By Vivienne Machi, Staff Writer
If you've meandered around the Oregon District or South Park, you'd be hard pressed not to come across one or two (or a crew) of the neighborhood's community cat population.
While some of these cats are feral and are best left alone, many are quite friendly and pad their way up to you to wind their way around your legs, encouraging you to pet them. And thanks to some kind neighbors, they stay well fed and dry throughout the changing seasons.
With cold, bitter weather just around the corner, we talked to the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA), a nonprofit that opened in 1974 to serve the stray dog and cat populations in the Miami Valley, about what we as average neighbors, and not necessarily cat owners, could do to help out our kitty neighbors in the cold months ahead while keeping ourselves and our own cats safe.
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Emma Blackman-Mathis, SICSA's kennel and facilities manager, gave us some great tips:
What services does SICSA offer?
Emma Blackman-Mathis: We are primarily an adoption center, so one of our main programs is our adoption program. We have a limited intake program for both cats and dogs, so we can only take in a certain number of animals. We don’t have to euthanize for space or based on time limits. For cats especially, we do get a huge number of calls to take in both owned animals and strays, including litters of kittens, so there can be a waiting list to get into that program. We can have about 100 cats in our program at a time, including litters.
How does someone bring in their own cat or stray cats?
EBM: If someone’s interested in surrendering an animal, there’s a section of our website under "Pet Services ." There’s a form that you fill out with the animal's basic information, history and your contact info. That goes to our intake team, which then follows up to get a more in-depth history and determine which services to provide. Sometimes, you can’t immediately get into our adoption program so we try to find other services to offer in the meantime.
What other services would you offer in the meantime?
EBM: Especially with community cats, the No. 1 important service is our low-cost spay/neuter service. Any outdoor community stray cat qualifies for our low-income program, as well as for vaccinations and testing.
You have to have an appointment, there's an application process, and then it’s an outpatient procedure where you leave the animal here during the day, then pick it up in the afternoon. If you can, leave the animal inside in the basement or in a spare bathroom for about a week, just to let them recover from surgery, but you can also drop them back into the street if you don't have the ability to do that.
How should people treat the stray cat populations in their community? Should I keep my distance or pet an animal if it approaches me?
EBM: Outside cats are either strictly feral cats or community cats.
Strictly feral cats don’t interact with humans; they'll run away.
The community cats can be friendly and social to humans. They can come up to you and let you pet them, but may not make good house pets. They've typically lived outside their whole lives, and once confined, especially to a cage, they don’t typically do well.
If the cats come up to you, listen to their body language. I would not dissuade anyone from interacting with an animal just because they’re outdoor cats. If it doesn’t look like it wants to be interacted with, don’t. Let the animal come to you. If it is acting strange (head tilting, foaming at the mouth) seizing can indicate a serious disease.
If it’s a friendly, healthy cat, to protect yourself and your own pets, simply wash your hands. Try not handle a healthy pet animal directly after petting a community cat.
What are the top ways you suggest for communities to help their cat populations as the weather gets cold?
EBM: For cold weather, if you have a healthy community cat population, spay/neuter is the first thing you can do to keep them healthy. There are many risks if you don’t get them spayed. They can get infections and cancers in their uterus, and they can reproduce.
If you're looking to provide resources, only put out the amount of food for the cat population that you want to support. Otherwise, all the neighborhood cats and raccoons and possums will move in; they'll see that there are resources there for them, too.
And provide shelter and water. It gets really cold and rainy and snowy here, and there are some really cool insulated rubber cat shelters you can make. (Check out just one of many instructional pieces here.) Again, create only for the number of cats you want to take care of.
Put out fresh or warm water every day so it doesn’t get frozen. If you'd like, you can add a water heater like a fish tank or horse trough water heater, but at least sure that there is some fresh water is really helpful.
How do you determine whether a community cat is tame enough to adopt?
EBM: If you go through our "Surrendering an animal" process, the veterinarian or animal care or adoption team interacts with the animal and is really good at vetting whether they would be a good adoption candidate. If it is, it comes into our adoption program; if not, it will go back to the community.
Want more information and resources?
SICSA: 2600 Wilmington Pike, Kettering
Need some more cuteness? Check out SICSA's Kitten Cam.