Miami-Dade County has a population of “free roaming” community cats that sources estimate can be between 300,000 and 400,000. Unlike dogs, these cats are not confined and can move freely among multiple homes, communities and caretakers. The free-roaming status of community cats provides an opportunity for a larger discussion about sterilization, community responsibility, and animal welfare in the County.
Miami-Dade County Animal Services has implemented various complimentary programs aimed at addressing the needs of community cats. These programs provide the community with information, resources and services, making Miami-Dade residents an integral component of the effort to safeguard the welfare of community cats.
So how do we keep outdoor cats who aren’t owned by anyone healthy and safe?
We have to look at the entire picture, the whole lifecycle of the cat. Let’s start with an adult cat. A single, outdoor female cat can produce hundreds of kittens in her lifetime. Spaying and neutering outdoor cats is the most humane and effective way to keep the free-roaming cat population from growing. With springtime upon us, we expect cats to be going into heat soon, which means now is the time to act to get your neighborhood’s outdoor cats spayed/neutered.
Strategically, Miami-Dade Animal Services has a program for that: Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return, or TNVR. Under this program, Miami-Dade residents can bring outdoor cats to our Pet Adoption and Protection Center in Doral to be vaccinated and sterilized for free, before returning the cats to their community. Residents can even rent a trap from Animal Services and drop off cats at the shelter any day of the week; no appointment necessary.
In 2019, more than 12,000 cats received services through Animal Services’ TNVR program and an addition 6,000 through our partnership with the Miami Veterinary Foundation and the Humane Society of Greater Miami. Most of these community cats were brought in by residents and Community Action Targeted Trapping Initiative (CATTI) volunteers. Some of the most exciting work Animal Services did with this program involved partnering with trapper groups in different neighborhoods for marathon TNVR sessions.
In November for example, Animal Services and CATTI volunteers partnered with SoBe Cats to trap more than 60 cats in Miami Beach. Our mobile spay/neuter bus, equipped to perform surgeries anywhere you can park it, was onsite for three days providing free sterilizations and vaccinations for feral cats.
TNVR is such a crucial part of Miami-Dade’s mission to save cats that Animal Services announced a new initiative last year to incentivize cat trappers. The Tip the Trapper Initiative helps Miami-Dade cat trappers who bring in community cats for TNVR services. Miami-Dade Animal Services assisted with the financial burden that cat trappers have assumed in supporting this effort.
It goes without saying, we want owned, indoor cats to be spayed and neutered, too. To that end, we provide affordable surgery at our shelter in Doral and host monthly free spay/neuter events around the County. Call 311 to make an appointment for your cat!
So what happens when a cat doesn’t get spayed/neutered? Well, once a cat has a litter, our strategy changes to keeping momma cat and her kittens safe and healthy. That’s because newborn kittens are so small and helpless that their best chances of survival are with their mom. We actually recommend leaving them alone!
When cat lovers find kittens outdoors without their mom, their first instinct may be to bring them inside or rush them to an animal shelter. But that may actually be hurting them more than helping them. When kittens are separated from their mother, their chances of survival drop significantly.
When you find a litter of kittens, here’s what you should do:
Do not interfere with the kittens as it may cause stress to the mother. If you really want to help, you can provide some food and water for the mother, placed a good distance from the nest.
Observe the kittens from a distance. The mother may be out looking for food, but she will most likely return.
If the kittens are in immediate danger, like under a car or in a flooded area, find a safe place nearby to move them, but make sure they’re still close enough for their mother to find them.
If you have observed the kittens for 24 hours and are sure that the mother isn’t returning, you may pick them up and care for them.
If the mother comes back and is friendly, wait until the kittens are 5-6 weeks old before bringing them and their mom to a veterinarian or to Miami-Dade Animal Services to be spayed or neutered.
Now what happens if newborn kittens are brought into the shelter without their mother? Well at that point, we pivot to finding the kittens a foster – volunteers that can care for them. Newborn kittens require round-the-clock care, so Kitten Cuddlers step up to assist.
When you volunteer to become a Kitten Cuddler, Animal Services trains you on how to care for a newborn kitten (or neonate), including how to bottle-feed. We’ll also send you home with a kitten care kit that includes all the essentials you’ll need to start fostering a baby kitten!
Once your foster kitten is old enough to transition to solid food, you’ll be able to bring the kitten back to the shelter so it can be placed in a forever home.
That brings us to our final point: Adoption.
With so many cats and kittens in the shelter, we are always in need of people to open their heart to a cat in need of a home. The cats staying at the shelter are often housecats that were formerly owned, so they’re used to being someone’s pet and can’t live on the streets like the outdoor cats who qualify for TNVR.
Adopting a cat is one of the most rewarding things you can experience because you are truly saving a cat’s life. Not only are you giving a deserving cat a love, forever home, but you’re allowing the staff and volunteers at Animal Services to better help the dozens of other new cats and kittens coming in to the shelter every week. We encourage you to visit our Pet Adoption and Protection Center, at 3599 NW 79th Ave. in Doral, to meet some wonderful cats and kittens today!
For more information visit us online at www.miamidade.gov/animals or call 311.