My husband and I noticed five adorable young cats playing along the Jordan River near our home. They had likely been abandoned by someone who didn’t want to keep the animals anymore and are part of a nationwide problem, the scale of which few people recognize. According to the National Feline Research Council (NFRC), the best available estimate suggests that the population of community cats is about 32 million nationally! These are cats that are wild and without an owner or a home.
If not spayed and neutered, kittens grow up outdoors, become wild and start breeding by about 4-6 months of age, perpetuating the rapid increase in our community’s uncared for cat population. According to one estimate from the NFRC, when just one male and female cat breed, their offspring can result in up to 5,000 more surviving wild cats in our neighborhoods within seven years. This is why there is a movement across the country that addresses this challenge by humanely capturing and fixing community cats.
Of course, the little pride of cats in front of our home produced kittens, seven of which survived. We ultimately caught all four mothers and their kittens, had the mothers spayed and returned to our yard, and brought five of the young, tame kittens to the Salt Lake County Animal Services for spaying and adoption. We took two of the kittens that were already afraid of humans into our home for socialization with people so that they, too, could be adopted.
To help address the community cat overpopulation, organizations like Salt Lake County Animal Services, Best Friends, Salt Lake Spay and Neuter, Whiskers, and Community Animal Welfare Society all work with volunteers who trap community cats, socialize and find homes for kittens, and have the adults and kittens spayed and neutered.
The program of catching and fixing community cats and returning them to our neighborhoods is known as Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). While TNR is effective in cutting down on the number of homeless cats, it does not address their long-term care and feeding. The exception is when volunteer caretakers take the initiative to feed the animals and sometimes also provide Styrofoam boxes for shelter, water bowls, and veterinary services.
Many animals in TNR programs do not get that benefit and end up fending for themselves, a difficult existence at best. Some organizations, such as the Orchard Animal Clinic, do not support TNR. Instead, these organizations provide spay, neuter, and veterinary services only where a caretaker is committed to providing long-term food and shelter. The entire system of volunteer trappers – organizations that provide humane traps and spay and neuter services, and community cat caretakers – is completely overwhelmed by the scale of this enormous challenge.
Although it can be overwhelming, you can make a difference, one animal at a time, by spaying and neutering your own pets and providing care for community cats.
Amy O’Connor teaches English as a Second Language and enjoys gardening, playing the piano, walking along the Jordan River and spending time with her cats.