While “Friendly Freddy” is not purely a feral cat, he is a favorite of April Brade and a small group of Parkesburg residents who work to stabilize and control communities of feral cats and kittens.
Friendly Freddy is a “town cat” who was likely dumped by an irresponsible pet owner. Like Freddy, many of these cats come with no history and no one knows where they are from.
Freddy, a real town cat, will show up at a door, be invited inside, sleep on a couch for a couple of hours and then want out. He will be gone for days and then show up all the way across town.
“We are afraid someone’s going to trap him and he will end up at a clinic or worse,” Brade said about Freddy.
Over a scrapple benedict at the Blob Diner in Downingtown, Brade and I chatted about feral cats.
She told me most strays have no owner, and unlike Freddy, are generally not socialized to people. When there are kittens born to these strays, you have a small window of time to socialize these kittens.
Unfortunately many community cats can’t be domesticated. While some caring citizens will simply feed community cats, Brade said. There is a better, proven way to control a stray cat colony.
Brade and her small group of allies work hard at what she said is a best practice known as TNR or “Trap, Neuter and Return.”
After being trapped and transported to the clinic, cats are knocked out in the morning, the vet does his or her work and the cat is picked up the same day and after recovery and returned to where they were captured. It is best to release a cat 24-hours after surgery.
When a feral cat is fixed or neutered, it can no longer reproduce and the colony will not grow. Male cats will usually no longer spray, they will typically stop fighting and that annoying night-time yowling is reduced.
Kitten season once came only during the spring, but now are a year-round occurrence.
An unfixed breeding colony can increase and double its size during the season and for the next season double again. There are millions of stray cats worldwide.
“If no one is neutering, it can quickly get out of control,” Brade said, for what is surely an understatement.
Brade talked about working with feral cats prior to the pandemic. In 2019, about 60 cats in Parkesburg underwent TNR.
Brade told me she started saving animals at a young age. She was always bringing home baby birds or bunnies.
“It’s not glamorous–not fun–but this has to be done,” she said. “I can’t walk away from it.”
Brade said it is illegal to trap a feral cat, take it away and dump it at a farm or somewhere else.
“When dumping you are just handing off the problem,” she said.
An ear is tipped or cut to notify that a cat has gone through the TNR process and there is no need to subject a cat to “another day at the spa,” said Brade.
With TNR, the cat is vaccinated and will not spread distemper or rabies.
The Brandywine Valley SPCA, West Chester Campus, supports a health clinic.
“Folks in the community doing trap-neuter-return (TNR) for community cats are unsung heroes,” Linda Torelli, of the SPCA said. “If cats aren’t socialized as young kittens, it’s very difficult and often impossible to get them accustomed to people.
“While undersocialized cats may not be adoption candidates, they deserve the chance to live the independent life they prefer. We appreciate people doing TNR for giving them that life while helping to stem the tide of unwanted kittens being born in the community.
“We support those folks with traps (free to use with a credit card number deposit in case not returned) and very low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations, backed by donors and grants we secure.”
For much of the past 100 years, strays were killed and euthanized.
“It’s inhuman, doesn’t solve the problem and is a temporary fix,” Brade told me. “When you remove cats from a colony, more, different cats replace them.”
It’s called the vacuum effect and if a cat is removed from a porch, within 24 hours another cat shows.
“When you start feeding they send a memo out,” Brade said. “It’s an underground network—there’s food over here.”
Animal lover Melinda Williams praised Brade.
“I immediately became aware of April Brade and her good works through social media when I moved to Sadsbury,” Williams said. “Anytime there was a lost pet, missing cat, or found kittens, poster’s immediately tagged April for her great advice and caring.
“Her kindness towards homeless, helpless animals knows no limits. A working mom and wife, she always makes time to place and find homes (or TNR) these sad little creatures. Since moving to this area, I’m frankly astounded how many feral cats roam the area.
“We all try to provide food , shelter, and love for them. But April’s effort to TNR (trap, neuter, and return) them, is key to helping curb this growing population. May God bless her and all of her team.”
I’ll be on the lookout for feral cats. And I’ll check to see if an ear is cut or tipped. Maybe, just maybe, April Brade and her team got there first?
Brade’s Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/TeamParTNR?mibextid=LQQJ4d
Since she currently does not have the volunteers with availability to do large scale TNR campaigns, Brade has turned to asking for assistance from Forgotten Cats.
She applies for help online and if the location qualifies, she is put on the wait list. They charge per cat, which Brade raises by asking for donations, since property owners rarely have the funds.
. The local rescue Brade works with is Lucky Dawg Animal Rescue:
When the small team gets adoptable kittens, they often turn them over to the rescue to handle the vetting and adoption process.
For TNR resources contact Ally Cat Allies at https://www.alleycat.org/
To donate, go to Brade’s Venmo: @parkesburgtnr or go to her Facebook site.
Bill Rettew is a weekly columnist and Chester County native. He once lived with a peculiar six-toed cat named Wookie. The best way to reach him is at [email protected]