Cats in My Yard: Tackling feral cats one block at a time

Cats in My Yard: Tackling feral cats one block at a time
A local group made a huge impact on the feral cats in their community by taking care of the cats in their yard.

If you see a stray dog in your neighborhood, what do you do? If you’re like most people you try to corral the dog or call animal control or neighbors to see if you can get help. When it’s a stray cat in the yard, most people do little…they may assume the cat is an indoor/outdoor cat or just not care to get involved. Before you know it, that cat could become a couple of cats, then a dozen cats and the next thing you know, there are 153 cats wandering around on your block.

153 cats…I must be exaggerating right?

No. That isn’t a number pulled out of the air just for the heck of it. After coming out as a crazy cat lady last week on my blog, I encouraged the cat community to reach out and tell their stories. One of the emails came from Vanessa Smetkowski – the human behind the Cats in My Yard Blog – which does a great job of showing how TNR works on her one city block of Chicago.

On one city block, a group of neighbors made a huge difference in the feral cat population in their yard.

Graphic provided by Cats in My Yard blog.

That 153 number is Smetkowski's. It reflects the number of cats she and her neighbors have Trapped-Neutered-Returned (TNRed) in her one city block. The more encouraging numbers are 70 and 55. In seven years, they’ve trapped 153, but the number is now down to 70 as strays and kittens have moved to adoption, transferred to shelters and reproduction has been shutdown. Some cats have also died or disappeared. The 70 cats translates to a 55 percent reduction in the number of cats.

55 percent.

Why does this matter?

The other reason why the number 70 is an important number is because that is the estimated number of cats nationally that are euthanized in open access shelters. That means 7 in 10 cats that go in do not come out alive. Communities that have dropped that number significantly (even reaching zero euthansia for space) have looked at the whole cat population including feral cat management. Fewer cats in means fewer cats up for euthanasia.

Managed colony caretakers care for the cats in their community, often providing shelter.

Managed colony caretakers care for the cats in their community, often providing shelter.

In these areas, feral cats have become parts of TNR programs that live in managed colonies outdoors. They are sterilized, vaccinated and returned to their neighborhood where volunteers (managed colony caretakers) feed them and keep an eye on them. Strays and social kittens move to adoption and animal control has fewer cats coming in.

In Chicago, many adoptable cats - the strays and kittens that come in through TNR - end up in places like Tree House Humane Society, Chicago Cat Rescue and with other smaller groups or independent adopters. These are cats that are never funneled through Chicago Animal Care and Control.

There are still too many strays and owner give ups…but it’s a start.

One city block

Back to Cats in my Yard…this particular block is bordered by four busy Chicago streets. So, most cats that end up on the block stay there. Smetkowski first started to TNR in 2003 to take care of the cats in her own yard. In 2007, Cook County passed its Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance and Smetkowski was on board officially.

Graphic courtesy of Cats in My Yard.

Graphic courtesy of Cats in My Yard.

That next year she canvassed her own neighborhood and found a total of 18 other sites where cats were being fed (another site was found later). She’s worked with her neighbors since then to trap, rehome, and do what they need to do to make a difference in their one block. That difference means a 55 percent drop in cats in their yard – 14 colonies saw a decrease in cats…some to zero. She has not only been keeping copious notes as to how their work as effected their block, Smetkowski uses the Cats in My Yard blog to chronicle their experiences. (See graphic at the bottom of post).

So, as cat lovers as we look at ways to save more cat’s lives, one way is to not ignore the cats in your yard. There are a lot of non-profits in Chicago that are working in various communities to help people get to the resources and take care of the cats in their neighborhood one colony at a time.

Where to start

Tree House Humane Society spearheads a lot of the efforts in Chicago with over 300 managed colonies around the city. They host workshops twice a month to fill people in on how TNR works and how to run successful colonies. Their next workshop is at their Buckown Branch at 1629 North Ashland tomorrow from 6:30 to 8:30 (third Wednesday of each month). They also have a workshop the first Thursday of the month at The Anti-Cruelty Society at 169 West Grand from 6 to 7:30. More details are here. Tree House, The Anti-Cruelty Society, and PAWS Chicago all offer low cost spay/neuter services as well.

Photo courtesy Cats in My Yard Blog.

Photo courtesy Cats in My Yard Blog.

Some of the Chicago-area organizations that work on TNR include Tree House, Hyde Park Cats, Feral Feline Project (Wheeling), Spay and Stay (Lake County), Triple R Pets (South/Southwest suburbs), CatVando (suburban Cook) and Feral Fixers (Lombard area). If you have a group, feel free to post your link in the comments below.

If you look at the big picture, the numbers are often overwhelming. But, if you just look at the cat or cats in your yard, your ability to help becomes a lot more manageable. In most cases, the number is far fewer than the 153 found on this one city block chronicled by Cats in my Yard.

Cats in my Yard

Are you a crazy cat lady or do you have stories to share about cat rescue efforts in your community? Drop by a line at kathypetexam@gmail.com and find me at on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

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Filed under: Pets

Tags: cats, Feral Cats, TNR, Trap Neuter Return

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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