A paralegal by day, Susan Mariano devotes her evenings and weekends to cats. For 15 years, she has volunteered at the Neponset Valley Humane Society, an all-volunteer nonprofit in Norwood that rescues stray cats in surrounding towns as well as in Boston.
It’s a big job. “One unneutered male and one unneutered female can have a colony of 25 to 30 cats within a few months,” says Mariano, who lives in Stoughton. “The average litter is four, five or six kittens, and they are born every nine weeks. A cat can get pregnant again while nursing.”
Do the math. There’s a cat crisis. It’s why Mariano feels she can’t take time off from her cat work, which involves trapping, neutering, and returning the felines.
Most of them are “ferals,” or street cats that have always lived outdoors. But she also deals with “friendlys,” who are — or were — someone’s pet.
Both populations are increasing. “For every five ferals, I’m finding a friendly that’s been abandoned,” says Mariano. “It’s happening more and more. People lose their home and leave the cat behind and hope someone will take care of it. People look at cats as more disposable than dogs.”
And let’s face it. Everyone loves a kitten, but not everyone loves a cat. “In some cases, once the kitten turns into a cat, he or she gets booted out the door and they are not allowed back in the home,” says Judy Ambrose, the Neponset Valley organization’s volunteer director. “They don’t have the skills needed to survive, and they need a human to help them.”
When such friendly cats are rescued, they’re put in foster homes until the humane society can find an adoptive home. Mariano rescued an orange tabby that she thought was feral last spring. After taking it to the vet, she realized it was an abandoned house cat. The gorgeous male is available for adoption, and can be seen on the Norwood-based group’s website, www.neponsethumane.org.
The ferals are another story. They’ve never been socialized, they’re born and live outside, usually in “colonies,” which range from five to 15 cats. When Mariano gets a call, she’ll go trap them, and take them to the veterinarian for spaying and vaccinations and whatever else they need. They spend a few days recovering in a shed in her backyard, and then she returns them to the property where she found them.
Whoa. What if it’s your property?
“We’ve been very lucky,” says Mariano. “Every colony except one, the property owner has been feeding them, and they’re willing to keep feeding them. Some even put up a shelter for them.” Or Mariano and her gang will put up a wooden shelter, insulated, and fill it with hay for the cats. The humane society also helps out with the food if the property owner needs it.
“I have one woman, she’s 90 years old, and she does a great job with the eight she has,” says Mariano. “Her son’s friend built an unbelievable shelter. It’s like a miniature house.”
The humane society helps provide the cat food.
Ambrose notes that the greatest threat to cats today is not a disease. “It’s ‘euthanasia due to overpopulation,’ in shelters. So we devote an enormous amount of our resources to spay/neuter.” (Note: It’s spaying for females, neutering for males.)
Many veterinarians charge between $300 and $500 for the procedures, Ambrose says, which is prohibitive for the populations the society serves. So every three weeks, it holds mobile neutering and spaying clinics in various neighborhoods with veterinarian Ann-Marie Roche, founder of STOP, or Stop the Overpopulation of Pets. The clinic charges $75 to $85, and the humane society will help with the cost, if necessary.
Why will people allow feral cat colonies to remain on their property, feeding and even sheltering them (outdoors)? I mean, these aren’t the kitties that rub up against you and purr their way into your heart.
Mariano has a simple answer. “First of all, the cats aren’t going to leave. They have found a place and someone has started feeding them. It becomes their home.”
She notes that in the feral colonies, the cats fight at night, spray some atrocious scent to mark their territory, and reproduce at will. But when neutered, they stop fighting and spraying. And reproducing, of course.
The bottom line: More people need to understand the importance of “fixing” cats — and dogs — and know that there is low-cost help out there. And those people who abandon, neglect, or abuse house pets are lower than whale dung, in my opinion. A pet enriches one’s life immeasurably, and asks for so little.
Just ask Sue Mariano, who has a dog, a cat, and a rabbit, and is caring for three foster cats. “One of my fosters is very, very shy,” she says. “I’ve been working with him for several months, and now he’s ready to go, to be adopted.”
It’s getting cold now, and dark earlier. Still, Mariano is at it, rescuing and returning cats. There’s a feral she’s been after since Memorial Day. “She’s in a colony on the Sharon side of Stoughton,” says Mariano. “She was in a colony of eight, and I quickly got all but her. This one has been very elusive, but I will keep after her.”
After that? “I have another colony I want to start on.”
Bella English lives in Milton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.