Right now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that there may be more than 60,000 stray or feral cats roaming around Berks County.
Let that number sink in for a moment.
When we say that Berks County has a community cat crisis, we’re not exaggerating. More shockingly, however, if we do nothing at all to curb this crisis, each female has the ability to realistically produce about 100 more offspring in her lifetime, exponentially exploding this crisis over the next few years. Friends, you don’t need to be a math whiz to realize that the time to do something is now.
This year, the ARL is introducing new ways to combat this crisis through programming:
- We’ve introduced an affordable $0.50 per person/per year community cat animal control option to your municipal leaders that specifically targets cats by allowing residents of contracted municipalities to bring friendly strays to the shelter, while ramping up efforts to use trap-neuter-return (TNR) for community cats in these municipalities.
- We’re pursuing grants to allow people throughout the county to receive TNR services at reduced rates.
- We’re offering residents of municipalities that contract with us the ability to receive spay/neuter services, microchips and vaccines for their pets at reduced rates.
- We’re holding up our end of the bargain each day by spaying/neutering each animal we adopt–even kittens–before they leave our building to ensure that if they get out, they won’t become part of the problem.
But we hope these numbers help you see that this problem is far too big, far too unwieldy for us, or No Nonsense Neutering, the Fairchild Foundation or the Humane Society of Berks County to solve by ourselves. This is a community problem that is going to take the community’s support and help to solve.
How can you do that?
- Donate. We need funds to buy traps, support our surgical team, and dedicate staff to this endeavor. Even more importantly, we need reliable municipal support through animal control contracts that help underwrite the good work we do in the community and the reliable service we provide to their residents.
- Volunteer. We need people who are willing to work hands-on with the public to help them learn how to trap or to assist those who may not be able to help themselves due to health, mobility, transportation or other reasons.
- Persuade. Your municipal leaders and your neighbors can’t ignore this problem any longer. Show up at community meetings. Write letters and call your municipal leaders. If you have a problem, bring pictures so they understand the depth and breadth of what’s going on in your community. Enlist the help of your neighbors. Use social media and your voice to affect policy and educate your friends and neighbors within your community to create real and lasting change.
What will NOT help end the community cat crisis:
- Shelter euthanasia. Let’s be blunt. The ARL tried the trap-and-kill method up until its conversion to a “no-kill” shelter in 2018. If it worked, you simply wouldn’t be reading this right now. When cats are displaced unnaturally, new cats move in–a phenomenon known as the “vacuum effect.”
- Feeding bans. Not only are they difficult to enforce, ineffective and cruel, they worsen the problem, forcing cats to adapt toward nuisance behaviors like foraging for food in trash cans. It also makes it much more difficult for caregivers to effectively trap these cats so they can neuter them, which will allow their numbers to naturally and systematically reduce over time.
- Removing the cats from the area and dumping them somewhere else. Just like euthanasia, any method that unnaturally removes a population of cats from an area creates a vacuum effect where other cats move in. The vacuum effect does not happen when nature allows cats to die naturally due to predators that have moved into the area, or a lack of resources to support their population.
- Adopting them as house pets. If outside cats are found to be friendly strays and are not reclaimed by an owner, we microchip, vaccinate and spay/neuter them and make every effort to get them off of the streets and bring them into the shelter and adopt them as indoor house pets. At the time you drop them off, if your municipality is not a contracted animal control provider, we may ask you to pay a nominal fee, which will be applied towards a portion of their care while in the shelter. Cats who are considered “feral,” or who have limited human interaction, however, cannot be forced to live inside as traditional house pets. These cats prefer to live with limited human interaction as they have for all or most of their life. Learn some of the differences HERE.
- Doing nothing! Cats are prolific breeders. They can get pregnant when they are just 4 months old, and they can have three or more litters of kittens a year. Ignoring the problem and letting cats reproduce unchecked will only lead to more extreme problems. Doing nothing will not make this crisis go away. This problem was created by people, and people changing their behavior and helping these cats get spayed/neutered is the only way to solve it.
What to do when you find an outdoor cat:
- First, look at the top of the cat’s left ear and see if it has been eartipped. If the cat has an eartip, and looks healthy, please leave it alone. This is a sign that the cat has been sterilized and likely has a caretaker.
- Secondly, look for a collar and/or a tag. If the cat seems friendly and is willing to approach you, please try to look for identification to call his or her owner. If the cat does not appear to be friendly or approachable, please do not frighten the cat by grabbing or chasing it. This may cause the cat to bolt into traffic or bite or scratch you.
- Ask your neighbors if they’re missing their cat. Often, cats have only wandered a few houses away from their home. Knock on doors and make flyers to post and distribute around your neighborhood.
- Please try to get a photo of the cat. You can file a report with us HERE, as well as the Humane Society of Berks County, or at the Center for Lost Pets. We also encourage you to use Berks County Cat Search on Facebook, Craigslist, as well as any local community social media groups or apps/websites, such as your local NextDoor.
- If the cat appears injured or sick, please call your nearest vet’s office or animal shelter to describe what you’ve witnessed with the cat and determine if it’s necessary to bring him or her in. If it’s after hours, and the cat needs emergency care, you can call Animal Emergency Services in Shillington at 610-775-7535.
- If the cat appears malnourished, please offer the cat some food and water. If the cat is frightened, you may need to leave for the cat to approach the food or water dish.
- If the cat is able to be handled, please put it into a carrier. Then, please call your local police, nearest vet’s office, municipal offices or shelter and ask if you can have the cat scanned for a microchip.
- If you are unable to find the cat’s owner and the cat appears healthy, please release the cat back to where it was found. We know it can be tempting to drive the cat to the nearest shelter, but the cat likely has a home or a caretaker and may have just wandered away.
- If the cat keeps reappearing, please help your community by having the cat TNRed. To learn more, please call us, No Nonsense Neutering, the Fairchild Foundation or the Humane Society of Berks County for more information on TNR and how you can get the cat spayed or neutered to prevent more cats from populating in your area.
- If you find young outdoor kittens, please know that the safest thing for them is to stay with their mother. If you find a litter, please wait and see if the mother returns. Often times, she is just out hunting for food. If she does not return or any of the kittens seem to be sick, lethargic, injured, cold or hungry (they will meow incessantly when they are), please bring them to a vet’s office or shelter immediately. Depending on their age and ability to be socialized, kittens who are brought to the ARL will either be fostered until they are old enough to be adopted as house pets, or they will be spayed/neutered and returned to the location where they were found.
How to help with your own cats:
- Spay/neuter your cat. If you cannot afford to do this through your vet’s office, there are plenty of lower-cost clinics throughout Berks County, including our surgery center, the Humane Society of Berks County and No Nonsense Neutering. Kittens can be spayed as early as 2-3 pounds (when they are about 2-3 months) before they reach sexual maturity.
- Don’t let your cat go outside. Not only do you significantly shorten your cat’s life expectancy when you start letting him or her outside, but you also significantly increase your cat’s chances of becoming lost. If your cat enjoys going outside and you are having a hard time keeping him/her inside, consider buying or building a catio or a safe and enclosed outdoor space for your cat, or train your cat to use a harness and a leash.
- Make sure your cat is microchipped and/or wears a collar with a name tag and a way to reach you. The ARL offers microchipping services every day that we’re open by appointment, and we also offer collars and engravable tags available for your cat to wear. If you’ve moved or changed your phone number since your cat was first microchipped or tagged, make sure you update your information on the tag or with the microchip company.