Sumner County has an overpopulation of unwanted, stray, feral and “community cats,” and a new non-profit group, AdvoCATes Sumner, has been formed to coordinate area volunteers, assess the overall problem, and find solutions. Integral to their success is Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance in Gallatin. This summer, most cats and kittens that came to Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance arrived in Havahart traps, not cute carriers and not from loving homes with catnip toys and regular meals. These felines are ‘ferals’ and strays, and they need our help as a community both for their quality of life and for ours. Their stories are often heartbreaking, but they illustrate a situation that is wholly preventable.
Some people come with food, others with large jugs of water.
Some come simply to stare at the uncommon spectacle of almost 30 cats on a grassy knoll behind a busy Hendersonville shopping center.
Other visitors get out of their vehicles to pet the few tame cats, and a few of the people are rescuers who check for injury or disease and humanely trap the cats and vet them, spay/neuter, and look for foster homes or adoptive homes.
Two homeless people had been occupying an abandoned truck bay at the shopping center and had been feeding and housing the cats prior to the couple’s removal by new building owners. As the heat of summer set in, the cats had nowhere else to go but the parking lot and a shady area at the periphery of the strip mall.
An employee of a nearby sandwich shop noticed a pregnant cat in the abandoned bay in a cage with kittens and quickly rescued them from the heat and possible starvation.
The cats, now visible, become a problem for tenants and therefore for shopping center property management who starts dumping the donated food onto the ground and emptying out water containers to discourage the cats from the property.
The cats begin migrating into surrounding areas, but do not abandon their territory – it is all they know.
Those trappers and rescuers that had been working hard to trap, transport to vet care, and spay/neuter then rehome, are upset that their hard work is being subverted.
Those who have watched the cats for weeks, fed and played with them are unhappy, and even more unhappy when the rumor spreads that someone drove by and purposely hit a cat with their vehicle.
It is a situation out of control that started out badly, evolved into a possible happy ending but now has left ruffled feathers and some outright anger among both the helpers and those who understandably don’t want their businesses to be overrun with cats.
Feral cat has four litters
In a Gallatin neighborhood on a very short street of just one city block, Angel Chance has watched one bedraggled stray cat give birth to four litters in one year.
“I feed her, but I can’t catch her, and it’s heartbreaking to watch her have more babies,” says Chance.
Local TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release or Rehome) volunteers are working to trap the cat, but have instead caught other cats, some pregnant, as well as a very angry racoon.
Neighbors have found homes for some of the kittens, but with 16 cats born each year, one can do the math: there aren’t going to be enough homes for them all.
And, giving kittens away “free to good homes” carries a very disturbing warning: humane societies say advertising “free kittens” can be a cruel death sentence to a helpless animal: dog fighting rings use kittens and cats as live bait when training their dogs.
“We were told this all started when a woman in a trailer park who was hoarding cats, died and the trailer park management simply opened the door to her trailer and shooed the cats all out,” leaving them to fend for themselves and to reproduce exponentially.
Kittens are cute and adorable, but they do grow up.
And when they become a handfu, and are sexually mature, just putting them out the front door is tempting.
In a trailer park community not far from the new County Courthouse in Gallatin, it is not unusual to see children playing with small kittens who invariably disappear once they become grown and less like stuffed toys.
A scant block away, residents of a retirement center have found stray cats and kittens fun to watch but do not express much interest in helping TNR volunteers spay and neuter.
“There is distrust that the cats will not be returned to the community once ‘fixed’ and it is hard to convince them otherwise,” says area resident/business owner Randy Lucas who has the vantage point of seeing both the trailer park cat problem and the retirement center problem firsthand.
“We have tried to trap, but often find our traps sabotaged,” says Lucas, who has transported approximately 18 cats in his 20 years at his location, to Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance at his own expense, releasing the cats back into the community where he and neighbors feed them and they are enjoyed as “community cats,” a concept endorsed by Alley Cat Allies (alleycat.org) a national group dedicated to advocating for cats. These cats can live in colonies, fed by volunteers and are sometimes socialized, and sometimes not.
The concept is controversial – cats prey on wildlife and can become a nuisance as they did at the Hendersonville strip mall.
Alley Cats says this reality is countered by the “vacuum effect” while local animal control’s typical approach is to catch and kill community cats Alley Cats says this is counterproductive. Other cats simply move into the old territory and continue to breed. The population simply rebounds.
Volunteers making a difference
Annette Kolledge Ricke is a TNR volunteer in Sumner County. In 23 years, Ricke has personally trapped and taken for neutering over 500 cats.
“I got into TNR by accident,” she says. “I was living in apartments in Goodlettsville and I saw cats. Outside, day and night. It was unending, and it broke my heart.”
Ricke says she began studying about TNR, and was soon humanely trapping, having the cats vetted and finding homes for them through cat rescue organizations.
For Tara Vincent, a TNR volunteer who spearheaded the Hendersonville shopping strip effort and personally transported 17 cats to Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance, “This is my therapy,” she says.
Like Ricke, she has “been doing this for years.”
Tara is a founding board member along with Donna Hartley Lucas, of AdvoCATes Sumner County, a newly established non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about spay/neuter and the problem of feral cats.
Currently there are “millions of free roaming abandoned and feral cats in the United States. Most of these cats will suffer premature mortality from disease, starvation, weather extremes, trauma, or euthanasia,” says American Humane (americanhumane.org.)
In a growing county like Sumner, the issue of unwanted animals, in particular abandoned cats and cat colonies will only get worse.
Trailer parks and apartment buildings, due to the transient nature of their occupants, are fertile ground for unintended cat colonies. Sadly, some who live in these often-temporary residences will acquire a cat, fail to spay or neuter and then simply turn the cat out onto the street when they move on, which is exactly what happened at a trailer park in Gallatin, on Highway 109.
A man and his mother had over 20 cats, were evicted, and left the cats to fend for themselves. Numerous litters of kittens have been born since the adult cats were abandoned.
TNR volunteers are working to trap, neuter and return the cats to the community that enjoys them and feeds them but does not want them reproducing exponentially.
Catalogical.com says most domestic cats tend to live 12-15 years. Each female cat can have “4 kittens per litter, 3 times per year for 15 years (making) a total of 180 kittens” per female cat per lifetime.
Sumner County has a large trailer park residency, especially in central Gallatin, and apartment complexes are numerous and multiplying every day.
The handwriting is therefore, “on the wall” when it comes to a burgeoning problem in our area.
The solution is so simple, but it requires personal responsibility on the part of anyone who brings a cat into their home. The cat owner owes it to the cat and the community to vet, and spay and/or neuter.
When that fails, it requires volunteers and advocates to deal with the issue for a future that ensures all cats, and their communities have a healthy outcome.
Statistics tell the story
Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance, established in 2011, has reduced dog and cat intake at the county’s animal shelters by an incredible 73% and dog/cat euthanasia by 82%, according to their website sumnerspayneuteralliance.org. By mid-summer 2023, SSNA had performed 100,000 spay/neuter surgeries in a short 12 years.
You can keep the momentum going by contributing to Sumner Spay Neuter Alliance, and by volunteering with AdvoCATes to trap and transport cats to SSNA. At certain times when grants have been made available, spray/neuter services for cats, whether they are strays or pets, are free at the facility. Feral cats brought in in traps, are $25 any time and include a rabies vaccination.
To volunteer with AdvoCATes Sumner County email email@example.com.
Even if you cannot physically trap and transport, the group particularly needs Sumner County school teachers and parent volunteers who can help the non-profit bring pet education into classrooms and will be sponsoring poster contests and other activities in the schools during National Pet Week in May.
Aggressive TNR efforts are saving cat lives.
TNR dramatically reduces the problem of free roaming cats and the harsh realities they suffer without human intervention.
Donna Hartley Lucas is a 24-year resident of Gallatin, owner of Gallatin Ghost Walk and Historic Sumner, Inc., and is a freelance writer and author.