It’s easy to notice a cat that walks up, purring a sweet hello, but most of Birmingham’s feline residents live in the shadows away from human eyes. These furry quadrupeds have made their own little niche in the Birmingham community, and most people probably don’t even realize where their populations exist.
While these cats may look like typical housecats, they’re feral. And although activists say that feral cats can be domesticated, the main issues within these populations is growth as feral cats often go un- neutered or spayed, potentially reaching unmanageable numbers.
Luckily, these stray cats have friends in high places working to help them out. One such friend is Maggie Ashley, the founder of Purrfect Love Cat Rescue. Ashley started the Purrfect Love Cat Rescue this past summer but her career in helping cats has lasted for about five years.
Recalling her first experience with a stray cat, Ashley remembers, “I was going into Costa’s in Hoover, and I saw a little cat hanging around the dumpster. I went and asked the manager about it, and she told me that they [the cats] were everywhere.” Deciding to take on the responsibility of helping those stray cats, Ashley has ever since been attempting to help feral cats everywhere. “I’ve always loved cats,” Ashley continues, “so helping them just feels right.”
Ashley has successfully helped a number of cat colonies get under control with the TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) movement, the basic premise of which is to trap feral cats who are not fixed, take them in to get neutered by a veterinarian, and then release them back into the wild. The TNR program helps control the population of stray cats tremendously but has its drawbacks. “The TNR initiative is unfortunately very time-consuming and gets very expensive. There are several clinics that will help with TNR discounts, but they can only do so much,” Ashley explains.
Another advocate for the stray population is Dr. Linda Henkell, a veterinarian at Cat Haven Veterinary Clinic downtown. Henkell has been with Cat Haven for the past five years but has been a veterinarian since 1991. Cat Haven’s ultimate goal is to help stray cats find their forever home, but they also play a big role in the feral cat community.
“We encourage people to bring in feral cats, if they can, to be neutered and then released,” Henkell says. “And if we can find them a home in the process, then that is a bonus.”
According to Henkell, the stray cat population in Birmingham has reached close to an immeasurable size. Both Ashley and Henkell believe the key to controlling the spread of these colonies is to always spay and neuter pets. “The general statistic is that two fertile cats over the course of five years can result in 20,000 cats,” Henkell says.
There is also the epidemic of “flighty ownership” where sometimes people adopt a cat without thinking about the huge commitment cat ownership requires and then dump the cat when they realize they can’t pull through with that commitment. “Taking on a pet is a huge responsibility,” says Ashley. “When you have children, you have to do certain things to protect your children and keep them healthy. The same goes for your pets. Whether it’s your house pets or stray animals, you have to take control if you want to help them.”
Ashley believes it would be helpful if a law was passed to help the situation: “I personally believe that it should be a law to spay and neuter your pets unless you have a special breeding license. It would cause the population to lower per year extensively.”
Purrfect Love Cat Rescue and Cat Haven are just two of the many places around Birmingham that are working to help control the multiplying cat colonies. But both places are always looking for more help. “Since trapping cats takes so much time, it would be so helpful if we had more people willing to contribute their time to help out,” Ashley says.
Henckell and Ashley have these two quick guidelines for those who are going to help TNR cats: First, always be careful when approaching a feral cat. Second, if the top of the cat’s left ear is notched off, that means a doctor has already fixed the cat and has been released back into the wild.
Advocates also suggest not taking feral cats to shelters or pounds, because the chances of adoption are much lower for feral cats, and shelters can easily become too overcrowded, leading to more cats being euthanized. According to the ASPCA, the statistics about cats entering shelters are as follows: 37 percent are adopted, 41 percent are euthanized, and less than 5 percent of cats who entered the shelter as strays are returned to their owners.
Since the safety of the cats is a priority, local veterinarians and rescue societies are not keen on publishing the whereabouts of local cat colonies. “It makes me sad to say that some people aren’t interested in helping the cats but more so in disrupting their environment or possibly hurting them,” Ashley admits. “That’s why we’re very careful about who we give certain information to.”
Purrfect Love has teamed up with Pet Supermarket in Vestavia, which accepts donated cat food, and petfinder.com to help find stray cats their forever homes. For more information, contact Purrfect Love Cat Rescue at (205) 283-4298 and ask for Maggie Ashley. The MommaKat Rescue has adoption days at PetCo on Highway 280 every Sunday and teaches how to trap cats for TNR, and may be reached at (205) 821-5401.