Lisa Boyle estimates there are "thousands" of feral cats in the Rim country, but Payson Friends of Ferals (PFF), a new organization affiliated with the Payson Humane Society (PHS), hopes to reduce this number through nonlethal methods.
Boyle, a member of the PHS board, founded the new group, which currently has about 10 members and plans to begin operation on June 1.
"PFF has chosen to approach the overwhelming problem of free-roaming unwanted cats with the trap-neuter-return method." Boyle said. "It is by far a more humane solution than the ‘kill' methods used (by most shelters)."
The Payson Humane Society and most other shelters usually don't have any options other than euthanizing feral cats.
"Almost all animal shelters do that because they're wild animals," Boyle said. "They're not adoptable."
But eradication must be done on an ongoing basis, is extremely costly, and other cats usually move in to take advantage of newly available resources. Conversely, the trap-neuter-return method allows feral cats to live out their lives while gradually reducing the size of the colony.
"We put (traps) in an area where we know there's a colony of feral cats and you trap as many as you can and spay and neuter everybody and tip their ears (to identify cats that have been treated and returned)," Boyle said. "So if you ever see them in your traps again, you just let them go."
Kittens and cats that were obviously domestic at one time are treated differently, according to Boyle.
"Studies show if you can trap kittens 10 weeks and under they can be domesticated, and that is one of the things we're hoping to do," Boyle said. "If we get somebody in the trap that is obviously an abandoned domestic cat, we'll put them up for adoption."
Through education, PFF hopes to dispel the following myths about feral cats:
- "Feral" is not synonymous with "stray." A stray cat has been abandoned or has strayed from home and become lost. Stray cats can usually be resocialized and adopted, while adult feral cats cannot.
- Feral cats lead short, miserable lives, so they're better off dead. Studies show that feral cats have about the same lifespan as domestic cats, and they contract diseases at the same rate.
- Feral cats should be taken to local animal shelters so they can be adopted. Feral cats are not pet cats and they will be killed at most shelters. Even no-kill shelters are not able to place feral cats in homes.
- Feral cats are predators that deplete wildlife. Studies show that the overwhelming cause of wildlife depletion is destruction of natural habitat due to man-made structures, chemical pollution, and drought.
PFF is looking for additional members, and for contributions to buy enough traps at $61 each to begin the program.
The Tru-Catch traps allow trapped cats and animals other than cats to be quickly and easily released.
Boyle said Payson veterinarians Lorenzo Gonzales and Jacque Rosholm have shown interest in working with the group, and she hopes others will do likewise.
For more information, to join the group, or to report a colony of feral cats, call (928) 474-1836 or (928) 468-1143.