"Raining cats and kittens" OR "April Meowers"

  Spring has finally arrived here in western Maine, and we rejoice at the sight of the lakes thawing, the trees budding and wildlife reemerging to give life to this year’s offspring. Amidst all this burgeoning beauty, there are some creatures struggling to survive that remain unseen and unloved. The lucky ones are spotted by caring humans who offer food and perhaps shelter, but still these shy souls are often misunderstood or ignored. I am speaking about feral felines. Domestic cats left to fend for themselves as “strays” must revert to their wild instincts to survive. If they do survive, and can reproduce, their kittens born wild will be truly feral, never having known a loving human touch.

  So, here we are, on the verge of “kitten season”, known only too well by animal shelter staff and animal control officers everywhere. Those with careers in animal welfare dread this time of year, while others may be delighted by the idea of kittens in abundance. Why is the arrival of these tiny fluffy ones a problem? A visit to any of our regional shelters will reveal the dilemma. Shelters are filled with hundreds of adult cats and friendly social kittens this time of year. Compassionate caretakers and adoption counselors hope that the sweet, senior cat that has been there for three years might be the next to go to a “forever home”. Sometimes, miracles do happen.. Often, though, the irresistible kittens are the most desirable. And still, with such preference for the youngsters, there will be more supply than there is demand .   Like our rivers and streams in spring, the shelters are overflowing during kitten season. It may seem that spaying and neutering would be standard practice for pet owners in 2014, but unfortunately not everyone makes this basic responsibility a priority. And the sad fact is that feral cats, being unsocialized, cannot bear the stress of shelter confinement, and are considered unadoptable.

  Cat Coalition of Western Maine was established last year to help those cats who fall through the cracks in the shelter system. CCOWM provides TNR service, or trap-neuter-release, for feral cats. I will not go into detail here about TNR, as previous and future articles will cover the topic. What I will emphasize here is that, in addition to spaying and neutering our pet cats, there is more we can all do to help the plight of our community’s feral cats.   And in springtime, the need is most urgent.

  If you happen to find a litter of homeless kittens and the mom is not present at the time, do not immediately remove the kittens, unless they are in imminent danger. ( Dangers would include obvious signs of illness or starvation, the presence of predators like coyotes, heavy traffic, human threats to dispose of them, exposure to heat and cold.) If the kittens appear safe and healthy, wait to see if the mom returns; she most likely left her babies unattended for a couple of hours to search for food. The kittens have the best chance of survival if they stay with the nursing mom for at least 3-6 weeks, and preferably eight weeks. The mom provides immunity in her milk and socializes them in ways that humans cannot. Once the kittens reach four weeks, mom lets them venture out to explore. At this time, the mom and babies can be humanely trapped, mom can be spayed, and the kittens can be fostered until old enough to adopt.  If the mother cat does not return or the kittens are in danger, they can be bottle fed. This requires a serious commitment and some knowledge of the process. Your local shelter can usually help the kittens in this case. To follow up, the feral mom should be trapped, neutered and returned or relocated.

  Cat Coalition of Western Maine is available seven days a week to answer any calls about feral cats in need. We work in cooperation with our local shelters to find the best solution for each individual cat.  We encourage community involvement through volunteering to trap, foster, transport, fundraise, and raise awareness. CCOWM is an all volunteer organization run on donations. In addition to monetary donations, we are always in need of dry and wet cat food, small fleece blankets, cat litter, laundry detergent and bleach. Please visit our facebook page and website to learn more about TNR or make a donation..

By Carol Reynolds.