During Feral Cat Awareness Week, homeowners are being asked to contact their local animal charity, which spays cats when there are one or two feral cats in their garden, rather than waiting until the numbers increase.
Unlike dogs, female cats stay in heat until they conceive, and it’s estimated that a single, un-spayed female can be responsible for a family of 20,000 cats within seven years.
“Prevention is so much better than cure,” says Maggie Dwyer from Kilbrittain in West Cork, who is part of the team behind Cork’s Community Cats Network.
She gives the example of one farmer who received a male and female cat from a neighbour two years ago to help keep rodents under control, but when the cats network went to the farm, they found 54 cats, 36 of them adults.
“He thought he had three white cats, but he had 17 and he was in shock,” said Ms Dwyer.
Since Apr 2012, the network have trapped, neutered and returned over 1,000 cats and are now neutering around 100 cats a month.
“People feed a wild cat because it’s human nature, but they’re stunned when in a few weeks there’s five or six kittens. Kittens are cute and lovely but they will become cats,” she said.
When people phone a cat charity, they’re usually distressed by an explosion of cats in their garden, but most people are happy to have one cat or two and are open to paying for the neutering, she said.
Wild cats, who don’t approach humans, may be excellent for pest control, but with three litters between April and October, animal welfare is also a serious problem, and the final litter and mothers are often weak and sickly.
“It’s very upsetting for people when they find kittens and cats dying in their garden or on the farm,” said Ms Dwyer, adding that as autumn approaches they will be called to cats “in a diabolical state where they can only be euthanised, so prevention is the answer”.
She said restaurants and farms use neutered, feral cats to control vermin, and as working animals, the cost of neutering is tax-deductible.
She said Cork’s Community Cats Network is working with a network of extremely supportive vets, many of whom attended a conference with British vets to show how kittens can be neutered much sooner than Irish vets traditionally do at six or eight months.
“We have six vets neutering at eight weeks and we’ve had absolutely no casualties, because we look after the care after the operation when kittens need to be kept warm.”