A Boston nonprofit is looking for a new yard to shelter feral cats on Mission Hill after the old house that housed them was sold. The appeal is the latest in a series of actions aimed at caring for cat colonies in the neighborhood as colony populations dwindle, according to the nonprofit organization Boston’s Forgotten Felines, or BFF.
This colony of feral cats — felines born on the streets and not socialized to interact with humans — were housed and nurtured by BFF, along with a handful of other cat groups on the Hill.
A neighborhood yard had long housed two shelters for the felines — roofs of wooden boxes insulated to keep out the snow. When the house was recently sold, BFF volunteers moved the shelters to a nearby yard in a panic, said Joni Nelson, president of BFF. When this owner saw the shelters, he destroyed them.
Nelson said his organization is looking for a new place to leave the shelters, especially after the summer when the weather gets colder.
“What we are looking for is someone who will allow their garden to have shelter for the winter – I’m not worried about the summer, but for the winter these cats need shelter, and I was hoping someone in the neighborhood would let us put two shelters in their backyard,” Nelson said.
The colony served by the shelter includes five felines, but according to Nelson, it once included 30 to 50 cats.
Mary Ann Nelson, a longtime Mission Hill resident who has no connection to Joni Nelson, said she often saw cats outside wandering the hill. Now there is only one cat she sees prowling around her part of the neighborhood. Unlike those she used to see, Mary Ann Nelson knows that this one has a home.
She said that back when Hill’s cat population was larger, she knew people who fed the cats, a job that now largely falls to BFF.
“I had a friend who would go out and buy bags of cat food for the cats and he had maybe five or six cat bowls on his porch where he fed the cats,” said Mary Ann Nelson, who lived at Mission Hill. since 1985. “He was one of a group of people who behaved like this with cat food on their porch and water too.”
The decline in cat populations, like the one whose shelters were destroyed, is largely due to the action of non-profit organizations like BFF and others to trap cats, neuter and neuter them, and then send them back to the streets, said Joni Nelson.
When larger populations of cats roamed the hill, notices were posted warning that a group was coming to trap and neuter animals. If owners don’t want their pets neutered, they should keep them indoors during this time, Mary Ann Nelson said.
Rob Halpin, director of communications at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center, or MSPCA-Angell, said citywide feral cat populations have declined over the past two decades.
“We see very few feral cats entering our center for the welfare conscious,” Halpin said. “We get very few calls from residents who describe growing feral cat populations in their neighborhood because [of] work [done by nonprofit organizations].”
This shift, Halpin said, came with a shift in the model in which humanitarian organizations treat cat populations. Because wild animals tend to misbehave when adopted, Halpin said most organizations have policies of trapping cats, neutering them, and returning them to their communities to avoid fostering. in a house only for the animal to be abandoned.
Halpin said decreasing cat populations would benefit both the cats themselves, which did not evolve to live outdoors, as well as other wildlife in the region.
“We live in a part of the country where there are [temperature] extremes that can be difficult for cats. Additionally, feral and domesticated cats wreak havoc on wildlife, whether small mammals or birds, so the disappearance of feral cat populations would be a win-win situation,” Halpin said. . “That’s certainly the hoped-for outcome of all those organizations that have done all the sterilization work over the years.”
A paper 2018 published in “Zoonoses and Public Health” said feral cats, which do not receive regular medical treatment, can potentially pose a health risk to animals and humans by carrying and spreading pathogens. However, Halpin said he hadn’t heard that cats were often vectors of disease. Instead, he said most aid organizations have other priorities when it comes to reducing feral cat numbers.
“Feral cat populations were, for many reasons – primarily human reasons for cats themselves and animals vulnerable to predation by feral cats – an area of focus for human group reduction,” said Halpine. “If this trend appears to be reversing or even stopping, you can count on humanitarian organizations to redouble their efforts, because for the health and safety of every animal involved, it is simply not healthy to have large feral cat populations anywhere, Mission Hill included.
Joni Nelson said she was also concerned that the actions of students and other Hilltop tenants could cause the cat population to increase. Joni Nelson said she gets frustrated when students living in an apartment get a cat, but when they graduate and leave, put it out on the street.
“What I would like to see are the colleges [letting] students know you can’t pick up a kitten and throw it out at the end of the school year, because that contributes to overcrowding and I have a serious problem with that,” she said.
She said she had tried to work with local universities in the past to raise awareness of the issues among students, but her efforts met with little success.
“To be honest with you, my main goal is to stop the overcrowding there, it’s to educate the students – and the tenants, not just the students, don’t think I’m getting rid of them – but I need help,” said Joni Nelson.
Halpin said the MSPCA-Angell doesn’t hear much about college students abandoning their cats on the street when they leave town. As for students who drop cats at the MSPCA, he said his organization tends to receive fewer than a dozen such drop-outs per year.
For Joni Nelson, the ideal situation is that the students don’t have a cat in the first place. But, if students adopt one and have to return it at the end of the year, she said they should take the cat to service organizations like the MSPCA-Angell or the Animal Rescue League. Joni Nelson also said she and BFF can help college students or other renters find homes for cats they need to get rid of, but wants them to understand the weight they want.
“I want them to understand that it’s not the right thing…to get a cat knowing when you’re going to give it up in six months,” she said. “It’s mean, it’s cruel. …Don’t buy a cat unless someone is taking it home to Nebraska with them or wherever they go.
For her, the most important thing is that cats are treated with humanity.
“I care more about cats than people because it’s not their fault, it’s because [of] the irresponsible,” she said.