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‘Kitten season’ is happening in Pittsburgh’s feral cat colonies

In this Friday, April 1, 2016 photo, a feral cat hides in a wooded area near a beach parking lot.
Frank Eltman
In this Friday, April 1, 2016 photo, a feral cat hides in a wooded area near a beach parking lot.

As the weather begins to warm and flowers bloom, kittens are becoming more common on Pittsburgh’s streets. Neighborhoods like Oakland, Northside, and McKees Rocks are entering their “kitten season,” a period of time where feral cats — cats that cannot be readapted to indoor living — produce exponentially more litters of kittens. But, “kitten season” may not be as cute as it sounds.

“People don't understand what that really means and how bad that actually is, especially considering the mortality rate of kittens born outside is 80%,” said Lydia Swanson of the non-profit Oakland TNR Coalition.

Not only that, Swanson said, but “kitten season” can cause an increased risk of disease spread between cats, both feral and outdoor.

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In response, local advocacy groups are encouraging residents to become involved in curbing the oncoming season. The first prevention method is TNVR programs — or trap, neuter, vaccinate, and release. This ensures that the feral cats cannot continue to produce litters, and reduces their risk of disease. Residents can bring feral cats and kittens to clinics run by organizations like Oakland TNR Coalition and Animal Friends. Residents can also take advantage of their free yearly spay/neuters as Pittsburgh residents.

Cody Hoellerman of Animal Friends said interested residents should make sure they’re informed before stepping in.

“It's really important to know how to respond when you find those litters of kittens, because if you take them from their mother when they're too young, it can really have a negative impact on them medically,” said Hoellerman. “It's that point of time when mom's instincts are telling her that the kittens can be on their own. That's ultimately when it would be safe for somebody to step in, get those kittens, and bring them into an organization.”

Another way for residents to help is to take care of a local colony. Hoellerman said that volunteer caregivers can be one of the best defenses against kitten season.

“These feral cat colonies actually have colony caregivers who are just selfless kind of volunteer animal lovers that provide shelters for them in the winter, put food out for them to make sure that they have access to to, you know, a steady supply of food, clean water, and really just kind of looking after them while they're living in that environment."