Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
You're correct in your thought that the cats should have been dealt with as kittens. Any responsible person who is caring for feral cats knows the importance of spaying and neutering kittens prior to them reaching sexual maturity. Which, is not to say that I haven't encountered people like the lady you mention--well intentioned, but very misguided. Some of them are simply ignorant and are doing the best that they can with limited knowledge, some can be talked around, others are simply too pigheaded and selfish--and occasionally mentally unbalanced (whoopsie, is my repressed aggression from previous dealings with type #3 bleeding through?) to listen to anything anyone else has to say on the subject, regardless of the logic of your argument.
Feral kittens also have far better odds of being rehabilitated and adopted than adult ferals do. As Venus already pointed out, many shelters will automatically euthanize any feral over the age of about 10 weeks, on the assumption that they're unadoptable--which is true if they're fully feral, and you have neither the time nor the resources to devote to a long, and sometimes unsucessful, socialization process. Contrary to some people's, and some animal wellness organizations', beliefs though, it is definitely possible to rehabilitate feral cats, even as adults.
In the case you describe, a TNR solution is probably best, as, unless you can find an individual who knows what is involved in feral rehabilitation and is willing to take on such a huge job for multiple cats, rehabilitation with the goal of getting the cats adopted into homes simply isn't feasible or realistic, even assuming that the cats could be rehabilitated.
The woman who is currently caring for the cats will likely be resistant to any solution that you propose, but I would certainly try to educate her about the benefits of TNR. Contact a rescue in your area that practices TNR and explain the situation (people who are actively involved in TNR programs are used to dealing with such individuals.) They may have suggestions on how to help sway the neighbour's opinion, and will likely be more than happy to provide you with pamphlets and information on TNR, which can be passed on to her. Afterall, you don't want to take "her" cats away from her, just get them fixed and vaccinated to prevent more kittens from being born on the streets, and to prevent the cats that are already there from the physical stresses of reproduction, fighting, community backlash due to nuisance behaviours, etc.
It's really important to always deal with someone like this lady, who has an emotional connection to the ferals they care for and feels proprietary about them, in a polite, respectful manner (or as polite and respectful a manner as you can manage--again speaking from experience.) Sometimes it's best to walk away and come back to the conversation at a later time if you start to get too angry. It's far easier to influence the opinion of someone who doesn't view you as an enemy, and, although the majority of these sorts of well intentioned individuals are relatively harmless (even the beligerent ones), some of them can, in fact, be dangerous, and there have been numerous cases of such people intentionally harming the animals they have previously cared for when they feel under threat.
Last edited by dt8thd; 01-23-2013 at 12:38 PM.