While they’re not always easy to spot, feral cats can be found in many areas in Pittsburgh as well as its surrounding counties. Unfortunately, these animals are very difficult to domesticate and in many instances, are trapped just to be euthanized.
A number of organizations, including the Homeless Cat Management Team and Conquer the Colony, have been started to help these animals live healthier, safer lives. By trapping, neutering and then releasing the animals back into the wild, known as TNR, they are ensuring that the cats’ medical needs are met while preventing them from increasing the feral population even more.
“You have to turn off the faucet; while many of these cats can’t be adopted or socialized, they can be sterilized so that eventually the cycle will end,” explained Michelle Balistrieri, board member, Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT). “Cats that are truly feral cannot be adopted; it is extremely rare for them to become socialized, and it takes a lot of time and effort.
“The most humane thing to do is to sterilize and vaccinate them, treat obvious medical issues, and if they are sturdy and in an area where they are being fed and getting by, put them back,” she continued. “The other option is euthanasia, and cats don’t deserve that just for existing.”
Incorporated in 1999, HCMT was restructured in 2004 and now provides TNR services in many areas throughout Pittsburgh. They often find cats that have abandoned or who have been born as a result of a pet owner’s inability to get their animal fixed.
“There’s a big population of cats in areas like Oakland, where students get cats and don’t get them fixed,” said Balistrieri. “These days no reputable shelter or rescue will adopt to a college person living in a temporary home, so most of them get cats off of Craigslist or something similar, and then leave them behind when they move.
“A lot of people have indoor/outdoor cats that they don’t fix, and those cats end up impregnating the whole neighborhood,” she added. “One cat can have three litters a year, up to seven kittens per litter. They can reproduce faster than we can trap them.”
Erin Hartman and Kelly Kraus of Conquer the Colony started their organization as a way to help one feral colony, and it ballooned into a mission to help as many feral cats as they could. A colony is typically a grouping of feral cats that live outside, often together, and have a caretaker of some sort that provides food and shelter for them.
“Since they go unfixed, they continually reproduce, and then their kittens have kittens,” said Hartman. “TNR keeps the population down and keeps them healthy by lowering the chance of disease and making the cats less aggressive, since intact cats will violently fight for food, mates and territory.
“Fixing them also prevents females from going into heat and having litters and litters of kittens, and it can also eliminate certain types of cancer and the infection pyometra, which kills cats,” she added. “We also provide them with rabies vaccines and overall health vaccines to prevent feline distemper.”
While both organizations return feral cats to the wild, they also work to find fosters and long-term homes for cats that can be socialized. “When we find kittens or dumped cats that are friendly, we bring them into foster and try to find them homes,” said Kraus. “Any cat that seems remotely able to be socialized doesn’t get put back out.
“We also don’t return any feral cats to places without a caretaker, or to places that could be unsafe for them,” she added. “In a lot of situations, senior citizens are providing food and shelter for cat colonies, and those cats trust them and know where their food is coming from. While they may be friendly to that person, they would still not be happy inside. These are not lap cats.”
There are numerous ways that people can help TNR organizations. Monetary donations are always needed to help cover the costs of medication and spay/neutering services, as well as the cost of cat food provided to the caretakers who feed the feral colonies. Conquer the Colony is always in need of food and clay clumping litter and would appreciate donations of Purina One dry foods and Fancy Feast and Friskies wet food.
Foster families are also needed to help socialize the cats that can be moved inside, and long-term families are always welcome to adopt from the organizations as well.
Homeless Cat Management Team also offers low-cost clinics for pet owners, and those funds are used to help pay for TNR services. Supporters can also attend fundraisers, such as HCMT’s spaghetti dinner events, or take part in the organization’s Facebook fundraisers.
Both groups also ask that people who know of feral colonies reach out for help instead of trying to take on numerous cats on their own.
“They can contact us if they have a problem—even with an unfixed house cat—to take advantage of our low-cost services and free clinics,” said Balistrieri. “We work with anyone—don’t be afraid to reach out.”
“A lot of times people are afraid they’ll get in trouble because they started by feeding one cat, and now there are 12,” said Kraus. “But the city of Pittsburgh will give vouchers to households for up to five free neuters a year—and that includes feral cats. We’ll go out and talk to them and figure out how we can help.
“While a lot of townships don’t want people feeding cats, ultimately, this problem was started by a human who fed a cat, put it outside, and let it reproduce,” she added. “This is the humane option.”
To learn more, visit the Homeless Cat Management Team at http://www.homelesscat.org.
Visit Conquer the Colony at https://www.conquerthecolony.com.