It can sometimes be hard not to notice the feral cat population in Killeen. If residents head downtown after the sun sets, cats can be seen in streets and alleyways all over the city, in the parking lots of businesses and in sewer runoffs and drainage ditches.
Depending on who you ask, the feral cat population in the city numbers around 10,000, with some animal activists saying that number may be a low estimate.
The city is working to control the cat population, and one of the ways it is doing so is by using cat colonies.
“Cat colonies exist to humanely reduce the feral cat population in the city,” cat colony manager and animal activist George Fox said. “The whole goal is to get the cats fixed and then let them humanely age out and die in the colony. In many of the places we have done this in the city, we already see less cats.”
Cat colonies in the city must be registered and the manager must have a permit for the colony based on Killeen’s city ordinances regarding feral cats and cat colonies. According to Killeen Animal Services Director Ed Tucker, there are about eight authorized cat colonies registered with the city and the Animal Services department. Tucker said the first and most important step to getting registered as a cat colony manager is receiving permission from the property owner.
When people create a cat colony, they typically set one up where cats are already congregating. According to Fox, it is easier to feed cats where they have already decided to settle than to attract them to a new location.
A traditional cat colony has multiple feeding areas set up for the cats, usually covered and in a sheltered location. Cats living in colonies generally stay in the vicinity of the colony, but don’t wait in the immediate area to be fed. Most cat colonies in Killeen are in the northern part of the city, in the downtown area.
“People manage cat colonies because the ferals have such a horrible life living in the sewers,” animal advocate Linda Marzi said. “Feral cats live on lizards and stagnant water. But they also help keep populations of different vermin under control.”
There are a few things people need to do when trying to become a cat colony manager.
“The main thing is obtaining permission from the property owner, which can be difficult,” Tucker said. “If the colony is at your home, then you are the property owner, but let’s say you want to establish a cat colony that is near a shopping center. You might have a lot of businesses in the shopping center that each have a piece of the pie, but the actual complex is owned by a company in California, and that is who you have to talk to and get permission from.”
Once the property owner consents to having a cat colony on the property, the manager just needs to fill out some paperwork at the Killeen Animal Shelter to receive a cat colony permit.
Even though cat colony managers are required to register with Animal Services by the city, Tucker said, he is sure “there are several unauthorized cat colonies in the city, too.
“If we find an unregistered cat colony, we don’t cite them right away,” Tucker said. “We try to work with them and give them time to get all the paperwork in order. I have one person I have been working with for several months who is just finishing up the process. But if people don’t follow the ordinance and don’t try to, we will eventually cite them.”
Fox said cat colonies are one of the best ways to help control the feral cat population in Killeen.
“There is no real alternative to cat colonies in the city,” he said. “A person can go down to the shelter and buy a cat trap for $50, but cats can breed faster than you can trap them and get them fixed.”
The cat colony manager traps the cats and pays for them to get fixed. The colony manager takes the cats to one of the vets in the city.
There is no fee associated with acquiring a permit to manage a cat colony; the animal shelter only requires permission from the property owner and for the prospective manager to fill out the necessary paperwork. Once the colony has been established, Animal Services requires that all animals in the colony be fixed and that they have their ears tipped to mark that they belong to a colony.
“We don’t have as many permit holders as we should; I am probably the only two-permit holder in the city,” Fox said. “We should have people all over the city doing this to help manage the cat population.”