By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Aaron Patton
There are probably about 100,000 feral cats in Wichita, according to the animal welfare group, Best Friends America Society.
And if it wasn’t for the local volunteer group Cheryl Taskinen heads up – Friends of Felines KS – there would probably be a lot more.
Friends of Felines KS, which formed in 2005, helps control the local feral cat population through its trap, neuter and return, or TNR, effort. It was started by the then-chief of police in Sedgwick, who wanted to control the feral cat population of the small city near Wichita.
Taskinen joined the group in 2010 and has been president for the past five years. According to Taskinen, who also serves as the group’s TNR coordinator, more than 4,900 cats have been spayed and neutered since 2009.
In 2009, the group spayed and neutered only 28 cats. By the next year, that number grew by nearly 900 percent to 249 cats, and the number increased every year since. In 2017, a record 908 cats were altered. Halfway through 2018, more than 500 cats have been sterilized.
Part of that increase was made possible when in 2016 Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine agreed to bring its Shelter Medicine Mobile Surgery Unit to Wichita. Now Friends of Felines KS can run concentrated TNR efforts two weekends a month. One weekend it uses the clinic of its longtime partner, the Kansas Humane Society, and on the other the mobile unit’s services. Friends of Felines KS doesn’t do concentrated traps in July, August and December because of weather conditions.
Depending on the availability of volunteers, the group will do additional, less-concentrated TNR activities nearly every week, when requested, using the humane society’s vet clinic. The group’s service area covers Wichita and communities within a 30-mile radius.
On a recent June morning, Taskinen talked about the group’s prior weekend of TNR efforts that netted 51 cats, including at two Wichita mobile home parks. The Kansas Humane Society had received a grant to help cover costs for the cats trapped that weekend by Friends of Felines KS. Generally vet costs are covered by donations to Friends of Felines KS and by colony “caregivers,” the humans who’ve taken responsibility for the feral cats and have asked for population control help.
“We work with caregivers. We’re not just picking up cats and dumping them,” Taskinen said.
On that Saturday, various volunteers, including Taskinen, had sat patiently near drop-trap boxes, waiting for the cats to show up. About a week before, the boxes had been set up and the caregivers had been feeding the cats under the box. By the time Taskinen and her crew showed up, the cats weren’t that intimidated to go under the boxes.
But the effort still turns into part stakeout, part “cat-fishing,” as a volunteers sits in a vehicle, a string in hand that’s attached to the support stick keeping one end of the box up, waiting for the cats to take the bait.
“It’s like fishing,” Taskinen said. “You just sit there waiting and waiting.”
On her first “pull” – when she yanked the string – she caught five cats.
“I’ve gotten as many as 10 at one time,” Taskinen said. “We try to go for 100 percent trapping, and leave no cat behind.”
A sheet is draped over the box to calm the cat, and a transport cage is put door-to-door with the box so the cat can be removed and the box cleared for the next trap.
The trapped cats were put up for the night in the garages of two volunteers. At 7 a.m. Sunday, the cats were at the Kansas Humane Society clinic, with volunteers separating them by males, females and undetermined to be weighed before the surgeries and vaccinations started at 9:30 a.m.
“The last cat came off the table at 4 o’clock that afternoon. We had so many,” Taskinen said. During surgery, about ¼ inch of the cat’s left ear is snipped off. Eartipping is the universal sign that a feral cat has been altered.
It helps caregivers like Susan Kandt recognize when an unaltered cat has joined her colony. Living in far northeast Wichita on about 2 ½ acres, she recently called Friends of Felines KS when a new cat showed up to join other feral cats that had been spayed and neutered a few years ago by the group.
“They have to live by my rules,” said Kandt of her colony, and her No. 1 rule is the cat has to be spayed or neutered. The other rule is they have to get along with the established colony. “There was some caterwauling, but he was accepted.”
According to the Kansas Humane Society’s website, “TNR has been shown to be the least costly as well as the most efficient and humane way of stabilizing feral cat populations.”
Taskinen and Kandt agree. Not only does it cut down on numbers of kittens being born, it cuts down on the prowling and other hormone-driven activities feral cats become known for.
“We do check back and caregivers often are happy to report no new kittens,” said Taskinen.
“Friends of Felines really has the welfare of the cats and the community at heart,” Kandt said.
Friends of Felines KS is advocating for a TNR ordinance for Wichita. Last year, the city surveyed residents about feral cats since the current ordinance declares feral cats a nuisance. TNR advocates say that with a trap-and-kill policy, other feral cats would just move in and keep breeding.
Information on Friends of Feline KS’ TNR efforts can be found at fofks.org. The Kansas Humane Society also provides feral/TNR services by offering humane traps for rent and reduced vet services to colony caregivers for spaying and neutering; for more information, visit kshumane.org/services.