The city of Grayson recently recommitted themselves to dealing with feral and stray animals in their community. They’ve discussed, and began advertising for, someone to work as a part time animal control officer under the office of code enforcement.
This person will be responsible for rounding up dogs who pose a danger to the community, through aggressive behavior, or to themselves by wandering into traffic or other dangerous situations.
They will also be responsible for helping trap stray cats as part of the city’s spay-neuter-release program.
This program, like similar programs in other cities across the nation, helps deal with the growth of feral cat colonies by capturing the cats in live catch traps. These captured cats are then spayed or neutered, given rabies vaccinations, and released back in the same area where they were captured.
Cats that have been captured and sterilized previously are identified by distinctive ear notches given to the cats when they are under anesthesia for their sterilization surgery. These notches cause no long-term issues for the cats and allow those running the programs to identify animals that can be released immediately back into the community.
While there are some who question whether trap-neuter-release programs are more humane than euthanasia – cats that are released back into the wild still have to deal with living lives as wild animals and all the challenges that comes with that – there is no question that most of the truly wild animals captured in these programs are not suitable for rehoming as pets.
They have never been pets. They are not used to being around humans. And they will never acclimate to a life as a loving pet.
Rehoming them is not an option.
That brings the options down to a trap-neuter-release program or euthanasia.
While we could argue about what is more humane for the individual animal, especially for older animals that may have other underlying health issues, there is no doubt that the trap and release programs make living with feral cat colonies much easier for their human neighbors.
For one thing, the size of the feral cat population steadily declines in areas where trap-neuter-release is practiced. The reason is that while cats may not be breeding anymore, they are still territorial. This means no new breeding cats are coming in to fill the niche left when other breeding cats are removed from the community. Instead, the population shrinks as no new kittens are born into the feral colony.
Neutering or spaying the animals also helps eliminate one of the most common complaints human residents have about their feline neighbors – the fighting, yowling, and other late night noise that accompanies breeding activity.
When they aren’t competing over the affections of a female, male cats are less likely to engage in aggressive and noisy displays or get into fights. Likewise, the trademark caterwauling that accompanies kitty courtship becomes a thing of the past when cats are no longer reproducing. As a result, humans can enjoy the benefits of their alley cat neighbors, such as keeping rodent populations down, with fewer of the downsides.
It isn’t a perfect solution, by any means. Feral cat colonies still have an outsized impact on wildlife populations, especially songbirds, and trap-neuter-release programs don’t do much to address that (though it could be argued that by reducing the size of colonies over time, the impact on bird populations is also reduced).
But we must remember that most of these cats will be too wild to ever be rehomed with a human family. Even if the county animal shelter did accept kittens or released pet cats that could be rehomed – which they currently do not – this would be a minority of the total number of feral cats living in a community like Grayson.
The best the community can hope for, in the short term, is to reduce friction between the city’s human and feline residents. Trap-neuter-release programs achieve this by both reducing the number of new kittens born and reducing the noisy night-time courtship activities that lead to their birth and lead to the majority of feral cat complaints.
Maybe someday Grayson and Carter County can establish a feral cat sanctuary, where cats who can’t be rehomed can live out their lives in peace and comfort, free of disease and parasites, and without making any impact on songbird populations. Until then, trap-neuter-release is the best option, and we commend the city of Grayson for bringing the program back.