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Wild, Whiskered Islanders

Feral Cats on Nantucket

by Sarah Teach

Every day, thousands of healthy animals across the United States are put to death due to lack of homes, not to mention those in the wild that die of starvation, disease or the elements. Up until last year, Nantucket was not immune to this lethal devastation; and islander Carol Black knew that something had to be done for the many cats that were awaiting either homes or death. In February 2011, Black rallied the island’s feline-friendly troops and they decided that Nantucket would be a safe place for cats both wild and domestic. To help cover the costs of caring for feral cats, Black formed CATTRAP Nantucket, a subsidiary of CATTRAP Inc., a no-kill organization that is dedicated to the reduction of feral cat populations through Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) programs. When the island’s MSPCA dissolved last December, Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals took over the facility’s shelter, which looks after domestic strays and surrenders; and CATTRAP took on the responsibility for Nantucket’s feral cats.

There are three different situations through which CATTRAP handles the island’s feral cat population. First comes the TNR aspect. Located in various outdoor spots around the island are humane traps that contain “bait” bearing an aroma that kitties simply cannot resist: wet cat food! All year long,
CATTRAP volunteers regularly visit these sites to check for trapped animals.

Cats from Cattrap

Pixel and The Captain snooze in their new favorite chair.

If a trapped cat has the top quarter-inch of one ear clipped neatly off (through a process known as “ear-tipping”), it indicates that the cat has already been sterilized and vaccinated. Such a cat can be released immediately if it appears healthy. A cat without a cropped ear is transported to a veterinary facility and placed under general anesthesia before being sterilized and ear-tipped. Male cats heal very quickly from the neutering procedure and are released back to the location where they were trapped. Female cats undergo a more invasive surgical process, so they heal under the care    of CATTRAP before being released back to their trapping site. Above all, CATTRAP strives to provide humane treatment to the animals. Thus, traps are not rigged during freezing or rainy weather. CATTRAP volunteer Michelle Perkins says that she has seen some trapped cats become so distressed that, in desperate attempts at freedom, they ram their heads into the sides of the trap until their noses bleed. The ideal situation is that a cat will not be stuck in a trap for more than a few hours.

The second aspect through which CATTRAP cares for the island’s feral cats is adoption. “Part of trapping is that we find all of these kittens,” says Black. “We evaluate every cat that we come across. Usually young kittens are friendly and adoptable.” But while feral and domestic cats are the exact same species, feral cats are wild animals that have not been socialized with humans. Thus, most adults that are trapped would not thrive in a home and are not adoptable.

Thirdly, CATTRAP provides sanctuary when it would be inhumane to release a cat that has been trapped. Black says, “There are a variety of reasons why a cat might have special needs or should not be released. Some are super skinny or sickly; those we take in.” The sanctuary cats are cared for in volunteers’ homes until they are healthy again or until the end of their lives.

Feral cats live in colonies of up to 40 cats, and scattered throughout the island are several of these large feline “neighborhoods.” Colonies congregate close by food sources, so CATTRAP has established feeding stations that will draw the animals to the traps that are set up nearby. This makes it much easier to ensure that all cats in a given colony are sterilized. Last year, CATTRAP Nantucket had about 130 cats go through the TNR process; and so far in 2012, that number is past 50. Black says, “Spaying or neutering cats is the most effective way to reduce feral cat populations.”

But many people, especially cat lovers, might wonder why it is so bad to have a large feral cat population on Nantucket. To this question, Black responds, “When cats reproduce, there is a lot of suffering that goes on. A lot of kittens are dying, mother cats are dying giving birth in the wild. Through reducing numbers, we are also reducing the amount of suffering.”

There are a handful of perspectives behind the desire to trim the island’s feral cat population. Many bird enthusiasts and ornithologists are concerned about the number of bird deaths that occur at the feline predators’ agile paws. But lovers of any species must agree on one thing: everyone wishes
to ease animal suffering. Black emphasizes that anyone can be of help to this cause by contacting CATTRAP Nantucket about outdoor sightings of unfamiliar cats without collars or ear clips. Black implores the community:    “The biggest thing is to call us if you see [outdoor] kittens. Kittens usually
mean there’s a colony nearby.”

Not only is CATTRAP a nonprofit organization, it is run entirely by volunteers. It relies solely on private donations and absorbs all of the costs for the cats’ care. (In the vast majority of places off-island, people must pay outof- pocket if they want a feral cat to be sterilized.) CATTRAP Nantucket greatly needs and appreciates gifts in any amount. On average, every female feral cat that goes through CATTRAP’s program costs $135, and every male costs $75. Kittens cost upwards of $400 each. However, you can make a difference with as little as $15, which is enough to feed a large feral colony for an entire week! To learn more about how you can help humanely reduce Nantucket’s feral cat population, call Black at 508-257-4333 or visit the CATTRAP Nantucket Facebook page. You also might consider donating some of the following items that are on CATTRAP’s wish list: Capstar and Advantage tick/flea prevention treatments, dry and canned cat and kitten food, cat toys, cat scratchers and climbing trees, gift cards to Geronimo’s or other island stores that sell cat supplies.

Articles by Date from 2012