New Mexico's Pet ResourceSPRING/SUMMER 2000



Text by Nancy Marano and photos by Nancy Bryant

Albuquerque's Old Town is a mecca for tourists and residents alike. Unusual art and good food draw visitors to the Plaza. But few visitors or merchants realize that when the shops close, another population takes over the area. At least one, and possibly two, colonies of feral cats call Old Town home.

Feral cats are lost, abandoned, or stray domestic cats that, in time, revert to natural cat behavior in the wild. Most cannot be placed in homes because they do not trust humans, and unneutered cats display behavior that people don't want to live with, such as howling, fighting and spraying.

Colonies form in areas that offer some degree of safety and a reliable food source. Female feral cats spend most of their lives pregnant, which is not only a detriment to their health but adds exponentially to the number of unwanted kittens in the world. A feral female's life is difficult because she is continually in search of food for herself and her kittens. Because of lack of food and veterinary care, as many as 50% of the kittens die, according to Alley Cat Allies (ACA), the leading national informational resource on feral cats. Fighting puts ferals at increased risk of being hurt or killed and of catching communicable diseases such as feline leukemia, which can spread throughout the colony. For these reasons it is essential that uncontrolled colonies be prevented from growing.

ACA recommends a technique called TNR - trap, neuter, release - as a non-lethal way to prevent colony growth while allowing a colony to remain intact. TNR is integral to a long-term solution because the breeding cycle is stopped, the health of the colony is improved, the cats are less likely to fight or spread feline diseases and it is cost effective. The average cost of trapping and holding a cat in a shelter is $75. TNR costs about half of that.

Old Town's main colony started about 15 years ago when someone dumped a little Siamese. "We named her Our Lady of Perpetual Kittens," said Nancy Bryant, owner of The Old Town Cat House, "because she dropped four litters a year."

Betty Skelly, a retired Old Town merchant, realized the cats were there, too, and fed them twice a day. "I found out Nancy was doing the same thing so we combined our efforts. One day a nice carrier appeared with food in it, but neither Nancy nor I put it there. After some investigation, I found Sarah Moreland, who worked in Old Town. She put out the carrier hoping to trap some of the cats so they could be neutered."

Together the women managed to trap and neuter all of the cats. The kittens were taken to New Mexico Animal Friends for socialization and adoption. "You need to get feral kittens before they are eight weeks old in order to socialize them," Sarah explained. "Otherwise, it is very difficult to gain a feral cat's trust. It can be done at an older age, occasionally, but it is difficult, and those cats usually have residual problems."

The original colony still lives there and has about 12 cats in it. "We are so lucky," Nancy said. "We've always had a healthy colony. When they were neutered, we had them tested for feline leukemia and gave them the necessary shots. Once in a while a new cat will appear, but we don't have kittens any more."

The persistence and cooperation among these three caring women resulted in success for this colony. Our Lady of Perpetual Kittens still lives in Old Town, but now she presides over a peaceful, stable feral colony with no more worries about food or the well being of her kittens.

For further information on ferals, contact:
Alley Cat Allies, 1801 Belmont Rd., NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC 20009
(202) 667-3630

To report feral cats or to volunteer, contact:
New Mexico Animal Friends, (505) 881-7297 - and -
Albuquerque Cat Action Team (505) 323-2228

Nancy Marano is a freelance writer living in Albuquerque. Her “Cat Chat” column has won two certificates of excellence from the Cat Writers’ Association. She shares her life with two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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