Kitten season is well underway, but the Humane Society of Central Texas’ cat room has not yet experienced its usual seasonal cat boom.
The shelter now houses about 10 cats, including some kittens. Executive Director Don Bland discussed the unusually low number during an Animal Welfare Board meeting Wednesday.
“We’ve been in the 20s and 30s total for animals,” Bland said. “We’ve just not seen the numbers come in. We’ve had some litters, but it’s nothing like what we’ve seen.”
“Kitten season” refers to the stretch between spring and early fall when shelters are often stretched thin by the high number of kittens coming in. Bland said he does not know for sure, but the change could be a result of the city’s trap, neuter and release program in which feral cats are returned to where they were found after receiving a rabies vaccination and the procedure to limit the growth of their population.
“Our community has been TNR-ing cats for a long time,” Bland said. “I don’t know if it’s finally paying off, but we’re not having the kitten season that other cities are having.”
The Community Cat Action Team of Greater Waco, a local program that works closely with the Animal Birth Control Clinic, provides traps and other resources to help with trap, neuter and release efforts. In 2013, the city changed an ordinance mandating that all pets be neutered and chipped, allowing Community Cats to continue its trap, neuter and release program without requiring them to microchip each feral cat.
“They’d been TNR-ing many, many years before that,” Bland said.
At any given time, the shelter has about 250 animals in foster care, living temporarily with volunteer caregivers. In previous years, it was common for the shelter to have just as many animals in its direct care during this time of year, Bland said.
City Animal Services Administrator Danielle Tate said in the past, the shelter could house as many as 100 kittens at a time during spring and summer. The shelter also receives animals from surrounding cities.
“So far, it’s all kind of down,” Tate said.
Tate said she thinks the drop might be a result of changing attitudes and the information available to people. Organizations including the Animal Birth Control Clinic and Community Cats stress the importance of spaying and neutering, and help spread information about how to properly handle strays.
She said people sometimes “rescue” stray newborn kittens that appear abandoned, which require bottle feeding and constant care that makes them time and resource sink for foster homes. In other cases, people might not know the proper age to bring a stray in to be fixed.
“If they’re not crying, then the mama has been there,” Tate said. “If the kittens are hidden and they’re quiet, they are fine. Don’t mess with them.”
Strays that are suitable for adoption and animals surrendered by owners go to the adoption floor once they are fixed.
Kelly Simon, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said research shows trap, neuter and release programs can work but often do not.
“It’s worth noting that it can happen, but it’s very important to look at the conditions in which they were effective,” Simon said.
A population of feral cats in an “island situation,” contained and isolated, could be controlled once between 70 and 90 percent of the group has been trapped and neutered, she said.
“That has not proven to be practical for most cities,” Simon said. “In those cases, you can get TNR to work. Unfortunately, those parameters are impractical for most communities.”
A high feral cat population can also wreak ecological havoc as they hunt. In some cases, the problem has led to the extinction of entire bird species, she said.
“It depends on the habitat, the species and how prevalent they are in the first place, but absolutely that can happen,” Simon said.