PHOTO: Signs were placed throughout a Franklin trailer park to help let residents know feral and other stray cats were being captured, treated and returned by the Williamson County Animal Center. Door hangers and social media were also used to alert residents. //Photos by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
A light rain was falling as Samantha Anderson steered the Williamson County Animal Center’s cargo van into a Franklin trailer park, where she was arriving a couple of hours after a group of volunteers had gotten to work before dawn trapping cats.
Scores of cats — most of them feral, living off their instinct to hunt as well as the kindness of some of the residents who feed them.
“There are probably close to 100 in this one section of the trailer park, between the cats and the kittens that are here,” Anderson, coordinator of the Animal Center’s newly formed Community Cat program, said as she parked the van and commenced to loading the small cages holding the cats. “We caught 20 kittens last week.”
The over-population of felines in this particular trailer park is just a sampling of what’s being found in the nooks and crannies throughout Franklin and beyond. The cats form colonies that continue to expand due to the fact most of them are not neutered, and that’s where Anderson and the Community Cat program play such an integral role in trying to maintain the population. Staff and volunteers will go to where there’s an abundance of strays — both feral, or wild, and domesticated — and humanely trap them.
Trap-neuter-return is best option
“There are several areas in downtown Franklin or Franklin proper that do have these colonies behind apartments, restaurants, near public housing,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to humanely trap them and get them fixed. We want to stabilize a colony, going one by one, and making sure that we trap all of the unaltered cats in that colony and releasing them back out.
“In all the research that’s been done, that’s the most efficient way to do it, is to go colony to colony and get that whole population fixed so we don’t have to worry about newcomers coming in and having to go back and trap again and again.”
The process is known as TNR (trap-neuter-return). A previous method was to euthanize the cats that were trapped and taken back to the shelter, but that approach was eventually found to be counterintuitive. If a male cat was to be permanently removed from a colony, it would simply be replaced by another male and reproduction would stay on course.
“TNR improves the lives of cats, and reduces shelter admissions, disease and unwanted cats,” Anderson said. “But in order to be effective, it must be a community-wide effort that extends beyond our staff. Citizens are encouraged to report community cats and participate in the TNR process.
“The reason we wanted to start implementing [the TNR program] is because in the past six years our intake of cats has gone up more and more,” Anderson added.
Indeed, the numbers are staggering. Stray cat intake at the shelter has risen 95% over the last five years, and in 2018 reached 1,150. Just recently, intake jumped from 133 cats and kittens in April to 334 in May.
Back at the trailer park, a resident drove by where Anderson and a couple of volunteers were loading the van to point out an area in the neighborhood where several strays had been spotted. Neighbors get plenty of notice that cat trapping will be taking place — signs are posted in the area, door hangers are placed at each trailer and social media is used to get the word out — and most do their part in helping with the process.
“There are some people that obviously love the cats,” Anderson said. “They feed them every day, and they want them returned. And then there are some people who don’t understand why we’re bringing them back. They ask why we can’t just take them out of the neighborhood and put them somewhere else.
“We could catch and relocate, but if there’s over a 100 cats, that’s a lot of cats to try and find a new place for them. Plus, if they’ve lived in a place their entire life, they’re likely going to try to come back if we relocate them. Cats can travel up to 20 miles. Returning them is what’s best for them, as long as they’re healthy.”
Some cats are like wildlife
Why has there been such an increase in stray cats being reported or taken to the Animal Center? Anderson said it’s likely due to the massive growth in Williamson County and accompanying development. Feral cats are basically wildlife.
“With all the construction and new houses being built, it’s the same as when wildlife gets displaced,” Anderson explained. “The cats that have been living [in the wild] get displaced also, so I think people are now seeing them come into their yards looking for food, hanging out a lot more. We think the community cats have always been there and are just more present now.”
Cooperation and input from the public are critical to keeping community cats in control, according to Debbie Sims, public information coordinator for the Animal Center. If you see something, say something.
“[Feral cats] are hidden, they live under things and in various places, in the woods, for instance,” Sims said. “They’re kind of co-dependent, on wildlife, trash and people. A lot of people don’t want them to suffer so they feed them, and stray cats are probably some of the best-fed cats in the county right now. But if you’ve taken the step to care of the cat [by feeding it], then let’s take it in another way by stopping it from reproducing.”