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The Strange, Hidden World of Feral Cats

Denver, Colorado is home to tens of thousands of stray cats. They form colonies and breed uncontrollably. Destroying or relocating the cats only opens up space for more cats to move in. Local animal welfare groups are trying a different approach, but the job is overwhelming. Kristin Des Marais and Amy Angelilli of the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance are among those battling the feral cat population problem.

Thirty thousand cats are euthanized every year in Colorado, double the rate of dogs. Many are homeless cats considered unsuitable for adoption. Working with RMACA, Des Marais and other volunteers are trying to reduce the kill rate by trapping ferals, spaying or neutering them, then returning them — in effect, transforming the entire colony from feral to sterile so that it will eventually die out on its own. But trap-neuter-return, or TNR, is a controversial solution, often unpopular with communities afflicted by the colonies.

“More often than not, people will call and say, ‘Come pick up these cats,’” Angelilli explains. “They think we have a special vehicle we drive around and pick up stray cats and bring them to this utopia in the country. If people knew about TNR and why it works — but it needs to start before the population gets out of control. By the time people call us about the problem, they’re usually so fed up that they just want the cats gone.”

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