It's hard to see the problem with one feral cat in your backyard, admits Diane Sharpless, the co-founder of Cat's Peek Rescue, a volunteer organization working to reduce the number of feral cats in our area.
"People will see a cat in their yard, and they want to feed it. They have trouble understanding that these are wild animals," she said. Feeding a feral cat seems like an innocent thing to do, especially if there's only one cat or kitten in your yard.
Then the problems begin. When there's food readily available, more feral cats will begin to gather in the area. The cats quickly begin reproducing, which leads to even more feral cats in our region.
"They congregate in the person's yard, and because they're not spayed or neutered they will start to reproduce," she said. "It's leading to a big overpopulation in our area."
One primary goal of Cat's Peek is to Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) as many feral cats as possible in our area, reducing the local cat population by preventing new litters of kittens. Cat's Peek also takes in abandoned and feral kittens and places them for adoption.
Taking these cats and kitten to a shelter is not an option, because area shelters are already overcrowded, she added. Feral cats that are not properly socialized and rehabilitated are very difficult to adopt.
"If you take a feral cat to a no-kill shelter, it's going to spend its entire life in a cage," said Sharpless. She encouraged area residents who know of feral cats or kittens to contact Cat's Peek at (570) 778-6886. Adult cats will by spayed or neutered before being released where they were found.
People tend to think of cats as domestic house pets, but this is because most inside cats have been spayed or neutered. Unaltered cats can develop bad habits, said Sharpless, including fighting and marking their territory. Unaltered cats can begin reproducing before they are a year old.
"Once you start feeding that cat, it is your responsibility," she said. "If you don't spay or neuter that cat, you're just contributing to the problem."
Financial assistance is available for those who want to spay and neuter feral cats. Cat's Peek is also applying for grant money to expand their TRN program to area farm and barn cats.
Sharpless used the organization's TNR program in Coaldale as an example of the problem our area faces. While Cat's Peek has been actively trapping and neutering cats in Coaldale for two years, residents are still reporting new litters of kittens each mating season. The effort to control our region's feral cat population is never-ending, and depends largely on the knowledge and cooperation of area residents.
"If you currently have pets or outdoor cats, get them spayed or neutered. If you need financial help, contact us," she said.
For more information on Cat's Peek Rescue, visit www.catspeekrescue.org.