Many people will be heading overseas over the next couple of months, escaping the cool dampness of the Irish “summer” for sunshine in destinations like Spain, Portugal and Greece.
Marina runs an apartment complex that’s typical of many Mediterranean holiday resorts. She didn’t plan to have a cat in her workplace. Taqui just turned up a year ago, and has since become a daily visitor. She’s a friendly cat, approaching visitors with a friendly meow and a purr, but she doesn’t like to be picked up or held. She’s a classic example of a feral cat: her parents or grandparents would have been pets, but she must have been born in the wild, and has never learned to fully trust humans.
Marina is aware that not all visiting holidaymakers are cat lovers. Some visitors leave out food for Taqui, even encouraging her to come into the apartments. But when their two week trip is over, the visitors who follow them often don’t like the idea of having a strange cat sharing their living accommodation. Marina has to deal with the consequences: she tries to persuade cat loving guests not to feed Taqui indoors and she explains to the anti-cat guests that Taqui is a friendly but shy animal who isn’t going to cause them any harm. Most guests understand the situation, and Taqui is a quick learner: once she realises that she’s no longer going to be fed in an apartment, she soon stops visiting.
Marina has had plenty of experience of dealing with feral cats: she has friends who have had to deal with serious cat problems. One female cat like Taqui can give birth to half a dozen kittens, two or three times a year. A single visiting cat like Taqui can be an asset to an apartment complex, performing a useful role of controlling the local rodent population. A colony of ten or twenty cats would be a serious liability.
Marina has seen situations where pest control companies have been called in to deal with expanding cat populations, trapping them all then having them euthanased. This traditional approach is rarely successful. A few months later, a new feral cat moves in from an adjacent area. Kittens are born, and they soon grow up and have kittens of their own. Within a couple of years, there are dozens of cats causing problems again.
There is a better way: if feral cats are trapped, spayed and neutered, the conveyor belt of kitten productions stops. The result is a stable, static local population of cats that prevent other feral cats from moving into the area. This method of feral cat control, known as Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR), is now being used all over the world.
Mediterranean tourist destinations are often centres of feral cat populations, and local animal welfare groups have been active in using the newer methods of controlling their numbers. An international code of practice is used to permanently identify cats that have been spayed so that they are not trapped a second time: the tip of the one ear is removed at the same time as the operation is carried out.
Taqui is a good example of the success of the system: Marina doesn’t know where she came from, but as soon as Taqui turned up, Marina spotted the fact that her right ear was shorter than her left ear. She knew at once that the cat was not going to cause problems by having kittens and she was happy to welcome her.
If you see a cat with a short ear when you’re on holidays this year, the cat hasn’t had an accident: instead, it’s a sign in universal language that somebody cares for the animal.
- Feral cats are common in tourist destinations around Europe
- Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) programmes are often now used to control such cat populations
- It’s easy to spot cats that have been “done” – just check the length of their ears