In five years, a female cat and its offspring can produce a family tree of more than 11,000 cats, which is why Rim Country Friends of Ferals (RCFF) has worked to help manage the problem of feral cats.
Earlier this month, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans proclaimed Oct. 16 National Feral Cat Day with RCFF president Lisa Boyle on hand to accept the proclamation.
Some 80 million feral cats roam the United States, Boyle said, with about 4 million ending up in animal shelters each year and 70 percent of those being euthanized.
Trapping, neutering and then releasing these cats remains the only proven and humane way to reduce feral cat populations, according to a statement by Boyle and Sandye Gier, RCFF’s secretary.
The group maintains that simply attempting to exterminate feral cats won’t solve the problem because other cats move into the vacated place and the breeding cycle starts again. They maintain that trapping and killing feral cats actually costs more than establishing a non-breeding colony. Sterilization also eliminates unwanted mating behavior, they said.
Since 2005, RCFF has sterilized about 3,000 cats. RCFF also provides food for about 400 cats in managed colonies.
However, the management of wild cat populations remains a topic of some controversy.
A study by researchers at the University of Nebraska concluded that feral cats do great damage to populations of birds and small mammals. The researchers estimated the monetary value of those damages at $17 billion nationwide and noted that feral cats have contributed to the extinction of at least 33 bird species. The 2010 study put the number of domesticated cats at 60 to 88 million and the number of feral cats at 60 million. The study concluded that feral cats have a home range of about 1.5 square miles and kill an estimated 480 million birds annually. The financial impact number stemmed from calculations of the financial impact of bird watching, bird hunting and bird breeding.
The researchers concluded that no legitimate scientific study has yet demonstrated that trapping, neutering and releasing (TNR) cats results in a decline in wild cat populations overall. However, they also concluded that there’s also little evidence that attempts to kill feral cats have eliminated established colonies.
On the other hand, a study by a cat advocacy group suggested that although a national TNR-based approach would cost about $14 billion, that would be about $2 billion less than an effort to control the problem with simply killing the wild cats. Many groups have relied on that study to support the need for trapping and neutering programs, but some researchers have vigorously contested the estimates and methodology.
The Rim Country Friends of Ferals statement noted that the root of the problem lies with pet owners, who often abandon unneutered domestic cats, which then breed without restraint. “The sad truth is that we have feral cats because unaltered domestic cats were abandoned or permitted to breed without restraint,” said the release. “Some aren’t even feral — just afraid or untrusting, perhaps due to abuse. It is often assumed that cats can hunt and take care of themselves, but they often get domesticated and depend on humans for food, water and shelter. Feral cats do not have easy lives and death can be even harsher.”
RCFF has spent the month advocating for the TNR approach. The group has grant money and donations to provide traps and surgery for the captured wild cats at no cost. The group also needs volunteers to help with trapping, picking up and delivering food, animal transport and fund-raising. RCFF is a non-profit organization, depending solely on private grants and public donations. Currently, RCFF needs cat food (both canned and dry) and cat litter donations.
To request traps or donate, contact Lisa Boyle at (928) 474-1836 in Payson or Sandye Gier at (928) 476-3944 in Pine-Strawberry.