Community Voices: Spring’s showers of strays

Linda White pulls her car into the Kenwood mobile home park in north Fayette County and takes a look around. Her back seat is filled with wire cages and bags of cat kibble that trickle onto the floor, leaving the faint aroma of fish.

March ushers in what’s known as “kitten season,” the flood of cats born each spring and summer that can overwhelm shelters and rescue groups.

Litters born to animals owned but not spayed are already a challenge to place into loving homes. But even harder to deal with are the stray and semi-wild cats who struggle to survive in neighborhoods, shopping centers, woods and fields.

Last October, the Fayette County Board of Commissioners gave its blessing to a pilot program called TNR, for Trap-Neuter-Release. It’s a partnership between the county Animal Control Department and the nonprofit Fayette Humane Society.

With the property owners’ permission, volunteers go where stray cats have congregated or have been dumped by callous people. The cats are sometimes fed by well-meaning residents, but unless the animals are neutered, they can produce as many as three litters a year.

Trained volunteers like Linda humanely trap the cats, take them to vet clinics to be neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then return the animals to their original locations if there are sources of food and shelter. The more sociable ones can be adopted.

Linda drives slowly through the trailer park, one of Fayette’s TNR test sites. She estimates she’s trapped about 80 cats over the past year. We see an orange kitten climbing into a trash bin looking for food, while a black cat with beautiful green eyes approaches the car. You can tell which ones have already been “fixed” because the tips of their left ears were snipped off while their other bits were being snipped as well.

Fayette’s TNR program was initiated because routinely trapping and killing hundreds of cats wasn’t solving the overpopulation problem, and many folks wanted a more humane, effective and cost-effective solution.

Kimberly Davis of FHS says it costs the group only $25-$35 to trap and neuter a feral cat, as opposed to the $100 per cat it costs for the county to trap, euthanize and dispose of them.

After learning about the benefits of TNR last fall, the county agreed to let the program expand, and FHS has identified other sites where TNR can be implemented. Animal Control officer Rani Rathburn coordinates the program at the government level, having researched how the program works in other areas.

Linda sees the illness and neglect suffered by abandoned cats, but she also sees people who simply don’t have the means to provide for animals they care about.

“The ones who can least afford it are the ones who have the biggest hearts,” she says. But she wishes there were more trapping volunteers, foster homes and food donations to keep up with demand.

For humane groups, March doesn’t arrive with the roar of a lion – it arrives with the cries of much smaller felines who need all the help they can get.