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Getting a handle on feral cats

A nonprofit group in South L.A. employs a trap-and-neuter service to bring down the feline population over time.

November 19, 2011|By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Stray Cat Alliance founder Christi Metropole is shown with some feline friends.
Stray Cat Alliance founder Christi Metropole is shown with some feline… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The 90037 ZIP Code in South Los Angeles has about 60,000 residents.

And by some estimates, almost 12,000 feral cats.

Colonies of the strays roam the alleys and backyards of these low-income neighborhoods.

L.A.'s mild weather means the cats come into season frequently, breeding like wild. Add to that residents' inability to seek veterinary care when most are struggling to make ends meet, rescue groups say.

"I can hear them right outside my window when they're fighting and mating," said Cydney Fellows, a retired high-rise window washer who lives near Vermont Avenue and 22nd Street.

Sometimes she is awakened in the middle of the night by the dozen or so cats that frequent her apartment building. "I've been living here for almost 10 years. I've never seen so many stray animals in my life."

Officials say that the city's Animal Services Department is stretched too thin to trap any cats and that when residents take them into city shelters, many are euthanized.

But one nonprofit group is hoping to decrease the number that are killed. And even more ambitiously, the Stray Cat Alliance hopes to trap and neuter at least 7,000 cats within this roughly two-square-mile area, using a grant from a private company.

"When people are struggling to put food on the table, they don't focus on feral cats," said Christi Metropole, the nonprofit's founder. "We're stepping in to fill a need. Animal Services doesn't have the budget, and residents often don't know what to do."

The group's strategy is simple: trap, neuter and return the cat to the spot where it was captured.

This method, Metropole said, results in zero population growth. Eventually, as cats die, the population will dwindle through natural attrition. The cats that remain lead healthier lives and don't fight as much because they've been neutered, she said.

In recent weeks, Metropole's volunteers have begun canvassing the neighborhood, educating residents and encouraging them to help trap cats. On Saturday, there will be a small rally to officially launch the capture effort, dubbed "I Spayed LA."

Carol Brookshire's home, directly west of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is the ZIP Code's "trap depot."

"My yard was overrun with cats and kittens, some diseased," Brookshire said. She remembers the band of cats that occupied her avocado tree-lined backyard when she moved here six years ago.

Now they're all neutered, and she has volunteered her home to be the headquarters for nighttime trapping missions.

In her garage, she demonstrates how the steel crate traps work. She admits it takes a bit of finesse to trap. Location and bait are important. Foods with strong scents, like sardines and rotisserie chicken, do the best job of luring cats from their hiding spots.

After a quick surgery at the nearby Animal Rescue Center, a nonprofit animal hospital, the trapped felines are returned to their homes within a couple of days.

Opened in January, the hospital offers low-cost medical services for residents' pets and partnering rescue groups. Some of the cats are put up for adoption if deemed suitable.

During a drive around the area, Metropole pointed out the handful of strays roaming the sidewalks along Exposition Boulevard. She remains undaunted by the sheer number of cats she wants to trap and neuter, instead mulling over future efforts.

"We just want to be able to move on to the next ZIP Code," she said.

ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com

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