By Jessica Lizza
Imagine for just a second that you are not alone when you walk the streets in Arizona. Sure, you see people beside you and ahead of you. There are cars whizzing by and people chatting in restaurants. Everyone looks like they are having good time, and how could they not? When the sun dips below the mountains and silhouettes the cactus in the desert landscape it’s hard to imagine Maricopa County as anything other than paradise.
However, for some creatures paradise isn’t how they would describe it. That is, if they could talk of course.
Maricopa County is a little different than most places. Rather than having four distinctive seasons, it ranges from scorching in the summer to warm in the winter. This creates a perfect breeding ground for cats as well as a hostile living environment.
Because of this, the population is not only hard to control, but fosters a terrible life on the streets for the cats that are continuing to be born without any monitoring. Those living on the street can be anywhere from a feral adult cat, innocent kittens to abandoned domesticated cats, some with no idea how to fend for themselves, said Nancy Borkowicz, founder of Four Peaks Animal Rescue.
While cats may be good for the ecosystem and keeping the rats at bay, cats with all of their reproductive parts causes a much bigger problem in comparison for the humans they coexist with.
Bad behavior such as fighting, yowling and spraying stems from the males, and according to Kelly Perry, founder of Lucky Paws Shelter, the females can have up to five litters in a year. At an average of five kittens per litter that’s 25 potential kittens in a year per un-spayed cat. Factor in the estimated 250,000 stray cats in Maricopa County, as reported by the Arizona Humane Society, and the problem seems completely out of control.
Borkowicz is doing everything she can to help the stray cat problem in her area of Scottsdale. According to her, cats are a pet that there are not enough homes for and are the “second class citizens of pets.” Perry also believes the problem is closely related to a lack of education.
She said she has heard and seen many people feed stray cats and then complain about them – rather than finding a solution. People are neither educated about spay and neuter programs nor the trap and release programs, according to Perry.
In the cat community, the epidemic of feral cats, ill-adapted domestic kitties and innocent kittens equates to a “CATastrophe.” But, this is where a program called Trap Neuter Return (TNR) comes into play. All it needs is a volunteer like Andrea Delgado of the Coronado community in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been working on controlling the cat population in her area for around eight years.
“From the time I started doing this until now I have seen the problem dissipate,” Delgado said. It’s a never-ending struggle, according to her and it’s not easy. “It’s a dirty job and a hard, physical job,” Delgado said. “The traps are not light, and I’ve had 25 pound cats.”
The issue that many of the volunteers face is a lack of cooperation from the members of the communities housing the colonies. Landlords and neighbors alike would like to have the problem simply eradicated, which is both inhumane and impossible. If there is an established colony of 12 cats in an area and a few are removed permanently, that colony will want to replenish the missing members, according to Delgado. This stimulates breeding and starts the cycle again if there happens to be an un-spayed cat in the colony.
The main issue TNR and the cat community faces is understanding from outside people and housing community members. Almost everyone in the cat community can agree that a lack of education seems to be the problem. Abandoning domesticated cats, feeding colonies without understanding the ramifications and reluctance to participate are all the fights each volunteer face every day. As a whole, they[the volunteers of TNR] want people understand that it doesn’t cost anything but a watchful eye and maybe a phone call. It could be the difference between a litter of kittens and a dwindling number in a cat colony.
Cat colonies can only be maintained if the communities they reside in make an effort to trap and neuter them. When they see a new cat in their area it has to be a conscious effort to take them in for TNR. “[Volunteers] have the gumption, they have the heart, and they have the soul because this is not for the faint of heart,” Borkowicz said.