On a frosty February morning in Chattanooga a dozen cats tumble out of their heated condos and stretch lazily as only a cat can. They begin milling, rubbing and occasionally swatting at each other in sleepy anticipation of breakfast. Momentarily their breakfast arrives; a buffet of wet food in multiple flavors and textures, a few very large bowls of dry food and a large bowl of fresh water. The cats pounce on breakfast; no one is shy as they line up whisker to whisker, shoulder to shoulder and dig in. They know that this scene won’t be repeated … until dinnertime a full 12 hours away.
This scene sounds not unlike the morning routine of many pet cats. But these cats are not pets, they are not owned and they don’t live indoors. They’re considered “feral” cats, thousands of whom live here in Chattanooga. Most of Chattanooga’s feral cat population lives much harder lives than the cats in this lucky colony.The colony’s caretakers provide food, water and shelter. So these cats don’t need to scrounge for food in dumpsters and they don’t struggle to find shelter from the elements.
The first cat arrived 4 years ago, very pregnant. She delivered 4 kittens, only one of whom survived. That surviving kitten is now the colony’s alpha male and the father of many of the other colony members. The colony grew over the years and now numbers about 13 with a few additional, irregular members.Much like a pride of lions, the members of this colony are social and spend a good deal of time together.
The caretakers enjoy the cats and take great pleasure providing for them and watching their activities and interactions. But they realized that the colony would continue to grow to unmanageable numbers if they did not take action. If the group continued to grow at the same rate they would number more than 150 in another 4 years.
With volunteer help the caretakers arranged a series of TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) outings. At each of these the cats were caught in humane traps at their normal feeding site and taken to Wally’s Friends Spay Neuter Clinic for spay/neuter surgery and rabies vaccinations.The tips of the cats left ears were clipped while they are under anesthesia. This identifies them as cats that have been spayed or neutered. After their surgeries, the cats were kept warm and indoors for 2 days before they were returned to their outdoor home.
The TNR effort is ongoing. 9 cats have been trapped, altered and returned home. Trapping of the remaining 4 regular colony members is scheduled for next week.The surgeries and vaccinations were 20% funded by the colony caretakers and 80% by donations from clients of The Cat Clinic of Chattanooga.
The cats in this colony will continue to enjoy their good life, without the reproductive drives that lead to fights, noise and drain of their physical resources.The colony will stop growing and the cats, caretakers and community will continue to live in harmony.