Photo courtesy of Robert Barbutti Photography[Click here for the Project Bay Cat Tool Kit]Project Bay Cat
Life on the Rocks
Sure, she’s cute with her little white bib and snowy paws, but don’t be fooled - Miss Bibs is not an innocent little girl. She produced 36 kittens in just two years, earning her the title of Foster City’s Most Wanted Cat.
Miss Bibs is a feral cat that lives along San Francisco bay in California, and is one of nearly 200 homeless felines that call the rocky shoreline home. She is also one of the reasons why a world renowned humane program called Project Bay Cat was created.
Just a few short years ago, I had no idea what a feral cat was, even though I saw them almost every day. My husband and I kiteboard on the bay and we’d always seen a few cats living in the rocks along the Bay Trail in Foster City, but we never thought twice about it. Then one spring day, the boulders were literally alive with kittens. It’s hard to overlook dozens of tiny fur balls running across the bike path, crying for food, and darting out from behind bushes.
Following five scrawny and playful silver tabby kittens to learn where they came from, I got my first look at Miss Bibs. Seeing her with her brood, it all became clear. I knew that something had to be done. Little did I know that the seed she’d planted in me would become a program that’s setting an example around the world as an effective and compassionate way to manage homeless cats while protecting birds and the environment.
Feral cats are the product of human neglect. Irresponsible pet owners who don’t have their cats spayed/neutered are the source of the problem, as are those who abandon their pets. Un-sterilized cats reproduce quickly and their kittens become feral without human contact. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce tens of thousands of cats in seven years. The problem exists in nearly every country around the world, from the US to Australia, China to Chile and all points in between.
With just a handful of abandoned un-sterilized cats living along the Bay Trail in Foster City, the population quickly swelled to 174 cats by the time I finally noticed them. I knew that if nothing was done, more were sure to come. The City of Foster City had also noticed, as they were getting calls from concerned citizens.
For communities facing homeless cat challenges such as these, there are three choices:
1. Do nothing and let the cat population grow out of control.
2. Trap and euthanize the cats, or poison them.
3. Trap, neuter, and return the cats (TNR), and find homes for those that are adoptable.
I considered each of these options for the Foster City bay cats. To me, Option 1 is simply irresponsible, and Option 2 is inhumane. But Option 3 provides a humane way to stabilize the cat population and reduce it over time through attrition and adoption.
Since I did not want the cats to suffer due to overpopulation, or see them euthanized, I joined a local feline rescue organization, Homeless Cat Network, and began initiating the humane management program myself. We then began working the City of Foster City and the community to address the issues together as a team.
Working in partnership, we created a precedent-setting program called Project Bay Cat. Thanks to the inspiration provided by Miss Bibs and her many progeny, Project Bay Cat was developed to humanely curb the homeless cat population growth through aggressive spay/neuter and adoption programs, as well as protect wildlife and keep the path’s landscape debris-free. We also set out to educate the public about homeless cat issues to prevent animal abandonment, encourage spay/neuter of owned pets, and enlist community support for our unique program.
In the few years that Project Bay Cat has been in place, 96% of the cats have now been altered, thanks to dedicated trapping efforts on the part of Homeless Cat Network volunteers, and two wonderful veterinary offices that provide sterilization, vaccination and medical services. It has not always been easy, but it has certainly paid off. Our spay/neuter efforts have successfully stabilized the population. Even better, we’ve reduced the population through fostering and adoption efforts and natural attrition. Over 80 kittens and friendly adult cats have been adopted into loving homes, which combined with attrition, has reduced the population by 49%, which has made everyone extremely happy.
“It’s a model program,” says Marland Townsend, Foster City’s former mayor who encouraged the implementation of the program. “Other cities around the world have asked us how this is being done here so they can do it in their own communities. What we’re doing works.”
The program has also helped to protect wildlife living nearby, while also reducing debris along the trail. Ten wooden feeding stations were built for the cats by Homeless Cat Network and installed along the trail away from wildlife habitats. The program’s effectiveness is a result of keeping the cats well-fed and concentrated away from avian nesting sites.
"There are fewer cats on the Foster City Bay Trail now, and those that remain appear healthier," says Robin Winslow Smith. "Thanks to the feeding stations and the spay/neuter effort, the cats seemed to have settled into the program and don't need to hunt for dinner since they have it in their feeding stations."
The program’s success makes the whole community happy, including trail users, City officials, and animal lovers. “The results speak for themselves about the success of this wonderfully collaborative project,” says Kevin Miller, Foster City’s Parks and Recreation Director. “Most impressively, we’ve achieved success without expense to taxpayers since the program has been implemented by volunteers, and by veterinarians who have donated their services to this humane endeavor. Project Bay Cat is a wonderful improvement effort for the community and by the community,” says Miller.
I finally caught Miss Bibs late one summer and had her spayed. Her kitten-factory days are over, and now she enjoys sunning herself after eating a nice meal from her feeding station. I’m proud that I did something to save her and all the other cats living on the rocks while also protecting wildlife and the environment. I’m even prouder that our success is motivating others to take a similar humane approach to control feral cats in their own communities. Thanks for the inspiration, Miss Bibs!
Note: Many other municipalities around the world euthanize homeless cats to control their population, but in addition to being unkind to the cats, studies have shown that it is ineffective. Removal of the cats produces a vacuum effect in which the ones that evade capture over-breed in order to fill the void left by their furry companions. Yet still, many cities trap and euthanize, or poison homeless cats as a means of control. Other cities are making it illegal for people to feed homeless cats, which is a cruel and passive means of control. These cities are growing in number and are spreading across the U.S., from New Jersey to Texas, and in various regions all over the world. You can help reverse this trend by helping a homeless cat program in your area. To find one near you, check Petfinder.com for a rescue group in your area.