PLATTSBURGH - It's a problem that many don't give much thought to, says Victoria St. John, but the fact of the matter is feral cats are a major issue here and across the country.
"There's at least 60 million feral cats in the United States, if not, more," said St. John, director of the St. John's Feral Cat Fund.
Since 2000, St. John has been working in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties to reduce the population of feral cats - cats that have limited human contact and are often mistakenly referred to as "wild." In the past 10 years, St. John has helped trap, vaccinate, spay and neuter thousands of cats, releasing many of them where they were found, in the hopes of drastically reducing the number of diseased and procreating cats.
"If they aren't spayed or neutered, these cats can keep reproducing four to five times each year," noted St. John.
Given the rate of reproduction and the number of offspring from each litter, tens of thousands of cats can be added to the local feline population. That can be taxing on donor-supported organizations like the St. John Feral Cat Fund and local animal shelters.
"If you have four cats that have litters four to five times a year, that can add up," St. John said of the expenses for animal care.
The goal each year is to mass trap feral cats, collecting as many as 100-200 and having them inoculated prior to "kitten season" during the spring.
"It doesn't always happen, depending on the funding, especially with the economy," said St. John.
The organization relies on fundraisers and donations to fund the veterinary services it receives for the animals as well as in educating communities about their Trap-Neuter-Return program.
Though the St. John's Feral Cat Fund has help from more than 20 volunteers conducting fundraisers and distributing educational literature, the main trapping work is done by St. John, her family and members of the organization's board of directors.
"We're on a shoestring budget," said St. John. "We could have a great month, do a fundraiser and raise $300-$500 and have one cat that needs an emergency operation, which takes all of that."
"We try to get things donated, but because we're believed to be competitions with local shelters, that can be tough," continued St. John. "But, the thing that sets us apart from the shelters is we focus on feral cats and we provide information about them for the public."
In fact, St. John Feral Cat Fund and local shelters work well together, said St. John.
"The people at Elmore SPCA [animal shelter in Peru] have been very helpful to our organization. The board members have donated cat food, litter and other things to help us during the last couple of months," she said.
"The problem is so big, it's so much bigger than any one group can handle," said Inger Joy, president of the Elmore SPCA board of directors, who noted the donations from Peru shelter have come from surplus donations not specifically earmarked to be used at Elmore. "We share what extra we have. We never take away from our own animals."
Through collaboration between Elmore SPCA and St. John's Feral Cat Fund coordinated by Elmore SPCA board member Judy Belrose, the organizations are able to take on the feral cat situation.
"They get to use our resources, we get to use them. It's a mutually-beneficial relationship," said Joy. "We want to assist them in any way we can. It's great to network and share resources when we can. And anyone can help."
Those wishing to make a donation to the St. John Feral Cat Fund may send contributions in care of the organization to P.O. Box 2884, Plattsburgh N.Y. 12901. Donations of dry cat food, canned cat food, cat litter, litter pans, pet beds, towels, food dishes, carriers, and toys are always accepted.
St. John's Feral Cat Fund also brings domesticated strays to PetSmart in Plattsburgh where they are put up for adoption. For more information, call St. John at 534-0824.
St. John's Feral Cat Fund may also be found on-line through www.petfinder.com.
If a cat approaches you and doesn't appear threatened, chances are it isn't considered a feral cat.
"There's a lot of people who think they have a feral cat outside," said St. John. "Some will call and say it's eating out of their hand, but a feral cat won't come up to you and do that. Feral cats don't like human contact."
More tips may be found on-line at www.alleycat.org.