The warmth of spring brings the purrrfect time for cats to appear
As spring begins to make itself known, residents may start to see more cats emerge in a yearly event coinciding with the changing of the seasons. Many will be homeless or feral, left to fend for themselves.
“Cats hide out during the winter,” said Kristine Halsey, manager of shelter operations for the Cocheco Valley Humane Society.
Cocheco currently has 56 cats in its facilities, 19 of which are strays. The number of strays is low for this time of year, probably due to the harsh winter, said Halsey. “We haven’t seen any issues in terms of the health of animals,” she said. “But because of the horrible snow and cold we had earlier this year, we didn’t see as many cats coming in as we usually do.”
One of Cocheco’s initiatives is controlling the feral cat population by catching, spaying or neutering, and then releasing them back into the wild. A feral cat, Halsey said, is one that has never known human contact. Ferals live in colonies ranging from eight to 50 animals. But they are not pests.
“The feral cat population is a huge factor in controlling mice and rat populations,” Halsey said. “We (also) have a barn cat program where we will catch cats and relocate them to barns to help maintain pest-free environments.”
Halsey declined to say where the colonies are located. “We can say there are feral cat colonies located in every town that we service,” she said.
Lynn Barrett, president of Seacoast Area Feline Education and Rescue, or SAFER, said cats living in areas with harsh winters rarely reproduce during the season.
“Spring and summer are when you see cats reproducing,” she said. “We always receive a flurry of calls from people who think they see strays, but they’re usually part of a feral colony or neighborhood pets.”
SAFER is a volunteer- run organization dedicated to the trapping, fixing and releasing or placing of cats deemed to be homeless. It maintains multiple stations around the Seacoast where it provides feral cats with shelter and food. When a cat is trapped, SAFER holds it for a week to determine if it’s a stray, a lost pet, or feral. If it’s feral, they will fix it, give it shots and nick its ear as a sign the cat is part of a colony and has been treated, and then return it to where it was found.
“When I joined SAFER in 2004, there were 300 feral cats around Hampton Beach alone,” she said. “Now, we maintain a colony of about 14; because of how we take care of them, we only lost two cats due to winter this year.”