Feral cat problem: An update about fixing it

The last time I saw Kristen Des Marais, she was trying to track dozens of feral cats that had set up a fast-breeding colony in the crawl spaces under a Denver apartment complex. Des Marais and volunteer Carol Tudor were trapping the cats so they could be neutered and adopted (if still young enough to be domesticated) or relocated.

This nightmare was one of several efforts to control the local feral population in last November's "feral cat feature." And over this past weekend I had a chance to learn more about how it's working.

On June 5, the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance, the group spearheading a metro campaign to reduce the burgeoning population of abandoned and feral cats, held its annual benefit dinner, the Stray Cat Strut. It was an opportunity to hear about the progress the group has made since opening the Feline Fix, its low-cost, high-volume spay-and-neuter clinic, and to catch up with the volunteer feral wranglers.

Thirty-thousand cats are euthanized every year in Colorado, double the rate of dogs. Many are homeless cats considered unsuitable for adoption; RMACA is tackling the problem at its source, so to speak, by promoting TNR: trap, neuter, return. The idea is to stabilize existing feral cat colonies, rather than simply dispersing them or attempting mass euthanization. It's a much-preferred alternative to relocation -- you can't simply dump stray cats in rural areas and expect them to thrive -- and it can work particularly well if there are volunteers in a neighborhood willing to look after a neutered colony.

The management at the apartment complex I wrote about was adamant about getting rid of the cats. Amazingly, Tudor and Des Marais managed to find barn homes for all of them -- no easy task, since the cats have to be confined upon arrival until they get acclimated. "We were lucky to find enough people in eastern Colorado willing to take them," Des Marais says.

Even more amazing, RMACA's clinic has logged more than 3,000 surgeries in less than a full year of operation. Executive director Amy Angelilli says the group is now targeting the clinic's own zip code, 80219, which leads the city in shelter intake of strays, in an effort to make a real dent in the overpopulation problem. At Saturday night's dinner, a professional auctioneer managed to raise enough pledges of cash in less than five minutes to sterilize close to 500 cats.

And that, of course, amounts to hundreds of other unwanted cats that won't be on the streets a year from now. A good deal for cat lovers -- and everybody else.