ORANGE PARK – Pat Terranova spends three hours per day – one and a half in the morning and the remainder at night – caring for more than 100 cats. That’s on top of her full-time job. She said …
ORANGE PARK – Pat Terranova spends three hours per day – one and a half in the morning and the remainder at night – caring for more than 100 cats. That’s on top of her full-time job. She said the hours are not ideal, but kitten season came hard and fast this year.
Terranova is a volunteer with the nonprofit group Community Critter Care of Clay County, better known as 5C. Terranova and other 5C members take care of feral cats and teach people they can live comfortably with the cats until the populations naturally decline through sterilization efforts.
She cares for several cat colonies, providing them food and trapping them to get them spayed or neutered in a practice called trap-neuter-release. Feral cats live independently outdoors, with some assistance from colony caregivers. But when the cats are raised and live without much human interaction, they are fearful and people don’t want them as pets. Most shelters won’t take them. That’s what Terranova hopes to change.
When new kittens show up in her colonies, she takes the kittens and raises them indoors. They become socialized and get used to humans, which improves their appeal as pets. Kittens have the best chance of being adopted, she said, and she brings them to adoption events and works with another volunteer to find them homes.
Between the kittens, adult fosters and the feral colonies, Terranova currently takes care of more than 100 cats.
She began taking in the kittens last year. At adoption events, she said, people don’t care that they were born feral. They just see a cute kitten.
She said some of the kittens are old enough to be spayed and neutered and placed back outside with the colony, but their chances of living longer than five years is slim. However, if they were adopted, the chances of a longer life are greater.
“They get hit on the road,” she said, “or they get attacked by dogs.” She has also seen cats that have been poisoned. “I’d like to believe it wasn’t intentional. Maybe someone set out rat poison.”
Instead, she keeps the kittens indoors until they have been spayed or neutered and have been treated for any illnesses. That way, they are ready to go for adoption events. Vet care can get expensive, she said, but she does what she can for the animals.
She starts the day by letting the kittens out of the kennels to run and play.
“I have a full-time job. They all think I’m crazy,” she said. “I get up at the crack of dawn every morning because everybody’s got to be fed, all the kennels cleaned.”
Inside Terranova’s Orange Park home are a handful of cat trees, perches and kennels. Some cats are confined to kennels, while others roam free and follow Terranova through the house. Most cats are friendly and run to her and meow for attention. The clipped ears, a sign the cat was part of a TNR program, are the only indication the cats were once feral.
Around the house, shelves built into the walls and cat doors leading to screened-in patios give the cats plenty of space to roam.
Terranova is lucky in that her neighbors understand what she does and do not complain about the cats, she said. She said local businesses often criticize people who feed animals on their property.
On private property, it is difficult for advocates such as Terranova to trap and spay or neuter the animals to try to stabilize the population.
People think there’s a genetic difference between feral and domesticated house cats, she said, but once the feral adults get used to her, they are just as friendly as any pet.
“One thing I’ve noticed, whether it’s kittens or adults, they look for people. They crave people,” she said.
Terranova’s efforts to care for local cats began when she noticed others were already feeding feral cats in the neighborhood, but they were not being spayed and neutered. She began trapping the cats and getting them spayed and neutered to reduce their numbers.
Opponents of TNR argue that the method is ineffective and feral cats are a threat to birds. However, Terranova said, it is the humans who destroyed habitats for local wildlife and allowed outdoor pet cats to reproduce. She said if enough people in a community work together to sterilize the cats, it would work.
She has heard people say animal control needs to come in to handle the problem of feral cats in neighborhoods, but it is not a practical solution.
“If they had any idea what it would cost in taxes, in everybody’s tax dollars, to go into a neighborhood, round up every cat that didn’t belong to somebody and euthanize them – which to me is a horrible thing to do anyway – but even if they did it, who’s gonna’ pay for it?” she said, adding that euthanasia costs about $70 per cat.
Terranova said, cats are extremely territorial, and if cats are removed from an area, new cats will move in to claim the territory. TNR isn’t a perfect solution, she said, but no one has the funding to remove and eradicate the feral cats.
“It’s not a perfect solution, but there isn’t a city, town or state that has the kind of funding that anybody would ever approve to eradicate billions of cats,” she said. “And there are billions out there. They’re everywhere.”
She said there are people who hate those who feed cats, but the bigger problem is people who do not spay or neuter their pets or abandon them outside.
“The reason there are ferals out there is a people problem, not a cat problem,” she said.
5C aims to educate people about feral and community animals and assist in local TNR efforts. Using TNR, a method in which feral and stray animals are trapped, sterilized, and returned to the location they were found, the populations can dwindle naturally without animals being killed in shelters or by Animal Care and Control.
Currently, Clay Humane offers free spay and neuter services for all cats, with no qualifying paperwork required. Free sterilization for feral cats is offered every Wednesday. According to Clay Humane, more than 4,000 feral cats have been sterilized for free in the last three years.
The Clay Humane website states that about half of the 6-8 million homeless animals entering U.S. shelters every year are euthanized. By controlling animal overpopulation with spay and neuter services and keeping feral and community animals taken care of without going into shelters, nonprofits like Clay Humane and 5C are helping to lower the euthanasia rate.
Anyone interested in helping or looking for more information about feral cats can contact 5C at ClayCritterCare@gmail.com.