MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So we humans aren't the only ones up late at night. There are all sorts of creatures prowling our urban landscape long after the sun goes down. Take, for instance, feral cats. Genetically, they're like a housecat, but they're born in the wild. As environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, trying to get a handle on these felines keeps a very particular group of individuals up all night and well into the morning.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
In an alley off of 10th Street Northeast, old grapevines, garbage cans and chain link fences are all the same yellow hue under the harsh glow of street lamps. It's 4:00 in the morning. Amanda Novotny is unloading her station wagon.
MS. AMANDA NOVOTNY
So these are humane box traps.
Novotny is with Alley Cat Allies. She's trapping feral cats.
So when the cats enter the trap, they have to go all the way to the back to get the food and they step on a trip plate which makes the door close behind them.
There are at least 13 feral cats, including five kittens that live in this alley.
MS. PAT GILLIAM
Well, I could show you the damage they've done to my car.
Pat Gilliam is a neighbor. She watches the scene from her balcony.
These cats are too wild. They keep mating. And when they mate, it's a bunch of raucous. You know that. And then the babies come and they get aggressive because of the kittens and, like, they attack my dog and me.
Amanda Novotny and another neighbor, Kathy Sinzinger walk up to a back porch full of cats and set out the traps.
MS. KATHY SINZINGER
The black and white one on the steps is the grandma cat who's been sentry.
Smelling around the front of the cage -- the trap thinking about it.
Thinking about it, but like typical cats, grandma is unimpressed.
We all have a bet that the black and white one will never be caught because she's smart.
After a half hour, one of the mothers takes the bait. She isn't happy, not at all. But these cats aren't being taken away, at least not for long. They're just taking a trip to the vet, says Novotny.
So male cats are neutered, female cats are spayed. They're getting their rabies vaccination. Their left ear, the very tip of that is removed so the ear tip is a universal sign that lets people know that that cat has already undergone spay neuter surgery. We'll pick them up tomorrow morning and release them tomorrow afternoon.
This is called Trap Neuter Release or TNR, fix the cats and put them back. Novotny says after getting fixed, they won't be as aggressive, won't howl, won't fight and most importantly won't reproduce. Still having the cats back doesn't thrill Gilliam.
I just feel that they shouldn't be able to run loose like this.
The alternative, though, is for the cats to be put down. Feral adult cats taken to a shelter will get euthanized because they're unadoptable.
See, I do not want any animal euthanized at all. I just wish they had a home, but they too wild to have a home, aren't they? No, bring them back. No, bring them back.
As she speaks the colony's matriarch finally takes notice of the trap.
Mama's going in there. We got mama. Yeah, 'cause mama is (unintelligible) .
Now Trap Neuter Return has its detractors.
MR. ROBERT JOHNS
There is no reason to believe it works.
Robert Johns is with the American Bird Conservancy.
The University of Nebraska did an exhaustive literature search on this issue and they could not find a single legitimate case where TNR actually eliminated a cat colony.
And, he points out, cats are predators.
When you save the cat by putting it in a colony, what in fact you're doing is killing a handful of wildlife every year.
He claims 500 million birds and other small creatures are killed by cats every year. TNR advocates point to numerous anecdotal cases where the practice has worked, including at sites in D.C. And Fairfax County says the strategy has reduced the number of feral kittens brought into its shelters by almost 60 percent. Back on 10th Street with almost all of the adult cats in traps, Novotny has just pulled two kittens out of a drainpipe. These kittens are young enough to be socialized. Unlike most of the cats born on the streets of D.C., they are now looking for a home. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
You can find photos, tips on deterring feral cats and information on how to adopt kittens on our website, metroconnection.org.
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