Updated November 29, 2020
After my cranky rant in the recent blog Feeding Stray Cats here is the uplifting and inspirational story of a local college being a genuine role model in the care of their stray cats.
Kathleen Lumley College is a North Adelaide institution but despite its size and prime location, it is easily overlooked. It provides accommodation to postgraduate students at the University of Adelaide for up to 81 students in self-contained rooms within beautifully landscaped grounds.
Several years ago, an arborist employed to prune a tree brought down more than he bargained for. In cutting off a branch he found a tiny kitten had been hiding there. Further investigations found that there were two more kittens and a mother cat. While the remaining kittens could be easily caught, the mother was far too wary and she eventually disappeared. The kittens were cared for by staff members and good homes were found for them.
It was assumed that the mother had come to a bad end until the next year when she reappeared, this time with five kittens. The picture above shows them on the roof near their nest. Efforts were made to catch the kittens; four were caught easily and finally the last kitten was also brought inside. However, the mother was not at all willing to approach humans, and could not be captured.
A request was put to the governing council of the college for funds to catch and desex the mother. Without doing this, she would continue to live rough and produce multiple litters of kittens. This would not only be a problem for the college, but would be a welfare issue for the large numbers of stray cats who would be produced and spread into the surrounding streets.
The request was agreed and so a possum trap was hired, and set up containing a food lure. After some considerable time and persistence, the mother was caught and taken to be desexed. Afterwards she was kept inside and rapidly grew accustomed to human contact.
Meanwhile, the kittens were also being kept inside and were growing fast. Two of the kittens were found good homes, and the remaining three were also taken to the vet to be vaccinated and microchipped. These three kittens were later desexed, with all the costs being covered with the enlightened support of the college’s board.
Today, approximately four years later, four happy, healthy cats roam the grounds of Kathleen Lumley College. Despite advice from rescue charities that the mother would always be wild, she is as friendly and sociable as any pet cat. They receive regular vet checkups and being desexed, do not contribute to cat overpopulation. Moreover, their presence at the college acts to occupy the territory which would otherwise be vacant and colonised by new stray cats. Today there is no cat problem, just four cats perfectly at ease in their environment and a source of amusement to the students.
This is a small-scale example of a process known as Trap-Neuter-Return, which is very popular in the US but not widely done here in Australia. As long as the cats will be monitored afterwards it is an excellent alternative to wholesale trapping of strays and taking them to shelters, where many will be euthanased. Removing cats from the territory only creates a ‘vacuum effect’ which opens up free habitat for surrounding strays or survivors to recolonise. For more reading, visit https://www.alleycat.org/trap-neuter-return
We know of at least one other individual who has done a similar thing with the strays living in his yard. He already has cats who live inside, and knew if he were to take these strays to a shelter they would not learn to be friendly enough quickly enough to find homes. We are deeply in admiration of groups and individuals such as these who have chosen to invest their time and money in preventing needless death and suffering. And in being brave enough to do it in a way that is both positive and poorly understood.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!