North Fork cats’ tough winter winds down

03/18/2011 6:00 AM |

DONNA ANN LYNN PHOTO | Two feral cats wait to be fed outside a Cutchogue home Wednesday

North Fork’s feral cat colonies rely solely on big-hearted volunteers to survive the colder months. And this winter — which saw record snowfalls — has been a particularly harsh one for the felines, according to volunteers who care for them. Several feet of snow that persisted from late December well into February buried kittens and cats in their own shelters or blocked the strays from reaching feeding stations.

To help the cats eat and keep warm, volunteers shoveled long pathways through the snow, tossed hot water over thick ice on feeding stations and scrambled to rebuild plow-damaged shelters in biting cold.

Despite their efforts, several cats and kittens died.

“It’s been brutally sad when we find dead cats and kittens,” said Rosalie Basile of Wading River, a volunteer who cares for feral colonies. “It’s especially sad when it’s a cat or a kitten you have been feeding for a long time. It’s the cold and wet combination too. If the cats can’t get dry, they will freeze like a Popsicle.”

There are two animal rescue groups in Southold and Riverhead towns. Workers from SAVES Inc. (Volunteers with Spay, Alter, Vaccinate Every Stray) say they feed about 40 colonies each day, 500 cats in all. Those with RSVP (Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, Inc.) care for about 10 colonies every day, about 200 cats, across the North Fork. They also get support from the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton and the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Southold.

The volunteers are reluctant to identify where colonies live, fearing that people will harm them.

Aside from muscling through a persistent snowcover, volunteers have had to make more than their usual twice-daily trips this winter to feed and hydrate the cats, which for the most part live in wooden shelters or plastic tubs supplied by the organizations. During one of several snowstorms that made January the snowiest on record, a snowplow overran and destroyed one colony’s shelters and feeding stations.

No matter the season, the life of a feral cat is hard, say the volunteers. “The average life of a feral cat is five years because they are subject to all the dangers of the environment” said Ms. Basile, who works with RSVP.

The cats can contract internal and external parasites and diseases such as feline aids and leukemia, she said. They have fights with raccoons and other animals living in the wild. Extreme weather conditions will make it especially hard for them to defend themselves or hunt for food — if they’re not being fed by rescue organizations. Hawks can carry them away in the daytime while owls prey on them at night.

The volunteer groups face constant financial pressures.

If a person can prove he or she has been feeding a colony, or is trying to maintain it by providing shelter, feeding stations and medical care, the North Fork Animal Welfare league will supply food for the cats. It costs the league $1,500 to $2,000 a month.
RSVP volunteers must each supply food for the colonies. The cost depends on how many cats they feed. If a volunteer can’t afford to feed the cats, they must ask another volunteer for help. Pet stores will sometime donate food that has been returned, or packages that have been opened or damaged.

For the most part, abandoned pets start feral colonies. Unless the females cats are spayed and males neutered, their populations will skyrocket if well intentioned people feed them.

Debbie Corsair of Southampton, the volunteer coordinator at the Kent Animal Shelter, recalled the case of a woman who was feeding an abandoned cat but did not try to capture it and have it spayed. In less than a year, the cat had five female kittens that each produced about five more. The woman moved away and left the landlord with several cats living on his property. SAVES volunteers and the Kent shelter got involved. The cats were trapped, spayed and neutered.

“Without intervention there would perhaps have been another 50 cats,” Ms. Corsai said. “Picture yourself the woman’s neighbor with 50 cats running through your backyard. In no time there is dissension.”

Tom Scheibel of Brookhaven, a veterinarian for Kent for more than a decade, said people are not very well informed about to the necessity of spaying and neutering a cat. Educating the public is just as important as the work of volunteers who try to feed the animals, he said.

“Every cat you spay takes away the potential for that cat having six or seven litters during its life span,” Dr. Scheibel said.

A certain amount of animal psychology goes into caring for feral cats, which first must come to trust whoever is trying to care for them. Once that barrier is crossed, the volunteers can trap the cats and have all of them spayed and neutered. All are vaccinated for rabies. Young kittens are taken out of the wild so they can be socialized and put up for adoption.

Mary Johnson, a SAVES volunteer from Mattituck, said kittens born to feral mothers must be taken out of the wild when they are no older than four weeks, or they risk becoming too feral to tame. Aside from their work in the field, volunteers also work with rescued kittens that need exposure to human touch to socialize them and prepare them for adoption.

Comments

comments

23 Comment

  • There’s a very nice lady that comes to my neighborhood in Greenport on a schedule to feed the cats. The unfortunate part is there are very few and most are owned by people in the neighborhood. I realize you can’t ask a cat for it’s official identification but they are fed good and I wonder everyday why they have to get there desert around our bird feeders. We do try to feed only a select few with special feed, finches and cardinals but there are what we call the bottom feeders, pigeon and dove they are the ones that fall prey to that nasty neighborhood cat. My friend the mailman tells me if I could get the cat good and wet it’ll never come back I’ve put the hose on a timer because I know where the cat stalks it’s prey but after years of trying I’ve had no luck. I do give credit to the lady that feeds them as she’s only trying to help.

  • There’s a very nice lady that comes to my neighborhood in Greenport on a schedule to feed the cats. The unfortunate part is there are very few and most are owned by people in the neighborhood. I realize you can’t ask a cat for it’s official identification but they are fed good and I wonder everyday why they have to get there desert around our bird feeders. We do try to feed only a select few with special feed, finches and cardinals but there are what we call the bottom feeders, pigeon and dove they are the ones that fall prey to that nasty neighborhood cat. My friend the mailman tells me if I could get the cat good and wet it’ll never come back I’ve put the hose on a timer because I know where the cat stalks it’s prey but after years of trying I’ve had no luck. I do give credit to the lady that feeds them as she’s only trying to help.

  • “The average life of a feral cat is five years because they are subject to all the dangers of the environment” said Ms. Basile, who works with RSVP.”
    hmm…not so sure about that stat. i feed many colonies on the south fork and have plenty of very senior ferals in the colonies. (“the mayor” of southampton didn’t make through this winter but he was at least 18-20 years old). in my yard alone i have 5 ferals over 15 years old and recently lost my over 20 year old feral boy to CKD.
    this was a very tough tough winter, on both the ferals and those that care for them. digging out shelters, searching for plates buried under a foot of snow, water that freezes before you’re done feeding, and what would normally take a few minutes would take hours at each station. really glad spring is here!

  • it is unlikely that it is a feral cat at your bird feeder but there is an easy way to tell~ feral cats are ear tipped, domestic owned cats are usually not (i do have some ear tipped cats in my house, adopted out of feral colonies because cat tamed up too much, but usually ear tips mean feral cat). if it is not ear tipped, try to find owner and ask them to place collar (break-away kind) with a bell on it. that should help solve your problem. owned indoor/outdoor cats are way more likely to attempt to hunt birds, feral cats focus on small mammals, mice, voles and such since a feline’s hunting technique is totally geared towards that and an unfed feral is not hunting for sport but to survive. (from study done on feral cat’s stomach contents~ only 1% bird, 90% small mammal, and the rest bugs and garbage).
    ps. my 11 yard ferals never bother with my bird or squirrel feeders, in fact both steal food from the feral cat’s station and the ferals just sit there and watch them. very peaceful coexistence in my yard for past 16 years since i moved here and set up the various feeding stations.

  • The only good cat is a DEAD cat.

  • The average life span probably includes the young ones that don’t make it and others that get killed prematurely by other animals or cars, etc.

  • The average life span probably includes the young ones that don’t make it and others that get killed prematurely by other animals or cars, etc.

  • God Bless all you kind hearted people who care for these little souls. Peace to you all.

  • I hope I find you under my wheels one evening. Ooops!

  • Sounds to me that you are advocating my murder or serious injury. Maybe I should call the police…

  • wow, what a pathetic excuse for a human you are! however i need to remember that people that make comments like that are simply lashing out because they live *small* miserable loveless lives. i am so sorry for you redflanelman. ((hugs))

  • Thank you for the hug… and the pity, oh how love the pity. But I still hate CATS. I love dogs though… in fact I love all animals, except CATS. They are the spawn of the devils own. In your honor I will personally make road kill of the next CAT that happens to cross my path. I consider it my duty and a favor to ALL HUMANKIND.

  • Its groups like this i wish would help my family. We take care of strays in our yard, some fixed, others not. We have our own cats also that stay inside, but its getting very costly and we can not afford to pay over $100 a month for cat food. The strays have shelter in our yard, we feed them and give them water..some even come in the house for a vist. As summers comming the ones not fixed we will double the amount in cats.

  • Its groups like this i wish would help my family. We take care of strays in our yard, some fixed, others not. We have our own cats also that stay inside, but its getting very costly and we can not afford to pay over $100 a month for cat food. The strays have shelter in our yard, we feed them and give them water..some even come in the house for a vist. As summers comming the ones not fixed we will double the amount in cats.

  • At the risk of hearing “Freedom” ringing in my ears I will add, just in time for spring songbird migration………
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/science/21birds.html?src=recg

  • if you contact saves or the northfork animal welfare league, you should get help with neutering cats.

  • Oops, I just made road kill of one of your furry little friends…

  • OUCH !!!