I grew up among stray cats. Everybody in Greece did. They are everywhere. I grew up thinking that the cats belong in every neighborhood, that they belong in the streets, that they can feed themselves and that’s it. Cats –unlike dogs- have this thing that make you believe they can take care of themselves and just don’t need you. So that’s what I believed as a kid. And every time I saw a little kitten on the street I was told the same lie almost every kid is told. That the kitten is fine and that its mum is coming to get it any time soon. And I believed it. Like many kids still do.
This was back in the 80’s, when animal welfare was a word as incomprehensible as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. When neutering was something most of us had never heard of and almost everyone’s idea of population control was putting newborn kittens in a plastic bag and throwing them in the trash. This is what people did, this is the only way they knew how to keep a steady number of cats in a feral colony, this is the reason why the strays were few and our lives less complicated.
At some point, the concept of animal welfare finally arrived in Greece. But as many things, it arrived and was perceived in the wrong way. Newborns from the trash started being rescued and raised with feeding bottles, cats stopped chasing mice and grasshoppers and started being fed leftovers or even cat food. And this was all fine and our humanity a bit restored, apart from the fact that neutering was still not really an option. So the feral colonies in every neighborhood thrived. Well fed cats gave birth to well fed kittens three times per year.
And then the honeymoon was over. So here we are today, when among a population of 11 million people, there are estimated to be about five million stray cats, and we finally realized that TNR is the only humane solution. The organizations try neutering as many cats as possible. But still it’s not enough. For every cat we neuter a dozen more give birth. It feels like the numbers are out of control, like chasing a racecar on foot. It feels like a punishment. A punishment for our erroneous interpretation of animal welfare back then.
There are still people against this practice and I believe it is only because they simply haven’t realized the hazards of not doing it. Hazards that will affect the animals and their wellbeing. We neuter because giving birth on the streets is cruel. Because life for a female spayed cat is healthier and longer. Because life for a male neutered cat is safer. Because the more the cats and kittens, the more dangers they face every day. Because in every neighborhood there is at least one old lady that simply doesn’t like them – and she might tolerate a couple of neutered, calm cats wandering around, but she won’t tolerate 30 of them (and her solution will be to put rat poison in their food). Because there are simply no homes available for all those kittens to come. Because feeding a couple of them is affordable, but feeding dozens of them the next year simply will not be. We neuter because we love them. And if you are afraid that in this way cats will go extinct, don’t be. It takes only one female to deliver at least 15 more kittens in one year alone.
I’m lucky enough to be part of SCARS, an organization very involved in TNR. Some very special cat people are among us, and they are cat people in the right way. We trap, neuter and return as much as we can. With the help of Animal Action, with help from neighbors and friends, we try our best to keep our colonies healthy, safe and steady. If you wish to support our TNR campaign, donations are more than welcome.
I realized –quite late- that instead of feeling sorry for the malnourished orphaned kitten in the street, I could simply neuter its mum. And if you believe that neutering just one cat is not a solution, think that for every neutered cat, you also prevent dozens of her potential descendants from facing the cruel and unfair life of living in the streets. And don’t forget to tip their tiny little ears. It is the safest way to know that a cat is neutered and a small price to pay for not having to undergo surgery again for no reason.