While riding through the beautiful Lowcountry, occasionally you will see a cat running by. Most of the time, the cat is domestic and close to home, and it is just taking its daily route thorough well-known territory. There are, however, significant numbers of homeless cats that most of us ignore. They may be feral, sick or injured, and may live together in several cat colonies around Hilton Head and Bluffton. One of the problems with ignoring the stray and feral cats that roam the streets is over-population.
If left unchecked, the average cat has one to eight kittens per litter, and at two to three liters per year, that adds up. During a female cat’s productive life, one cat could have more than 100 kittens. A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 420,000 kittens in just seven years. Unfortunately, those statistics and the growing cat population is a problem that most people chose not to think about. Fortunately, there are two women, Althea Hicks of Bluffton and Claudia Kennedy of Hilton Head Island, who have made it their mission to not only care for and feed the homeless cats in our area, but they also make sure that they get necessary medical attention, including being spayed or nurtured. These dedicated “cat ladies” spend every day tracking, trapping and caring for the homeless and feral cat population that share our community.
“Feral cats were popping up everywhere in Colleton River,” says Hicks, who along with Kennedy founded a 501(c)(3) charity in 2015 called All About Cats, a self-funded program that has a group of six dedicated volunteers and has successfully fed and trapped more than 500 cats over the past several years.
All About Cats plays an important part in Beaufort County’s chain of animal management. The group’s primary plan is to “TNR:” trap, neuter and return. When a new colony of feral cats develops, the group goes out to trap the cats, confirm that they are healthy, get them spayed or neutered, and then return them to their original location so that they can live out their lives.
When the group is made aware of situations where the number of cats is becoming unmanageable, “we maintain the situation on our own,” Hicks says. “I get calls from all over Bluffton from people looking for help. Often times, most shelters are not as proactive in coming out to help control an overpopulation, because they are often understaffed or can’t take the time to come out and trap.”
The group’s volunteers do the trapping with support from Palmetto Animal League, Hilton Head Humane Association, Beaufort County Animal Shelter and Tabby House. These agencies provide much-needed assistance at no cost. They spay, neuter and vaccinate the cats and provide other types of medical care. When possible, they arrange for adoptions. “We work in tandem to get the work done,” Hicks said. “We do what we can, but we also know that we will never get them all. Without the work that we do, there would be a huge increase of stray, sick or injured and sometimes vicious cats that would over population our area.”
The work that the group does is an important and necessary service to our community, yet it is often a thankless job. Right now, All About Cats is feeding six colonies daily that support between three and 15 cats per colony in Colleton River and another seven colonies with an additional 50 cats on Hilton Head. It’s not always easy, though. Rain or shine, the volunteers are out working. Sometimes, the work that they do requires them to go on someone’s property to set the traps. What makes it difficult is that even when they know there is a need, access is a problem; “some communities that are behind the gate do not support what we do,” says Hicks.
All About Cats has a variety of needs. In addition to financial support for food and vet bills, the group needs help with various projects like building shelters or feeding stations as well as simple construction. Caring for kittens is the biggest expense, not just because the kittens need to be fed and cared for when they are very young, but because the group also tries to socialize the kittens in hopes that they could be adopted. Trying to get a homeless cat socialized and comfortable around people is an important way that people can help in providing foster care for cats on a temporary basis.
For more information about All About Cats, the cats that they have available for adoption or how you can help, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.