With warmer weather comes the buds of spring, the return of birds and the unmistakable yowling of mating cats.
The Community Cat Coalition of Clark County (C5) is gearing up for a massive onslaught of new kittens.
“Starting the first warm spell in January, basically every intact female cat is endeavo ring to get pregnant,” said Keith Williams, director of C5. “With a feral cat ... they go from not being in heat to being pregnant immediately. Like, Day 1 (of being in heat), they’re pregnant.”
C5’s mission is to trap, spay or neuter cats, then release them back into the colony from which they came. The ears are clipped as an easy marker that the animal is sterile.
The organization’s 40 volunteers have more than 200 traps at their disposal. Even so, they are fighting an uphill battle. Once a cat is pregnant, gestation is nine weeks. Cats normally have litters of four to six kittens. By the time they’re 4 months old, they can start reproducing. Though the felines can mate at any time, the spring appears to act as a trigger .
“We’re looking at 400,000 kittens being born over the next three to four months,” Williams said. “We need more volunteers.”
No one knows how many feral cats are in the valley, but using wildlife study techniques, Williams estimates there are between 200,000 and 300,000. They should not be looked upon as undesirable, he said, as they act as nature’s pest control, killing mice, rats and pigeons.
But sterilizing them was key to living peacefully with the felines. The cats are taken to a Heaven Can Wait clinic, where C5 pays $30 per surgery .
Since its inception in January 2010, C5 has trapped and sterilized more than 10,000 feral cats.
The group’s trapping projects cover the Las Vegas Valley, and it currently has 180 projects planned, with additional ones being added all the time. Williams said he is in desperate need of trapping volunteers. Those who are interested in helping can call Williams at 702-582-5862.
One of the trapping efforts was Feb. 1 , when volunteers met Williams at a vacant lot on the east side of Boulder Highway. He opened the back of the C5 van to reveal that it was stacked with empty traps.
The target area this night was ZIP code 89120. A handful of volunteers arrived, got their assignments and cages, then set off in their cars for areas where feral cats had been reported.
Volunteer Marsha Lozon has been trapping feral cats for the past four years. She got started after a mother cat gave birth behind her backyard barbecue. She took it upon herself to have all the animals spayed or neutered and is now the keeper of that cat colony. Lozon said she was more of a dog person but that she takes this effort personally.
“I once trapped a cat in 20-degree weather,” Lozon said. “I don’t care, I’m going to get that cat.”
She has received phone calls at 2 a.m. and rushed over to set traps, coming back two hours later to see if they’d been tripped. She said she does not like to leave captured felines unguarded for too long. Not all trapping efforts result in a trip to Heaven Can Wait’s veterinarians.
Lozon recalled capturing a cat, one that had obviously just given birth. The newborns needed their mother’s milk to survive.
“We let her go with the idea that as soon as the kittens got to be 6 to 8 weeks old, we would come back,” she said.
On the night of Feb. 1, Lozon spread out metal cages and covered their floors with newspaper. The lining meant the cats weren’t standing on wire and was a sanitary concern should they go to the bathroom. She pulled out a plastic container of food. As soon as she opened it, the odor of mackerel, tuna and kibble filled the air. Lozon spooned a dab here and there on the newspaper, ever farther toward the back of the cage, where most of the bait was placed, the lid of a plastic butter container acting as a dish. She carried several such lids.
“Ninety percent of the kittens out here will not see their first birthday, and if they do survive, they may last only two or three years,” Lozon said. “The average life span of a feral out here is five years.”
Once the food was inside, each trap was set and covered with a cloth to help disguise it. The cages were positioned in the area, and the volunteers retreated back to their cars and left. They set other traps in the general area and kept an eye on them from afar.
Then began the game of waiting.
Barbara Bell was new to the effort and there to observe. She said that now that she is retired, she was getting involved in different volunteer efforts.
Lois Keeton stood near her car and lit a cigarette. She said she began volunteering a couple of weeks ago, after C5 helped her trap feral cats in her neighborhood, near St. Louis Avenue and Paradise Road.
“They just keep multiplying and multiplying, and pretty soon, you have too many cats,” Keeton said. “I couldn’t afford to take them all in and get them fixed.”
She goes through a 15-pound bag about once a month to feed the colony around her house.
The first time she went out with C5, she learned how to set the traps and label them so the cats are returned to the same spot. She said she had no fear of being a woman out late at night because it was a group effort. Keeton hugged her coat closer as she puffed.
“You should’ve been here last week,” she said. “It was freezing.”
Ten minutes later, the snap of a trap release broke the quiet night.
The volunteers hurried over, slowed as they got closer and lifted the drape. Inside, a long-haired black cat charged the wire enclosure, desperate to avoid human contact. Other than the rattling of the cage, there was no other sound. Only cats familiar with people would meow.
The drape was pulled back down, and the rattling ceased. The cat was set inside one of the volunteers’ cars to be transported back to the meeting site.
The night continued with more traps being tripped. The volunteers trapped 92 feral cats over the two-night effort. They filled the C5 van floor to ceiling.
“I would like to see no more (feral) kittens, “ Lozon said. “If I never see another kitten again, I will die happy.”
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.