Feral cats rounded up on South Side

Strays will be spayed and neutered

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Their noisy, nocturnal carousing on the streets of Pittsburgh's South Side was making neighbors unhappy. The neighborhood's dogs were not pleased, either.

So it came to pass that a weekend sweep of 65 feral cats living in the Slopes area was a win-win for both people and the felines.

"This is the first time we've done a mass trapping, although we have [spay/neuter] clinics every three weeks," said Lisa Lendl-Lander, head of Homeless Cat Management Team, a nonprofit organization.

HCMT's goal is to humanely reduce the population growth and minimize the suffering of homeless cats through sterilization and responsible colony management.

In 13 years, it has used the "Trap-Neuter-Return" method to sterilize more than 12,000 cats in a nine-county area of southwestern Pennsylvania, including 849 last year.

The emphasis is not to find homes for these cats -- true ferals are wild and rarely can adapt to becoming pets -- but to reduce sex-driven, aggressive behavior such as marking and fighting. The trapping program also will help reduce the population.

An often-cited figure puts the U.S. feral cat population at 60 million.

Often, neighbors set out food and shelter to help the cats survive. These caretakers are willing to trap and transport cats to HCMT's clinic at the Animal Rescue League in East Liberty, where they receive veterinary treatment.

Feral cats are not strays who just ran away from home. Most are bred through generations of cats living on the streets and in the wild.

"They are everywhere, you just may not see them," said Ms. Lendl-Lander, an engineering manager from Ross. "The caretakers know where they are: they're hanging out at dumpsters, behind restaurants."

The South Side trapping began late Saturday afternoon, when about three dozen volunteers, including biology students in veterinarian Becky Morrow's classes at Duquesne University, helped set out 60-plus steel humane traps.

The students' service learning project intends to track the feral cat population.

"We used mackerel [as bait] although some people use tuna. Anything that's smelly, they like," Ms. Lendl-Lander said.

Trapping a cat once isn't difficult, but many who might need future treatment, such as rabies vaccinations, are too wary to be fooled again.

In this recent operation, the cats were transported to the Animal Rescue League Sunday morning. After being administered a shot of sedative, the now-limp cats were carefully weighed and administered drops to keep unblinking eyes moist during surgery.

Then they were shaved in the appropriate areas.

By coincidence, a large portion of this weekend's patients were either black or grey, so when they entered the next stage of the process, it looked like so many dark balls of fluff stretched out in rectangular plastic bins.

Separate sterile bins lined with soft cloth were used to prevent cross-contamination; they were whisked from room to room by volunteers.

In the operating room, veterinarian Donna Hughes was quietly spaying a small female amid the bustle and chatter. Her colleague, Ms. Morrow, cheerfully demonstrated how quick and simple the neutering procedure is.

The tip of the cat's left ear is snipped for future reference, indicating it has been spayed or neutered.

Both vets, as well as Rescue League executive director Dan Rossi, "have been instrumental in letting us do our clinics," Ms. Lendl-Lander said. The HCMT (www.homelesscat.org) receives no outside financial help other than donations and fundraisers such as an event at Moondog's pub in Blawnox this Saturday.

In addition to the spay/neuter part of the weekend, the cats received rabies vaccinations, were de-flead and, if necessary, de-wormed. Clinic manager Karen Parkinson even gave one black-and-white male a rubdown with very mild soap and water because he was so filthy.

Dealing with feral cats is not limited to the South Side. Other trapping programs have targeted areas such as Hazelwood and McKeesport, and groups such as Animal Friends have held their own roundups.

After a recovery period ranging from a few hours (in the case of lactating females that must get back to their litters) to the next day, the cats are released back into the neighborhood.

"We're a very small group," Ms. Lendl-Lander said. "We run on a shoestring budget, but we do very big work."

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478.


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