I would like to share what I have experienced living in close proximity to a prolific feral cat population (see “Meow mess,” Jan. 30). I learned the hard way that one person’s good intentions can lead to a whole host of unwanted problems for an entire neighborhood.
Four years ago I moved to the outskirts of Missoula and realized my neighbor was feeding feral cats. At any time, I could look out the windows of my house and view dozens of cats waiting to be fed from her porch—she even provided birthing boxes. I got a whiff of what I was up against when spring arrived, the ground thawed and the stench of cat feces and urine began emanating from around the house like a witches’ brew gone bad. That year I watched as every flower pot and garden bed in my yard became a litter box. As a consequence, every dog within barking distance, when turned loose, would gather around my property to howl and growl at the ferals lurking under porches and vehicles. Just as troubling, I observed many litters of kittens born in the birthing boxes being released into the feral population.
From other neighbors I learned this was a long-standing colony that had plagued the neighborhood for years. A few conscientious people were already implementing TNR, or trap, neuter and release. So I got educated and learned to use a live trap. It took years, but with patience and persistence we prevailed. I am pleased to report the ferals that remain are spayed and neutered and the cat population has stabilized.
Even more encouraging, the balance of nature has returned to our neighborhood. We now have a diversity of birds at our feeders. I recently saw a squirrel in the yard; the first one I have seen since moving in to the neighborhood. I no longer buy 50-pound sacks of lime for odor control, or cover my garden with rolls of plastic netting to keep the soil clean for planting vegetables. I sleep through the night without being awakened by cats mating and fighting. And the poisoning of cats seems to have stopped. It is a better neighborhood now.
I am very grateful to Missoula’s Animal Control for providing a humane place to take feral cats. No one wants to harm or euthanize a healthy cat. TNR is not a perfect solution, but it is currently the most humane option we have. But, there is no doubt, we need more tools county-wide to limit the size and scope of cat colonies.
And to the people who feed and maintain these colonies of cats: moderation would go along way in preventing problems from occurring. Be courteous to your neighbors and kind to the cats by spaying and neutering them. And please don’t take on more cats than you are allowed by law or property management.