City, animal groups look to tame feral cat problem


A potential solution to the feral cat problem is coming to Brighton Heights. At a community meeting on March 14, various animal groups outlined their plan to trap, neuter and return large numbers of feral cats.

Carol Whaley, point person of the project from Animal Friends, explained the concept of TNR. Staff and volunteers from the three shelters will trap during the evening feeding hours. Numerous cages will be placed near the colony, and food will be used as bait to lure the cats into the traps, she said. 

The cats will then be divided and taken to the three shelters overnight. The spay/neuter surgery will take place the next morning. The cats will also receive eartips and rabies shots. Eartips is a removal of the tip of the cat’s left ear. It is a visual identification of a sterilized feral cat. This ensures that the cat will not undergo another surgery if it were trapped in the future. 

Once the cats are cleared by the veterinarians, staff and volunteers return the cats back to their colonies, Ms. Whaley said. 

Animal Friends, Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League implemented the Three Rivers Feral Project to control the feral cat problem. Their TNR solution solution was implemented in Hazelwood last June. 

About 100 cats were trapped, spayed/neutered, and released, Ms. Whaley said. Hazelwood was the first target neighborhood for the project and proved to be successful, she added. Over the next month, we went back and picked up any stragglers, she said. The Brighton Heights neighborhood will be the second target for TNR. 

Kathleen Beaver, Chief Operating Officer of Animal Friends, said the feral cat population is a huge problem. “The shelters are being overrun with feral cats. They were mostly seen in the spring and summer. Now, we see them in the fall and winter too,” she said.

A feral cat is one who has reverted in some degree to a wild state. They originate from domestic cats that were lost or abandoned and learned to live outdoors. In most cases, feral cats are not completely wild because they depend on people for their food source. Feral cats cannot be socialized or adopted unless at a young age.

The TNR date is set for April 17. The surgeries will be done on April 18, and the cats will be returned that evening pending release from the veterinarians. “We will make sure the cats are awake, alert, happy, and healthy for release,” Ms. Whaley said.

Ms. Whaley explained past methods that have failed. They include ignoring the problem, feeding without spaying/neutering, relocating, and trap and kill. The trap and kill is a never-ending circle that is also costly. 

“It’s like a vacuum effect,” Ms. Whaley said. “Cats are trapped, put down, but more and more cats keep coming because it does nothing to stop reproduction,” she said.

Whaley said that TNR is the most compassionate choice and has many advantages. It cuts down on reproduction and allows the cats to live outdoors. It is an effective and humane method used for controlling the feral cat population.  TNR also eliminates bad behavior including yowling and fighting. The cats also provide rodent control.

 Another advantage is less cats flowing into shelters, which also lowers euthanasia rates, and that feral cat numbers in shelters has grown Carol Whaley said. “We see feral cats all year long. They are the biggest population in shelters and the biggest population for euthanasia,” she said.

The cats rely on caregivers to provide food, water, and shelter. Nancy Barylak is one of these special colony caregivers. She manages seven colonies from Allegheny County to Washington County. Ms. Barylak said at the peak of her colonies, there were approximately 300 cats. She said her colonies have been shrinking because of TNR. Now, her colonies average about 75 cats, she said.   

Ms. Barylak and a few other caregivers split the workload. She said she spends several hours a day taking care of the cats. She has a lot of experience and has been doing this since 1989. Ms. Barylak said her husband refers to her as “kitty meals on wheels.” She said Kentucky fried chicken is her bait of choice.   

The Three Rivers Feral Project has neighborhood TNRs scheduled through August. “We can do incredible, incredible good here,” Ms. Beaver said. “We are committed to get the problem under control for free,” she added.

           Ms. Whaley said they are targeting the spring and summer months because it is easier to trap the cats when the weather is warmer, and it is before breeding season. 

           “The first wave of the TNR is free, and we will go back within 30 days to pick up any stragglers,” Ms. Whaley said. After the 30 days, the low cost spay/neuter package will take effect. The package is $30 and includes spay/neuter surgery, rabies shot, and an eartip.

The colonies will be located with the assistance from the caregivers. A census was taken at the meeting that included the caregiver’s contact information and an address or location of the colonies. 

At the upcoming meeting, the caregivers’ responsibilities leading to the trapping will be explained, Ms. Whaley said.

Cleda Klingensmith, of the Animal Rescue League, said the meeting at Brighton Heights was unusual for a typical neighborhood meeting. “These people were organized and are actively being caregivers,” she said.

A second meeting to discuss the target TNR activities will be held on April 4th from 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Woods Run Branch of the Carnegie Library.     

The City is also working on the problem, and Councilwoman Darlene Harris is working on a program to tackle the issue as well.

Harris said she has been receiving complaints about feral cats since she has been in office. “It is an ongoing problem,” she said. “They took away Act 47 from the city for feral cats,” she added. Act 47 allowed Pittsburgh to declare financial distress and receive state aid in exchange for state oversight over the city budget.

She said there are colonies all over the area. One neighborhood has 6 cats, another neighborhood has 10 cats, and on and on, she said. “It’s not just the north side, it’s all over the city,” she said. 

Councilwoman Harris said she is working on legislation to have Animal Control called Animal Care and Control. “It’s not about killing the animals. It’s about having responsible pet owners and helping those that don’t understand,” she said. 

Councilwoman Harris said that Animal Control is doing a lot with the cats besides spay/neuter surgery. “There is a whole list of what they are doing,” she said.   

Councilwoman Harris said she is working on a pilot program of her own. “I’m funding it from my office to take care of the problem,” she said. 

Councilwoman Harris said she is moving animal control into public safety and is sharing concerns of this problem. She said she is putting money in a budget for a feral cat program. Spay/neuter programs are needed to help the city. It is costing the city $200 for animal control to pick up an animal and take it to a shelter. A mother cat and four kittens would cost the city $1,000, she added. 

“I’m looking for a program that will work for the city and educate the public,” Councilwoman Harris said. “I’m looking into something that works. I care about the animals. It would be nice to work with everyone and find solutions,” she said.

 “It is a problem in our area and is a safety concern for people and animals, Councilwoman Harris said. “I want to make Pittsburgh not only a better place for people, but better for animals too,” she said. 

Councilwoman Harris said she is looking for a program and whoever wants to be on board can, and those that don’t won’t. “Sooner or later, we will have a nice plan. I believe no kill is the way to go,” she said.

Councilwoman Harris said she is talking with representatives of no kill shelters and working with veterinarians and university personnel. “It is a large project, but the city can do it. The Mayor started working with me on this,” she said. 

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Councilwoman Harris said. “I’d like to start and get a program together and move in that direction,” she said. Councilwoman Harris said it takes time to put together, to do research, to look into shelters, to find out what works and what doesn’t. 

“I hope all animal groups get on board but some seem to go their own way. The more the merrier for animal groups that want to work together in the city,” she said. Councilwoman Harris said she would like to ask townships and others to come aboard. “My goal is to have all of Allegheny County involved,” Councilwoman Harris said. “There are success stories on what we are doing,” she said.

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