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Having a heart for homeless cats

By DWIGHT HOBBES

“Pretty Mister” of East Phillips

If, as the Good Book says, the Lord gave humans dominion of animals, there are those of the mind that dominion doesn’t just mean being in charge. It means providing care.

Accordingly, consider the plight of homeless cats that are hungry with no roof overhead not because they ran afoul of a landlord or having applied for housing are stuck sitting on a long waiting list. They are in their condition because some owner’s child no longer thinks kitty is cute, got bored, and no one in the house can be bothered.

Or, because a family moves into a dwelling that doesn’t allow pets and, instead of searching out one that does, they simply dropped the defenseless creature off on the street. From there, the felines naturally procreate, resulting in a steadily increasing population that, overrunning areas, has no way to fend for itself. They make a nuisance of themselves, scrounging around in garbage cans, hiding under porches and in abandoned garages for shelters.

Fortunately for them, some folk do what they can to help out. Some feed and water them, leaving bowls where they can eat and drink, close enough to the make-do refuge that the cats don’t starve and can scurry to safety at a moment’s notice.

I did this for a clutch of felines who settled in behind my apartment building and an upstairs neighbor complained: “Stop feeding those cats.” At length, she ratted me out to the landlord who didn’t do anything, so she complained to animal control.

When they came to the door, I stood my ground. “Who is it hurting for those cats to have a mouthful of food?” Which is how I learned food can be put down for three hours, then has to be removed. “Three hours? What I give them little critters is gone in three minutes.”

However well intentioned, this is a stop-gap measure, not a solution to merely help keep them alive. Effective efforts, though, are being taken to more concretely address the issue of population control.

The Minnesota Humane Society website states, “Studies on how to deal with this growing problem have shown the most successful method is trap-neuter-release. Once sterilized, these cats can no longer reproduce. Trap-neuter-release also involves a feral caregiver who helps manage the food, water, shelter and when needed, medical care for the cats in the colony. While a loving home is an ideal situation, this method allows these cats to live out their lives as comfortably as possible — without adding to future generations of misery.”

As confirmed animal lover Julie Plagemen of St. Paul attests, the Humane Society takes an active role in reducing the stray cat population by holding well-advertised and free sterilization events. Owners who can’t afford these services via traditional veterinarian clinics can become responsible pet owners without breaking the bank.     

There’s also Project Rescue’s Trap-Neuter-Return program, which looks after community cats living on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul by spaying and neutering to reduce suffering and overpopulation. Individuals interested in volunteering to help this effort by registering as a Minneapolis cat colony caregiver can reach them at Clinics@PetProjectRescue.com.

Cats born in the wild are in considerably more danger simply because, unless abandoned domestic cats, these felines never learned to trust humans and will flee as soon as they see one coming. Accordingly, it’s harder to help them. It can be done, though.

Information at Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) states that they take a humane and effective approach for stray and feral cats. Now in practice for decades in the U.S. after being proven in Europe, scientific studies show that Trap-Neuter-Return improves the lives of feral cats, improves their relationships with the people who live near them, and decreases the size of colonies over time.

It is exactly what it sounds like: Cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian to be neutered and vaccinated. After recovery, the cats are returned to their home — their colony — outdoors. Kittens and cats who are friendly and socialized to people may be adopted into homes.

Julie Plageman notes, “In my experience, feral cats are difficult to rehabilitate. Unless cats have human contact from birth, they don’t develop the need for that contact. While trap and release programs don’t lengthen or significantly improve the life of feral cats, they do reduce the population so future cats don’t have to suffer the same fate.

“Spaying and neutering feral cats also helps solve many of the problems associated with feral cats such as noise and spraying,” says Plageman. “Trap and protect programs help provide a healthier life for feral cats by providing nutrition and observation of disease and injury.

“Cat communities can provide protection if a caring person regularly provides food and observation.” She sums up, “I have taken in strays who have had human contact from birth and it proved to be a fulfilling experience. I have taken in a feral kitten and we never did create the bond necessary to make her a good pet, but I did take comfort in knowing she had a home and she lived for 19 comfortable years with my other pet cat. There are few things better than a purring cat.”

Ultimately, homeless cats certainly didn’t ask to be in their predicament, and there is something the species responsible for it can do.

Dwight Hobbes is a longtime Twin Cities journalist and essayist. This article first appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder.

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