OPINION: Community care programs can help control cat colonies

A few things came to mind when I heard the name Trap King. What didn’t pop into my brain was animal rescue.

Sterling Davis aka the Trap King relied on his clever word play in 2015 when he quit a career as a hip hop artist and hit the road to save cats.

The days after Halloween, the Trap King is particularly busy trapping cats. “There is at least a 15% increase in black cats on the streets after the holiday,” said Davis, noting that people will adopt black cats for pranks or décor and then release them.

Davis drives through the streets of metro Atlanta and other cities in his RV, searching for stray cats, trapping them and making sure they are spayed, neutered or vaccinated before returning them back to their colonies. His logo, a cat with one of its ears tipped, represents a cat that has undergone the trap, neuter and return (TNR) process. “You don’t want to catch the same cat multiple times and take them through surgery,” he said.

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Increasingly, Georgia communities are relying on a TNR form of rescue to control cat populations and help reduce the number of animals killed in shelters.

Rick James, a Persian Himalayan that Davis purchased from a breeder, was his first feline friend and best teacher in the ways of cats.

“My relationship with Rick James taught me about cats and helped me learn their behaviors,” Davis said. He also learned that he should not have declawed his furry friend. From that point forward, he wanted to educate others, help communities care for cats and debunk the myths surrounding cats and the people who love them.

As a hip hop artist and military veteran, Davis has taken a lot of jabs for being a cat lover. He is currently the proud owner of three rescue cats including David Bowie, a gray tabby who plays percussion in the Griffin-based troupe of Netflix fame the Amazing Acro-cats.

In his music career, Davis put a different spin on hip hop with raps about religion, energy efficiency and of course, cats. One song of note? “Chasing Tail.” His mind is a repository of cat puns that Davis uses to call attention to bigger issues.

“I want to show that relationship (of cats) with a heterosexual man and shine the light on the other people who have been doing cat rescue before me, which has mostly been women,” Davis said.

Whether he is rapping or trolling the streets of metro Atlanta and other cities, he’s on a mission to help communities diversify cat rescue. There are usually no men and no black or brown people who do TNR cat rescue, Davis said. “We need to reach those communities.”

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According to data from the AMVA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 51% of Georgia residents are pet owners and 20% of them own cats.

Tens of thousands of cats are killed in Georgia shelters each year and make up the majority of all pets killed in the state based on some estimates.

For years, Georgia was one of the five states that accounted for more than 50% of the dogs and cats killed in animal shelters nationwide. More recently, that number has decreased to about 30% according to Best Friends, a Utah-based sanctuary which promotes pet adoption, no-kill animal rescue, and spay and neuter practices.

The reduction can be attributed, in part, to implementing community cat programs that help reduce overpopulation through TNR rescue and practices that better support cats living in outdoor colonies. LifeLine Animal Project in DeKalb, one of the oldest and largest TNR rescue programs in metro Atlanta, has helped 35 Georgia counties develop community cat programs.

For his dedication to TNR rescue and education, Davis received a $12,000 grant from Mars Petcare, makers of a range of pet products and vet services. He will use the money to purchase additional traps and continue educating communities on TNR rescue.

Some cats may be rescued and adopted but for those who live in cat colonies it is helpful for communities to know the best way to support and manage the animals. “Providing care for cats that don’t have homes is an important part of being a pet-friendly community — both through increasing adoption and caring for cats whose best lives are lived in outdoor colonies,” said Jam Stewart, vice president of corporate affairs at Mars Petcare.

Davis finds that while many residents mean well, they often don’t follow best practices to help cats. Even some members of the rescue industry aren’t well-versed in community cat care, he said.

Once the animals have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated, feeding them properly — at the same time and in a location away from the street — is important, Davis said. It is also important to wait until they finish eating and remove the feeding bowls to reduce the possibility of attracting other animals.

Though dogs are often credited with loyalty, cats are also loyal animals, Davis said. They will remember you and come back to the location where you feed them.

“With a proper TNR community cat care program you can control the population,” Davis said.

And maybe learn something new about cats.

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