Scratch an apartment complex in Indianapolis, and you’ll find a multitude of stray and feral cats. Look in any urban neighborhood, and though you may not see them, free-roaming unowned felines are eking out an existence.
It wasn’t long ago that these cats living on the fringes — an estimated 178,000 of them in Indianapolis — were subject to systematic extermination as the city worked to impound and destroy all unadoptable strays. IndyFeral founder Lisa Tudor knew there was a better way, and it was called Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR.
Tudor recalls, “Historically, the city’s method of dealing with the problem was trapping and euthanizing stray and feral cats. And we just felt like folks wanted a nonlethal method to [manage the problem]. TNR had been around since the early ’90s and was having great success on the East and West Coasts, so we thought, why can’t we do that?”
Formed in 2002, the grass-roots animal welfare organization mounted an aggressive TNR program, marshalling cat lovers citywide. The goal was to interrupt the breeding cycle of the prolific felines without harming them. After sterilization and basic veterinary care, the wild kitties would live out their lives in groupings called cat colonies, which are monitored by volunteers. (“Feral cats and kittens are not adoption candidates,” Tudor explains.)
Since an ordinance passed in 2005 adopting TNR as an official tactic, IndyFeral has spayed or neutered 13,000 unowned cats. In the same time period, Indianapolis Animal Care and Control has seen a 37 percent decrease in stray and feral cat intake.
“The good thing about that 37 percent,” Tudor says, “is that it represents 2,000 fewer cats that ended up in the shelter.” Before IndyFeral, these cats would have met their death at IACC — and the cost of trapping, feeding and then disposing of them would have run around $150 a cat.
That translates to nearly $300,000 of taxpayers’ money saved by an organization that is funded by grants and individual donations.
IndyFeral has helped set up over 1,700 managed cat colonies, and typically sterilizes 250 to 300 cats each month. There is always a waiting list for this service, which costs only $20 a cat.
Stray and unowned cats produce 80 percent of the kittens born every year, according to Humane Society of the United States estimates. No matter how you slice it — lives and money saved, overpopulation decreased — the nonprofit organization has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the city.
“What’s most gratifying is that there are so many other like-minded people who want a nonlethal alternative to solving this problem,” says Tudor, who jokes about the “if you build it, they will come” factor.
“We just knew that if we gave folks the tools and resources they needed, the community would step up to the plate. And they have.”
— Shawndra Miller