Port Huron has a stray cat problem. Resident Alecia Moore said she first noticed it after she and her husband bought a house on the city’s north side in August 2020.
She talked to neighbors about it, touching base with them this past summer as she began researching solutions.
“I’m a huge animal lover, and so when a member of my family was like, ‘Oh, there’s a bunch of kittens outside,’ I went out and I sat with them on the sidewalk and was playing with them,” Moore said in an interview Wednesday. “After that, I was like, OK, there’s a bunch of kittens. That means they’ll be able to start having babies in a few months, and that’s not good.”
Stray and feral cats seem to be increasingly roaming neighborhoods, according to Moore, other volunteers, and leaders with area shelters and animal organizations.
Already an issue in some residential areas before the COVID-19 pandemic, they said the unchecked population was only exacerbated by a temporary shutdown of vital programs to spay or neuter strays, as well as residents who abandoned their cats and litters of offspring.
“That put everybody out,” Melissa Miller, director for St. Clair County Animal Control, said of the pandemic’s impact. “I mean, anybody with a pet knows that just simply getting a regular physical right now and your yearly shots, they’re booking out like two to three months. So, it puts a lot of veterinarians kind of behind and a lot of pressure on.
“Along with that, our normal community programming had to stop for a period of time. You wouldn’t necessarily think of four to six months as a huge amount of time, but in that period, a cat can have two litters of kittens.”
To combat her neighborhood’s cat issue, Moore said she took TNR training — referring to trap, neuter and release programs, which prevent cats’ ability to reproduce through surgery before releasing them where they were found — with All About Animals in Warren. She also reached out to Sandra Kilby, executive director at of the Human Society of St. Clair County/SNAP.
The organization, which has spayed or neutered over 24,000 cats since 2013, then coordinated days for surgeries this fall for two groups of felines Moore and several others trapped.
Overall, the effort was able to accommodate close to 30 with the help of volunteer time trapping them and financial donations to pay for the procedures.
Moving forward, volunteers like Moore, Miller and Kilby said they hope to be able to see through more TNR efforts despite challenges.
But working to curb a rising cat population hasn’t only been a problem in Port Huron or St. Clair County.
In Sanilac County, the Humane Society has been working with the city of Croswell for roughly two years on a TNR program. Now, the city’s also considering other ways to keep from attracting more cats.
And still, there’s more, advocates said, that residents can do themselves to help out.
Solutions to cat challenge also vary by community
Carol Schmidt, president of the Sanilac County Humane Society, said they’ve trapped roughly 50 cats in Croswell to be spayed or neutered. As of early 2020, they’d been contracted to trap up to 40.
Interim City Administrator Amy Planck said the group has also set up a feeding station and was setting up another so there’d be a control area for cats “on each side of town, basically.”
And then, on Dec. 6, Croswell’s City Council will host a public hearing for a proposed ordinance prohibiting residents from feeding stray or feral cats themselves. That’s set for 7:30 p.m. at the Croswell Community Center, 124 N. Howard Ave.
“There are some residents that are feeding the feral cats just on their own, and it’s just not helping,” Planck said. “… It seems like it’s gotten worse since the pandemic. For whatever reason, people are just dropping cats off.”
Schmidt said the pandemic’s conditions “created a whirlwind nightmare for towns that were trying to get this under control.” It was compounded, she said, among renters who were ousted from their homes after the eviction moratorium lifted and left plenty of cats.
“At least in our area, talking to some people that rent out houses, they’re like, ‘It was really bad,’ and now we see it — even in our towns all around here,” she said. “There’s a few people we’re in contact with within Port Huron, and it’s just crazy.”
City Manager James Freed on Thursday said Port Huron officials, too, hear plenty of complaints and concerns about the cat population.
But he added enforcing solutions, such as a feeding ban, would be difficult.
From the cats trapped in Croswell, Schmidt said they only released eight at a designated feeding station. Others were left in “working cat environments” in the city. The reach they have with TNR efforts, she said, aren’t necessarily confined boundaries.
Kilby said because they’re seeing more cats this year than previously, it can be hard on organizations like SNAP and shelters like Animal Control as they “can only accommodate so much.”
They’re all no-kill, and that means, they quickly run out of room.
“I’d say at least 10 calls a day from people with cats, kittens that aren’t theirs that they’re concerned about, that have given birth under their porch, under their homes,” Kilby said. “We’re seeing a high rise in cat population in the rental districts, manufactured home parks, rental areas in Port Huron.
“And I’m assuming people get the cute, little fuzzy kitten, and when it starts peeing in their house or showing behaviors from not being spayed or neutered, rather than calling us for assistance, they end up pitching a cat outside, which makes another 20, 50 cats for the community. … We have laws in the state where you cannot abandon a cat. But laws aren’t enforced, and I’m going to say they’re not enforced due to it being very difficult to prove ownership of the cats.”
As of Thursday, Miller said Animal Control had 58 cats, though their facility is only designed to handle about 40.
In the spring, she said they saw more orphaned litters and litters of young kittens under the age of three weeks than they had in a couple years. They’d number of bottle babies and fosters, she said, and at one time, close to 80 cats total.
Crowded facilities over time present a challenge, Miller said, because kittens must be at least eight weeks old and two pounds in weight before they’re spay or neutered, which is required before they’re adopted.
“So, a lot of them grew up in our care,” she said. “And so, that was a lot of work for our staff, lots of socializing. But they are definitely being adopted at a high rate, as well. We’re hoping as we get through the height of kitten season, that we’re able to assist more with community programming in the next fiscal year.”
How can people help curb growing cat population?
Kilby also advocated for more efforts such as Moore’s — or even community efforts with the city of Port Huron.
First, Moore said her neighborhood had tested their effort out with six cats in mid-October.
They were able to trap them in crates versus live traps, keeping them overnight to isolate them for surgery the next day. Two of those cats were adopted. Next, they reserved a spot on Nov. 11 for 20 cats, trapping them over a couple of days prior. That time, the TNR group brought in 22 total, several of which were also adopted.
The rest of the cats had all been released.
With the help of “very, very generous donations” and a “really amazing neighborhood turnout,” Moore said they were able to meet a minimum of $35 a cat, meaning they could be spayed or neutered, as well as treated with tick medicine.
Kilby said the usual $30 spay or neuter cost also covers vaccinations against rabies and squaring off an ear for the cats.
The SNAP official said part of the problem can be that spaying and neutering when it isn’t as affordable or accessible. That’s why she thought volunteer TNRs work.
However, it can also be a problem of manpower.
“I think what people need to keep in mind, it’s not something where there’s a miraculous amount of volunteers (where) they’re going to come to your home, trap your neighborhood cats, bring them in for surgery,” Kilby said. “There’s no funds coming down from the skies to help pay for it. With our organization, I mean, we have got a phenomenal staff that’s dedicated. God forbid, if we were to lose them, I can honestly say I don’t think you could replace them, especially our vet, to be able to commit to do anywhere from 18 to 22 surgeries a day.”
Moore said they had enough funds in an account to trap more cats, and she hoped to keep it going semi-annually. She encouraged those who wanted to donate financially to go through SNAP overall.
Officials, however, cautioned that TNR programs slow down during the winter months because it’s difficult to let cats back outside when they’ve had their stomachs shaved for surgery.
Early on in her effort, Moore said she’d talked with one neighbor in particular who was feeding cats as their population had “gotten out of control” because she wasn’t sure what else to do.
If people are going to feed cats, Schmidt said they should leave food and water at least once a day, especially in the morning as to not attract other animals like raccoons at night. They could also put out coolers or containers with cut-out holes with straw as cat houses, she said.
“They’ll stay out of the trash. They’ll stay out of, you know, the engines of cars. They will survive, and they’ll stay out of your way,” she said.
Miller said outreach on cat houses was something with other future programming she hoped to cover with Animal Control.
Still, Kilby said it’s a solution that anyone can easily Google to learn how to do.
But to do that, she said “people have to be committed.”
“If you’re not wanting to commit, then don’t feed the cat, and it will find shelter elsewhere,” Kilby said. “But people that leave food out all the time, that’s kind of the draw where you’re going to end up with more cats. And their survivors, they’re tough little buggers.”
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.