Not enough room to swing a cat in Orlando

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Downtown Orlando is well known for its constant chaos in terms of traffic and pedestrians, but what many do not know is the greatest overcrowding problem does not rest with man or even man’s best friend, but feral cats.

The term “feral cat” refers to a specific type of cat that has had no human interaction or socialization and, therefore, tends to stay away. According to Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, it is estimated that there are 87,000 community cats in Orange County. These community cats consist of strays, ferals and abandoned cats.

To address the rising issue, Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, an organization that focuses on the welfare and wellbeing of dogs and cats in Orange, Seminole and Osceola Counties, and other local organizations and the community are working toward a solution using the TNR method.

Dempsey is only one of the 87,000 community cats that call Orange County their home. Dempsey was brought in off the streets to Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, an organization that focuses on the welfare and wellbeing of dogs and cats in Orange, Seminole and Osceola Counties, where she was spayed and is now waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Annabelle Sikes)

According to Susan Muncy, clinic director at SNiP-it, TNR, also known as trap-neuter-return, is the most effective and humane method for controlling the community cat population.

“Once a colony of cats has been safely sterilized, the cats will not allow outside cats into the colonies, and they will not be able to reproduce, creating a smaller and healthier colony,” Muncy said.

Other organizations like Orange County Animal Services, Spay and Neuter Nation, SNiP-it, Spay and Save and Care Feline TNR also provide support, low-cost and sometimes-free services for feral-cat spaying and neutering.

Jenna Romanach, a TNR volunteer in the Central Florida area, said that one unspayed cat can have one to two litters with four to six kittens annually. These kittens can start reproducing as early as four months of age. In seven years, that one cat and her offspring can produce over 350,000 kittens.

“This is a big problem not just for Central Florida but for all states that don’t experience hard winters that reduce the breeding time or ‘kitten season,’” Romanach said.

In addition to spay and neuter services, there are free classes on how to humanely trap, transport and, once altered, release ferals back into the community. There are also free or low-cost traps for loan through county grants and TNR groups so people don’t have to buy and store their own.

“All cats are humanely trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped, the universal symbol of a sterilized and vaccinated cat, and returned to the exact location where they were trapped,” said Cathy Houde, an outreach manager at Pet Alliance. “The cats stay overnight and are returned the following morning to their outdoor locations.”

Amanda Ortiz, a community volunteer for TNR in Kissimmee, said that since moving to the area in 2017, she has fixed over 170 cats. Of the cats, 131 were in a one-mile radius of her home.

“As soon as I moved into my house over by Medieval Times, I started to both see and hear the cats,” Ortiz said. “They were everywhere.”

Ortiz said that she decided to count the cats and to keep track of them on a spreadsheet by physical traits. In the woods across the street alone, Ortiz found 13 cats. This is when she knew that she had to make a change.

Ortiz did extensive research and contacted local animal services who told her about the multiple TNR programs in the area. Animal services helped Ortiz to learn how to set a trap and gave her tips on smelly baits, like sardines and tuna, and ideal trapping locations in shaded, quiet areas.

After obtaining the traps, Ortiz placed them around her house. By the end of six months, she trapped and fixed about 30 cats. Ortiz said that the TNR method reaps a multitude of benefits for cats and the community.

“Once fixed, the cats tend to stop traveling, which prevents territorial fights,” Ortiz said. “By preventing the cats from mating, they stop getting diseases and become healthier. The best thing we can do is fix them and return them to their outside homes, which creates a happy medium for both the cats and the community.”

Ortiz said that once the cats are returned, it is important to set up local feeding stations for the cat colonies so that they hunt less and stay in their zones. Ortiz said that although she does her best to keep up with the local feral-cat population, and only has 10 to go, that it would be beneficial to have more people in the community to help her out.

“If people as a community would help each other understand the happy medium of getting the feral cats fixed, it would be so beneficial for all parties involved,” Ortiz said. “A lot of feral cats can’t be adopted, so let’s help them live out happily without overpopulation.”

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