A cat’s meow could be worse than a dog’s bite. Nationwide, the United States is estimated to have approximately 80 million free-roaming felines, and cat-devoted organizations like the Animal Care and Control Team in Hunting Park are trying to contain the cats – primarily feral cats – in Philadelphia.
“Feral cats lived outside their entire lives and don’t want any human interaction,” said Maria Decker, the assistant manager of life saving and prevention at the ACCT. “We have a lot of community members and rescue [organizations] trap cats in humane traps that they’ll bring into our shelter for neuter [and release].”
Cats considered feral have saucer-like pupils and will run and hide at the first sight of people. The biggest problem with these cats is that they will reproduce large colonies of kittens, spreading unknown diseases and expanding the population.
The ACCT of Philadelphia, located at 111 W. Hunting Park Ave., holds monthly trap-neuter-and-release cat clinics for Philadelphia residents to bring in captured feral cats. Last year, the group spayed and neutered 8,387 animals.
“We are the intake shelter for the entire city,” Decker said. “We take strays and owner surrenders from Philadelphia county. As far as intake go, there’s so many strays that people want to bring in, so we have to be open 24/7.”
Some of these people maintain their own contained cat colony. According to Philadelphia county law, there’s no penalty for feeding stray cats. These people can care for a manage colony inconspicuously, and they must do so privately. Cleaning up after the animals is crucial, and all cats must be neutered and vaccinated – for diseases such as rabies, cancer and AIDS – with veterinary records maintained.
Diane Schwarz, the president of the Kitty Adoption Team in Blue Bell, Pa., is used to these kinds of cat-caregivers there.
“We have people up this direction that do it, and you will find that those are the most kindest and most caring people of all,” Schwarz said in a phone interview. “These are people [who] usually don’t have much money, and they go out of their way to give the kitties whatever they can get.”
And what about the dog population in Philadelphia? Both Decker and Schwarz said that dogs are easier to spot and bring into a shelter because they won’t run away most of the time. A cat’s flexibility and size allows it to crawl through tight spaces and elude capture.
Both women said the best way to control the population is to trap and bring them in for neutering. After the process, cats are released with a piece of their left ear removed to show residents that those cats have already had their shots and surgery.
“People worry this will stress the cat out and that it’s a big to-do,” Decker said. “But when cats come in, they’re in carriers or traps. They’re sedated, get their spay and neuter and get carried back in their traps – it’s a quick procedure.”