Ireland’s stray cat population has reached alarming levels. The ISPCA has estimated that there are around 200,000 feral cats in Ireland, while Anvil Ireland estimates that the figure is closer to 730,000. Cats produce an average of 18 kittens per year and an unneutered colony of six cats can grow to over 100 within one year.
Now we have all heard of Cat Woman, the super-villainess in the Batman comics. But little did we know that Ireland has its very own cat woman, Maire na gCait- Mary of the Cats. However this lady is more of a superhero as she is on a mission to raise awareness and help control Irelands growing number of cat colonies. Mary Cotter, who recently returned from England to her home on the island of Cape Clear Co.Cork, keeps an astounding 25 cats in her home and garden. Mary described her love of cats to the Irish Examiner last week – “I love cats, as a child I was always rescuing cats. If I heard of people wanting to drown cats on the island I’d rescue them. I was an only child, always running off somewhere. I was like a little wild cat myself”. One particular adventure resulted in a kitten following her home; she took him in and named him “Potie”. The cat lady of Cape Clear feels like she can relate to cats because they do their own thing and so does she. If she crosses paths with them on her travels, they exchange meows and go about their business.
As a cat lover, Mary found it difficult to cope with the dead strays she would find on a regular basis. This sparked her concern for the growing number of feral felines. Wanting to do something about it, she began researching online and came across a group of Cork based volunteers called the Community Cats Network (CCN) who promote policies of humane and effective feral cat population control known as Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR). The group’s aim is to capture and neuter untamed cats to help minimalize the number of them. The group works with vets who only charge for the materials used and they have successfully spayed 20 of Mary’s cats as well as many others. The group’s theory on the uncontrolled cat population is that it originates from domesticated cats that are unneutered. These cats then mate and stray kittens are born, the kittens grow up and the pattern continues. The CCNs goal is to break this cycle by holding fundraising events to neuter stray cats.
One of the main issues about this whole situation is the high mortality rate of 80%. The cats’ immune systems are low due to inbreeding and diseases such as cat AIDS and leukaemia spread quickly within the colonies.
Some believe that killing them is the only solution to reducing the population, but this is not the case. It is quite possible for the number of strays to be brought under control in a humane manner by the Trap, Neuter, Return process. Others believe that cats should have a litter of kittens before being spayed. However this is simply a myth and kittens as young as five months can be neutered. Cork based vet Clare Meade believes that there are only two solutions to the problem – “either kill half or neuter 75%”.
As no one wants to see innocent cats being killed, I think we should follow in cat woman’s footsteps and help to raise awareness of the problem and what can be done to solve it.
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