San Francisco: conflicting ideas about how to deal with feral cat moms and their kittens

For many years, the San Francisco SPCA have operated a ‘Mamma from the Streets’ program under which if somebody sees a feral cat mother and her kittens, the SPCA would send a volunteer out to trap the family i.e. the mother and kittens, to bring them back to a feral cat nursery at the SPCA.

Once the kittens were weaned they were socialised and adopted. The mother would be spayed and returned to where she had come from. Critically, the mother and her kittens were kept in a feral cat nursery which was located away from the shelter’s hustle, bustle and noise. There was limited access, all with the intention of reducing the stress on the family of cats.

San Francisco feral cats. Photo in public domain/fair use.
San Francisco feral cats. Photo in public domain/fair use.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It was believed that this was the best course of action to deal with a feral cat mother and the kittens. However, there has been recent change in policy. It is now believed that the better way to deal with a mother cat and her kittens is to leave them where they are in the wild until the kittens are old enough to be separated from their mother at which point volunteers trap all the cats for either adoption or for spaying, neutering and return.

These are two options and there appears to be a slightly heated discussion about them in San Francisco. Dr Jennifer Scarlett, the president of the San Francisco SPCA, believes that the more humane option is to leave them where they are. She believes that the mother will be terrified in captivity for an extended period of time and therefore it is not humane.

The counterargument is that the mother and the kittens are kept in a quiet place which undermines the point that Dr Jennifer Scarlett makes.

Rocky Rockwell, who we are told has 16 years of experience in trapping cats, says that the policy of leaving the cats where they are ignores reality. This is because in the urban wild they are in constant danger from predators such as coyotes and raccoons and from disease. Experts believe that the mortality rate for feral kittens is about 50%. And the average feral cat lives less than seven years.

The San Francisco Examiner, in their article by Sally Stevens of June 2 hints that they believe that, under the new policy of leaving the feral cats where they are, more cats will die.

Comment: provided the mother feral cat and kittens are kept in a specially secluded place which is relatively quiet compared to the usual shelter environment, it would seem sensible to conclude that this option is better than leaving them in the wild where there are ever present dangers as stated. It must also be harder to ensure that the kittens are trapped, socialised and adopted when they are living in the wild. When they are living in captivity volunteers can keep a better eye on them and manage their lives more accurately.

What do you think?

Source: San Francisco Examiner.

1 thought on “San Francisco: conflicting ideas about how to deal with feral cat moms and their kittens”

  1. What do I think? What do I think? I’ll tell you what I think… I think you’re right AGAIN. You’re almost always right, and that’s coming from a guy who almost always disagrees with everyone, or so they think. I recently started caring for a couple dozen breakwater cats, and today I saw the elusive mom with kittens we’ve been looking for. My impressions was that they’d be better cared for in a more controlled situation and within the window of opportunity the kittens need to get introduced to humans or they’d have extreme difficulty. We know if you wait too long they stop being impressionable. It would be nice if you could leave them be, but there are coyotes, bad dogs, bad people, bad cars, etc, also the older they get the harder to trap them, so you have to be practical about this.


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