Q: My neighbor in Westchester County, N.Y., keeps feeding stray cats. One had a litter a few weeks ago. The cats wander into my garden, defecating on my plants and attacking the birds and chipmunks. One of them got into my garage and sprayed. How can I get my neighbor to stop feeding these cats? And how can I get them to stop breeding?
A: You have two separate issues that need to be addressed: The cats in your neighborhood need to be spayed or neutered to control the population, and your property needs to be protected. These problems can be solved, particularly if you can enlist your neighbor to help.
To deal with the population, contact your local humane society or a local stray-cat organization, like the Feral Cat Initiative, which services the New York City area, to find out what programs exist to trap, neuter and return the cats to the community. Some organizations may still be closed or experiencing delays because of the pandemic, so this may take some time. The kittens may still be young enough to be captured, socialized and adopted, immediately reducing the feral cat population. Once the adults are neutered, their numbers will eventually dwindle, too. In the meantime, neutering the males will give you relief from some annoying behavior like spraying in your garage.
But someone needs to capture the cats, and the person in the best position to do this is your neighbor, who is already feeding them. So talk to them, sharing whatever information you find. Ask the neighbor to limit feedings to a strict once- or twice-a-day schedule as you would with a house cat. (The food should only be left out for about half an hour so as not to attract wildlife.)
“Everything has to be structured,” said Becky Robinson, the president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, an advocacy organization based in Bethesda, Md. Provide them with regularly scheduled feedings and they won’t be hungry and will be less likely to dig through trash looking for food. If your neighbor stops feeding them, “they’re going to start looking for food, they’re not going to disappear,” Ms. Robinson said.
Now for your property. You want to make the space as uninviting as possible. “Cats like dirt, so you want to make it unpleasant for them,” Ms. Robinson said. Here are some tricks for your garden: Sprinkle the soil around the plants with citrus peels, which cats do not like. Dig chopsticks into the ground vertically, creating a barrier. Take a welcome mat, cut it up into wide strips and lay the pieces out upside down along the pathways and soil with the hard, rough surface facing up. This makes the ground a more difficult place for the cat to walk. As for your garage, temporarily set up a sprinkler on a motion sensor by the garage door to keep the cats out. After a few sprays, they’ll find other places to wander.
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