Image ID: 1517105
February is Spay/Neuter Awareness Month (to clarify, "spay" is the term used to describe sterilizing a female animal, whereas "neuter" refers to the procedure by which a male animal is sterilized). The timing of this designation is quite fortuitous, as those of us involved in feline rescue are able to attest to the fact that "kitten season" usually commences in late February or early March, when the kittens that will soon populate the streets in burgeoning numbers in April or May are conceived.
Sadly, there exists a dearth of sufficient good, permanent homes for all of the dogs and cats that are born in this country. According to information obtained from The American Humane Society's website, "About 2.7 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs—about one every 11 seconds—are put down in U.S. shelters each year." That figure does not include the multitude of dogs and cats that perish from an agonizing death on the street (after being struck by a vehicle, freezing, or dying of heat stroke, succumbing to any of a variety of communicable illnesses, etc.) after being callously and illegally (NYS AGM, Article 26, §355) abandoned. Contrary to popular myth, it is highly unlikely that a domesticated animal will be able to successfully adapt to life in the wild (any more than I, a life-long resident of boroughs of New York City, would be talented at assembling a tree house from twigs and catching trout in the stream with my bare hands if I were stranded in the woods) or be taken in by some kindhearted, responsible stranger. It is my understanding that although there are certainly dogs in the New York City region who are available for adoption (and there was never a better bargain available to humans in terms of unconditional love and loyalty), the amount of felines who are residing on the streets is far greater in number than that of canines (again, it is my inchoate understanding, based on conversations with fellow animal rescue workers, that the reverse is true in the southern region of the United States).
Since my mid-twenties, I have always owned a cat or two. (My favorite animal is actually the dog, but cats are undeniably sweet, affectionate and highly intelligent as well.) I was not cognizant of the nearly-overwhelming challenge of the literal plethora of unaltered felines roaming the streets of NYC, until I moved to the block where I currently reside slightly over three years ago. I could not ignore the presence of "Sonny, Holly, Molly and Pepper," four felines who were usually sitting in a neighbor's yard. One day, an illuminating conversation with said neighbor ensued, in which she stated that she did not own Sonny, Holly, Molly nor Pepper, but rather simply fed the four felines leftover food. This neighbor also elaborated that "Pepper," a kitten approximately three months old, represented the survivor of at least three litters of kittens born in said neighbor's yard the past summer. After contacting a local rescue group, I agreed to foster "Pepper" (who was later placed for adoption). After numerous unsuccessful efforts to arrange for the spay/neutering of the three remaining cats, I was informed of a "trap, neuter, return" (herein "TNR") training class wherein participants were to be instructed in the proper usage of the various sorts of humane traps, care of feral colonies and participating veterinarians who spay/neuter stray cats at a dramatic discount.
There are many entities (but sadly, not enough) scattered throughout this and other regions who humanely trap stray and feral (not every stray cat is feral, as some are former house pets who have run away or been abandoned; felines who do not experience contact with a human being prior to the age of three months old become increasingly difficult to socialize with people as the respective feline's age increases) cats, transport same to a participating veterinarian for spaying/neutering and receipt of at least a rabies vaccine. The newly altered felines are held for three days (males) or five days (females) in cases where the spay/neuter procedure was uncomplicated in the humane trap or in a foster cage (depending on the temperament of the trapped animal), and are released back into the location where said felines were humanely trapped. When a feline is friendly or sufficiently young (i.e., less than three months old, generally speaking) to be socialized with humans, efforts are exerted to place said feline for adoption, but, tragically, this is not always possible due to the plethora of felines in this region. Caretakers usually provide food, water and some sort of shelter to the stray/feral cats on a daily basis. I am fortunate that a neighbor is also "afflicted" with ailurophilia, and she functions as a co-caretaker to my colony of stray and feral cats. When I first moved to my present block, the stray cats could be observed every Sunday and Wednesday night (eves of garbage pick-up day on my block), scouring through garbage cans placed near the curb for food. Needless to say, for a variety of reasons, this distressed many a neighbor. Now, if I deign to place food (for example, some of the cats in my colony do not like the pate form of cat food) before my strays/ferals that is adjudged by said felines as unpleasing to their respective palate, they march off, in a state of high dudgeon, to my neighbor's window, loudly meowing their displeasure. Said cats are immediately rewarded with a different type of cat food.
Town cats: a book of drawings by Zhenya Gay.
Image ID: 495319
I can quite honestly state that I have not witnessed, nor heard of any incidents regarding, any of the stray and feral felines in my colony searching garbage cans for food since the inception of my TNR colony. The TNR Program is a humane method of attempting to control the stray/feral feline population in various areas. For those who are impervious to the humane reasons for the existence of TNR colonies in a neighborhood, the fact is, cats are part of the ecosystem. Their presence in a neighborhood serves to assuage the numbers of the rodent and snake population in said neighborhood. Additionally, felines tend to be territorial; the rabies-vaccinated cats will usually chase away other cats, which may never have been treated by a veterinarian, from the area of the respective cats' colony. Female felines who have been spayed do not attract would-be suitors (unneutered male cats) and neutered male felines are far less aggressive with other male cats. Neutered male felines either do not spray or do so with a far less cogent odor. Spayed/neutered felines are less prone to develop certain forms of cancer. And, of course, altered felines do not contribute to the severe overpopulation of cats on the street. Furthermore, these felines are NOT culpable in any form for their respective existence on the street.
Please find listed below links of organizations that are able to provide additional information on the TNR Program directly or by referral to another organization (and who have some very lovely felines available for adoption). Additionally, I have enumerated the titles of animal—relevant material available within the NYPL's circulating collection.
(Incidentally, poor Sonny disappeared, Molly was trapped by a feline rescue entity that reportedly placed Molly for adoption, and Holly has resided with me for over two years at this juncture, as one of my housecats.)