Leslie Cromwell has a heart for what she calls the “unadoptable” pets.
Her home brood includes three dogs, one foster dog, a 30-year-old parrot and two cats.
One of those cats once roamed free. Cromwell adopted the cat more than two years ago. She named her Maize.
“She wasn’t a true feral who never had any contact with humans. She did get fed every day by the colony’s caretaker,” Cromwell said. She adopted the cat after it was spayed, a procedure that uncovered health issues preventing the cat from being released back to her Arlington colony.
Now president of the nonprofit Friends of the Tri-City Animal Shelter, Cromwell is still helping animals. The group is dedicated to caring for homeless, surrendered, lost or abandoned cats and dogs in Cedar Hill, Duncanville and DeSoto, and provides support for the Cedar Hill-based Tri-City Animal Shelter.
About four years ago, the nonprofit quietly launched its limited trap-neuter-return program to spay and neuter feral and community cats in Duncanville, DeSoto and Cedar Hill neighborhoods. The operation aims to control the feral cat population. Cromwell said it also reduces nuisance cat calls for crying and yowling — usually mating sounds — and keeps the animals healthier, since they are given a rabies vaccine.
The initiative has spread slowly by word of mouth. Last year, the group began advertising online and through social media.
To date, the nonprofit — with the help of its partner veterinarians — has sterilized nearly 400 wild cats.
But about a month ago, group leaders put the program on hold.
The nonprofit had depleted its funds. Now, the group is working to raise at least $5,000 to revive the program and continue its work. Last week, Cromwell posted a donation link on the nonprofit’s website.
In the interim, the nonprofit will help trap and set up veterinarian appointments to have feral cats spayed or neutered for residents, but people will have to pay the at-cost rate of $30 to fix the animals and have them vaccinated for rabies. Normally, Cromwell said it can cost about $55 to $80, depending on the veterinarian.
“The more we can keep from going through the shelter system, the better it is for the cats and shelter staff,” Cromwell said. “[TNR] is the only thing that really works well as far as population control.”
According to the SPCA of Texas, there are about 60 million to 100 million feral cats in the U.S. In the spring, shelters often are overrun with feral kitten litters.
Last spring at the Tri-City Animal Shelter in Cedar Hill, there were about four kittens per cage — twice the ideal amount.
“Every cage was full,” shelter attendant Brittney Walker said.
The shelter didn’t have the resources to care for them all. To remedy the overpopulation, some were euthanized, Walker said.
However, this season hasn’t been as crowded, she said. She and Cromwell didn’t know whether to credit the rainy weather or success of the spay and neuter program.
“It helps sterilizing the feral cats. We’ll have less kittens come to us each year,” Walker said.
Still, kittens keep coming.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, there were six kittens from a feral litter available for adoption at the shelter.
Some pawed at the glass from the other side of the cage. Others snuggled in a corner. The litter — a mix of black and white, black and gray tabbies — was a litter by a feral mother. They lived with a foster for two weeks to socialize them and strengthen them for adoption.
Breeding among feral cats is the biggest issue, said Mattie McClean, coordinator for the trap-neuter-return program.
“Like any wildlife issue, if you let it go unchecked, we get people in communities complaining about cats running amok,” said McClean, who started a trap-neuter-return club for campus cats while a student at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. “And it’s because all of the unfixed feral cats out there breeding during this season.”
Last week at the Prairie Paws Adoption Center in Grand Prairie where she works, there were about 20 kittens in cages from feral cats. The shelter set up an unofficial kitten nursery to care for them.
Already, McClean has taken home two litters to foster. One didn’t make it.
“It’s very heartbreaking work,” she said. “The survival rate for young kittens who are away from their mother is not good. It’s extremely hard for the fosters.”
In the trap-neuter-return program, cats are trapped, sterilized and returned to their colonies. Since the cats are territorial, the idea is eventually the colonies will age and die off, Cromwell said.
On that recent Wednesday, seven feral cats sat in plastic boxes in steel cages in a side room of the shelter. The front of the box was turned to face the wall. Three cages were labeled “possible TNR.”
Walker turned two of the boxes. One cat crouched toward the back of the crate. Another lunged at Walker, hissing and bearing its teeth.
“They’re wild animals,” Cromwell said. “They’re small predators.”
Walker pointed to their clipped left ears — a sign that they’ve likely been sterilized.
The shelter and Cromwell are working to find their colonies and the caretakers who daily give them food and water. They’ll use the location that animal control picked them up to guess. The four other non-sterilized feral cats will likely be euthanized, Cromwell said.
McClean said she knows of about 15 colonies in the Cedar Hill, DeSoto and Duncanville area. Some live in neighborhoods. Others have found homes near a Taco Bell, Starbucks and Wal-Mart in Cedar Hill. There’s likely twice as many more the nonprofit doesn’t know about.
“In my opinion, the more we can spay or neuter, the better,” Cromwell said. “It’s population control.”
This article first appeared in The Dallas Morning News Best Southwest edition of Neighborsgo on May 21, 2015.
Reporter Nanette Light can be reached at 214-977-8039.