by Blake Herzog
It’s springtime and you’re likely noticing a bumper crop of tiny wildlife in your neighborhood or open space around your home.
They could be fawns, reds (baby javelinas), coyote pups or bobkittens, which can be difficult to distinguish from domestic or feral kittens — they are usually larger and have shorter tails.
Feral or community cats occupy what’s sometimes an uneasy middle ground between pets and native species, yet they have an important role to play in the urban or semi-rural environments in which they live.
Besides controlling rodent populations and their negative impact on humans and other animals, the cats’ presence keep additional felines from moving in and has the effect of culling and strengthening species of prey animals.
The biggest problem with feral cats is their high reproduction rate, which leads to overpopulation and starvation in feral cat colonies as they compete with each other for a limited amount of resources.
This is why many animal advocacy organizations and local government agencies have TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs that loan traps and offer other assistance to people to humanely catch the cats and take them to a veterinarian for surgical sterilization.
Afterward, a small portion of the tip of the animals’ left ear is removed and they are released in the location where they were trapped. This lets them maintain their role in the ecosystem without the risk of overpopulation.
Some residents choose to support community cat colonies with food and shelter, but in many cases they can survive on their own. Sterilized cats generally live longer lives and are less likely to howl, fight or be prone to other problematic behaviors.
Kittens can be spayed as young as six or eight weeks, and if you intend to socialize them enough to be adoptable this is the best time to try.
One thing to keep in mind is that “kitten season” is upon us and it’s not uncommon to find seemingly abandoned litters of young kittens outdoors whose mother is away hunting for food or a new den.
Unless they are injured, the best thing you can do is monitor them as closely as you can for several hours to see if their mother returns.
If you have a garden, bird feeders, nests or other areas of your property you want to protect, humane and effective ways to repel feral cats include scattering citrus peels, coffee grounds or pipe tobacco around the area or spraying with citrus, citronella, lemongrass or lavender scents to repel them. Make sure all trash can lids are secured and don’t feed household pets outdoors.