Making Spirits Bright for Feral Felines of the Key Peninsula

Trap-Neuter-Return program hopes to reduce the local feral cat populations on the peninsula to improve their quality of life.

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Whether you are the “Here kitty, kitty, kitty” Kris Kringle-type, or a “Shoo cat” Scrooge, local experts say there are many ways to lend a helping paw to the feral felines toughing it out in the wet winter chill this holiday season.

Trap-Neuter-Return

A small army of animal advocates and concerned citizens are gearing up against large populations of feral cats in and around the Key Peninsula. These volunteers specialize in a method called Trap-Neuter-Return, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. They trap feral cats, take them to get spayed or neutered at places like the Humane Society of Mason County in Belfair, and then return them where they found them.

Why?

“It’s humans’ fault the cats are out there,” said Kelleen Thaxton, who runs the Kitsap/West Sound Community Cats Facebook page, a local resource to help people deal with homeless and feral cats. “I think it’s our duty to reduce all the suffering we’ve caused these animals.”

And They Told Two Friends, and So On and So On ...

An unspayed female cat can produce three litters of cats a year starting at just four months old with each litter averaging four to six kittens. That means one female cat can produce at least 12 kittens a year, and those kittens can start producing litters when they turn four months old.

According to SpayUSA.org, spaying and neutering one male and one female can prevent more than 2,000 unwanted births in just four years, and two million over eight years. Katherine Johnson, executive director of HSMC, said spring is generally “kitten season,” but they have been inundated with kittens the past two months. “If you find a feral kitten and it’s younger than 10 weeks old, there’s a good chance we can socialize that cat and adopt it out,” she said. “Any older than that and the cat is pretty feral.”

Though not all feral, HSMC has performed more than 2,300 spay and neuter procedures on felines just this year. 

Cat Colonies on the KP

A TNR volunteer who didn’t want to be identified (because she doesn’t want the recognition for the work she’s doing), said she’s trapped and returned nearly 200 cats in just two years, many on the KP. The hot spots for her are Lake Kathryn Village (11), near Jackson Lake Road and Lackey Road NW (11), and near Jimmy’s 94th Ave. Pub (8). There are many other colonies and some cats are just too wily to trap. Thaxton said the most humane way to get rid of a cat colony is to get the cats fixed and let them die out naturally. “Feral cats live about one-third of the life as their domesticated cousins,” she said. 

Know Your Cats

Don’t just assume a cat wandering around your yard is lost or feral. Thaxton says there are easy ways to tell the difference. Feral cats are born and raised in the wild by feral parents. They’re wild animals and see people as predators. They may see you as a food source if you feed them, but they probably don’t want to be around you. Ferals can’t be adopted and don’t make great pets.

Then there are community, or unsocialized, cats. They likely have been on their own for a while but may have experience around people. “A pet cat can go back to being feral-like after a month or so on their own,” Thaxton said.

Then there are stray cats. Any cat that isn’t on their owner’s property is technically considered stray, but most of the time these are cats that are lost or have been abandoned by their owner.

Living in the Wild

No matter the type of cat, they usually play it safe when outdoors. Feral cats, according to Thaxton, generally live underneath large blackberry brambles or raised sheds. It’s easy for them to get around underneath the blackberries and it protects them against predators. For the warm-hearted KP residents who want to offer cats housing, Thaxton advises using storage containers or large Styrofoam coolers with two exit points. Use dry straw for bedding because it doesn’t hold moisture. Cats can freeze to wet blankets or towels. If possible, prop the house up on two-by-fours and put some weight on top. Cats don’t like wobbly things. 

Got Rodents?

Technically, cats roaming around your yard can help you tackle a rodent problem. But if they’re not spayed or neutered, “Then you’ll have a cat problem,” said Thaxton, who added that large colonies of cats bring noise, filth and odors. “It’s all the sights, sounds and smells of peeing, pooping and mating.” Thaxton suggests that if you want to get a fixed barn cat, get two instead. “They’re better as doubles."

Caring for a Colony

Feeding feral cats is very kind, but “If you feed cats that aren’t fixed, you’re just inviting more cats. It can get overwhelming,” Thaxton said. Get a trapper out to your house. These volunteers, though busy, are happy to help, and will likely shower you with praise for being kind to kitties. Thaxton and Johnson agree that the best thing to do to help feral cats is to get them spayed or neutered. And it likely won’t cost you a dime.

Help for You

Just a 20-minute drive from the Vaughn area, HSMC has a $50 baseline package to spay or neuter feral cats. That includes all necessary medical assistance. It is significantly less than just bringing the family pet in for the same procedure. Johnson said donations help offset expenses, and they don’t limit the number of feral appointments. “If the community is willing to (trap and return), then we’re more than happy to facilitate the surgery,” Johnson said. You can notice if a feral cat in your neighborhood has already been spayed or neutered if a piece is missing from the top of one of its ears. That is the tell-tale sign a feral cat has been cared for through the TNR program. For strays or other cats that are people-friendly, Dr. Justine Zing-sheim-Nadeau at Brookstone Veterinary Hospital said they can scan for a chip to see if the cat has an owner.

How You Can Help

The HSMC accepts donations on its website, including specifically to the TNR program. The organization also accepts pet food donations to help support the 60 people a week who use its pet pantry.

Thaxton said she is always looking for people interested in becoming trappers, and those interested can reach her on her Facebook page. Because her efforts are self-funded, with support from the Kitsap Humane Society, she also seeks help with items on her Amazon Wish List.


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