FARMINGTON — An over-abundance of friendly felines has become a problem for a local cat fostering program.
One Homeless Cat At A Time, which has been in operation for the past three years, works with other groups to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats that live in colonies. Cats and kittens young enough to be socialized are fostered with the goal of finding them permanent homes.
OHCAAT staff learned in October that a colony of about 25 feral cats was in peril after an elderly Farmington woman who had been caring for the cats died.
"After looking into the situation, we realized that this wasn't a case of the woman feeding feral cats or hoarding cats," said OHCAAT Coordinator Amy Harden. "Rather, the cats were either being dumped on her or were attracted by the other cats, and she was caring for them as pets."
After the woman's death, many of the cats started to disappear. Harden discovered some were being trapped and taken to the Farmington Animal Shelter, and she suspected they had subsequently been euthanized. Others may have been killed by other animals, she said.
OHCAAT, which falls under the San Juan Animal League's nonprofit umbrella, wouldn't normally handle this type of cat situation because it doesn't involve a true feral colony. But Harden said she couldn't turn away because, unlike feral cats that fend for themselves, this group of cats was fully dependent on human care.
"We took them in because we had to do something," she said. "We knew we didn't really have the resources, but we couldn't walk away from them, either."
The elderly woman had provided veterinary care for the cats, and they are all neutered, Harden said. They also appeared to be indoor and outdoor cats and are socialized to humans, unlike feral cats.
Harden said in a cat hoarding case in which the hoarder has a mental illness, the home is often filthy and the cats are not cared for. But, she stressed, that's not the case with this group.
Kristin Langenfeld is coordinator for a group called Trap, Neuter, Release, which assisted in catching the late woman's cats.
"It didn't take much time to realize that this was a different situation (than a feral colony)," she said. "Feral cats have to go through a long transition period to form a relationship with a human, but these cats were socialized. We wouldn't normally do this, but once we knew what the situation was and that the cats were so dependent on humans, it was in for a penny, in for a pound, and we had to care for them."
Harden, who owns and fosters eight cats, has taken in 11 of the woman's cats and is keeping them in a shed in her yard. While they're being cared for, she said it's not an ideal situation for cats accustomed to being pets and sleeping inside a home.
"Some are about 3 to 5 years old, but most of them are older cats, 9 to 11 years old. All have been tested for diseases, and, although some are shy, they're all socialized and have good house manners, such as using the litter box," she said. "Ideally, we'd like to find quiet foster or adoptive homes for them, as they've already been so traumatized."
Some of the cats may need some dental treatment, she said, but other than that, they are healthy.
Langenfeld hopes those who wish to foster or adopt a cat will consider taking in an older cat, such as the ones in this group.
"People always think about adopting kittens, but there are many advantages to adopting an older cat," she said. "Kittens need a lot of attention, but older cats are happy being alone during the day. These cats just need to find a nice place to live out the rest of their lives," she said.
Harden wants to make sure people know that OHCAAT normally does not care for cats whose owners have died. The group focuses on feral colonies that receive food from humans.
"If people are willing to continue to care for the colony, we will provide help with trapping, neutering and releasing, and will try to foster out the kittens," she said.
Harden said OHCAAT also needs money to help care for the cats, as well as blankets, cat litter and food. But mostly, Harden said, decent foster or adoptive homes are needed for this feline overflow.
"It's just been overwhelming, and we need help," she said. "Any shelter someone could provide would be better than what they have now. What we really want for them, though, are loving homes."