Navy "Tenders" Seaside Cats
By Chief Petty Officer Kaylee Eger, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
MAYPORT NAVAL STATION, Fla., Aug. 24, 2000 Drive along the road near the jetties here on any given day and you may see a few fisherman, some sea birds and the cats.
Not just a few cats, but hundreds of them in all sizes and colors.
They're the feral cats that live in colonies near the picnic areas along the basin where the ships dock. They feed on mice, rats, fish and whatever scraps of food sympathetic humans may provide.
While most military bases trap and kill these animals, Mayport has taken several different approaches to this continuous problem. Instead of trapping and euthanizing the animals, they are taken to the Mayport Veterinary Treatment Facility, where Dr. (Capt.) Kari Seaman and other veterinarians vaccinate and spay or neuter them.
With support and some funding from the base commander, the veterinarians turned to the "trap, neuter, return" approach because trapping and euthanizing did not work, Seaman said. The seaside base has a constant source of food, she said, so when one batch of cats was trapped and euthanized, another would move into the area.
"We were looking for a way to reduce the number of cats that are here, stabilize the population and also make sure that the cats are healthy," she said. "That's the theory behind starting the program. At least the cats maintaining their territory here have been tested for feline leukemia, they've been vaccinated for rabies, and they can't reproduce."
Ideally, Seaman said, if all the cats on base were to go through the program, the population would stabilize, age and eventually die off. Because people continue to abandon their cats, she predicts the program will continue.
"I don't think it's feasible for us to ever completely be finished," she admitted. "We will always have a constant fluctuating colony out there, in the jetties in particular."
About 300 cats live in four colonies on base, Seaman said. It's hard to get a good count, though, because many live among the piers and jetty rocks, she said.
Since the program began two years ago, 152 animals have gone through it. Of those, 44 were adopted.
"I do surgeries every other Wednesday and estimate about 50 percent of the population here has been through our program," she said. Once a trapped cat receives a clean bill of health and has its ears notched, it's released back to its colony.
"Our biggest problem is people leaving their pets behind," she said. "Every so often we go out and there'll be a new friendly cat within our colonies. We just had one today that was found that was declawed and spayed."
Mayport is working on establishing a mandatory microchip program to help with this problem, Seaman said. "This will give us a way to at least stop new cats from being left," she said.
The Bear Foundation Inc., a local group, also helps the Mayport cats. The nonprofit, all-volunteer organization helps feral cats by trapping, testing, vaccinating, spaying or neutering, identifying and returning them to their environment. From 1998 through 1999, the foundation trapped about 900 cats in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, including more than 50 on base. Kittens and domestic cats were put up for adoption while feral adults were returned to their colonies.
"Our biggest problem is trying to educate people about the overpopulation of these animals, said Francesca Tabor-Miolla, Bear Foundation founder. "This is a human problem. Many of these animals were someone's pet. Unfortunately, many are not sterilized and are often abandoned when their owner moves. They are left to survive and breed in the wild.
"Cats can reproduce at an alarming rate, with two litters each year," she said. Start with one pregnant queen and if she and every descendant were to survive and reproduce, there'd be 2 million cats in eight years, she said. What keeps the number under control is that many die of disease, starvation, predation or they're hit by vehicles, she noted.
Tabor-Miolla and other animal welfare specialists recommend that anyone adopting a pet think about the future. Being in the military means moving families to different areas. Pets should be included in these arrangements and not be left behind.
For more information on the Bear Foundation, go to www.bearfoundation.com.
Editor's Note: This is one article in a comprehensive special report at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/cats/.
(Editor's Note: Naval Station Mayport officials in May 2001 discontinued the trap, neuter and release program reported in the August 2000 story below. For a story update, see Mayport Ends TNR, Orders Pet Registration.)