lavigne. She feeds the feral cat colony by her South Hero workplace, but it was becoming a burden.
"I got overwhelmed; I had too many," Lavigne says.
She contacted the Humane Society of Chittenden County for a Trap-Neuter-and-Release, or TNR. It's a program aiming to control wild cat populations.
"It can be anything from one cat to two cats to three cats to this colony, which is about 25," says Humane Society Investigator Joann Nichols.
Though some may look like housecats, ferals aren't friendly -- and Nichols can tell the difference.
"As cats breed through generations of being feral they can start off with light-colored cats and then as they breed the become darker to match their environment," Nichols says.
For Nichols, a TNR day starts early, setting traps with food around 7:30 under the cats' watchful eyes. She comes back to check them a few hours later.
"It already has a tipped ear, so we can let this one go -- she's already spayed," Nichols says of one trapped feline.
18 cats were TNRed at this site last year, and Lavigne has noticed the difference.
"I haven't had any more litters of kittens yet and usually there's two or three during the year," Lavigne says.
The next stop for these cats is the Colchester Cat Clinic, where they will be spayed and neutered. On average, a female cat can have five to six kittens per litter, twice a year. That means 10 to12 kittens each year for a female cat. That means for population control, they're the ones they especially want to catch.
"The cats were stacking up like cordwood, so we really needed to do the cats," says Colchester Cat Clinic veterinarian Peggy Larson.
Larson can spay a cat in just five minutes -- a useful skill when organizations bring in, at times, up to 30 or more to their high-volume clinic. Even experienced vets approach ferals with care.
"Many times we have to anaesthetize them with a pole, we have a syringe on the end of a pole because we can't handle them," Larson says.
The cats are held overnight by the site caretaker and then released.
The Humane Society takes on the cost of the procedure, about $40 per cat. Last year, they TNRed 87 cats. This year they're shooting to do 100. They typically work on five to six TNR sites per year.
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