In the summer of 2007 a family living at the corner of Covington and Oakwood moved. They had been “collecting” cats for years, apparently without having any spayed or neutered, and the resulting cat colony numbered in the 20s. Whether they took any with them when they left is unknown, but most of them remained in the vicinity of the house where they had been fed.
To several of us who had been noticing the kittens, this looked like a catastrophe (pardon the pun) in progress. With 20-odd intact feral cats in the same area, even more kittens would be inevitable. (As it turned out, most of these cats had been birthed by one female, black with some white markings.) A group of us met and formed a neighborhood organization – The Walnut Creek Cat Coalition – with the immediate goal of making all these cats and kittens “street legal”, which meant getting them spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies, then returning them to their colony and providing food and water.
This procedure, called “Trap/Neuter/Return/Maintain”, was – and is – a movement that was growing in the U. S. and other countries. The concept is that such colonies typically self-limit, as the members tend to keep new cats from joining, though this is not highly dependable. Thus, when all members are sterilized the size of a colony would tend to stabilize, and then decrease from members roaming, disease and predation (by dogs and coyotes in this area, for example). The “maintain” part of the name means to provide food for the colony, and we set up a “feeding station” for our initial colony right at the start. In fact a colony must be on a feeding schedule to assure identification and TNR of all members.
Since they were essentially ferals – no one could touch them – getting them fixed would require trapping them and taking them to a veterinary operation which would handle such cats. The city had a voucher program that would pay for this process at clinics willing to handle feral cats, and so had a list of willing vets in town. The vouchers were hard to get because the number was small relative to the need: There were a small but growing number of trappers in town doing this work and mostly financing it however they could raise the money, mostly paying for the procedures themselves. We decided to finance “processing” most or all of this colony ourselves, and Balcones Animal Hospital agreed to do it at the same price they did for the city. We bought traps and began the program, using a city voucher when we could get one and occasionally soliciting for funds from neighbors.
Shortly after we started, we decided to ask the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association if it would be willing to match our donated funds up to $500 so we could assure all the cats got treated, and WCNA agreed to do this, on the concept that it was performing a service for the neighborhood; i.e., preventing many more feral kittens from being produced. By the time the match was reached most of the cats in the colony had been treated and the city had changed their program.
Meanwhile the project was accepted for sponsorship by WCNA; i.e., anyone wishing to donate to WCCC can do so through the same process as paying dues or donating to any WCNA project, by designating so on the payment “coupon” from the newsletter or by choosing the category (sorry) when using PayPal.
With regard to the City feral cat operation (now called the “Community Cat” program), using a grant from PetSmart a program was established which allowed trappers to take ferals to the Austin Humane Society (on 183/Research just west of IH35) on “clinic days”, where a surgery staff would spay or neuter each cat/kitten, give rabies vaccinations and apply flea medication at no cost to the trapper. A cat could be picked up late that afternoon after sufficient recovery from anesthesia and taken to an appropriate recovery place or released back to the spot where it was trapped. The program assumes that a cat will be fed as long as it remains near where it was trapped.
WCCC started using this program the instant it started, and within about three years all the colonies that we knew about in the neighborhood had passed through it. Occasionally, individual or small numbers of cats still are put through the program, which has now been expanded to take any “un-homed” cat (i.e., they no longer have to be ferals). You can take a cat in yourself through the AHS program: https://austinhumanesociety.org/programs/community-cat-program/
In WCCC’s second year we worked a colony with two mamas and about 10 kittens. At the time we had use of a neighborhood house that was not occupied, and we decided to keep a couple of older cats who had injuries there, and also the passle of kittens in order to get them adopted (taking them to the city “pound” at the time was usually a death sentence).
More special needs cats and kittens followed, many adopted but many not, mostly because they were too old when trapped to socialize sufficiently with the volunteer effort we had. We still have many of these cats today, though we have lost many to fatal disease, mostly cancer. They’re all older cats now (13 – 15 years old) and will be with us until the end. We stopped taking any more in when we had to worry about any outliving us, the volunteers.
We still TNR neighborhood cats, which is free when certified trappers do it, but we’re down to two trappers with very limited availability. If you would like to become a trapper with us or just learn how to trap, contact Pat Pitt (512-837-6620), email@example.com . We have the trapping equipment and experience. We’ve TNR’ed at least 150 cats from this neighborhood and even more than this in other neighborhoods where we’ve helped AHS trappers.