In the song "Stray Cat Strut" by the Stray Cats, circa 1981, the cats are living it up under the neon lights, strutting around with their tails in the air and getting dinner from a garbage can. In reality, stray cats run around in colonies, sick from disease, living on handouts and reproducing at an alarming rate.
Springfield resident Judy Leach is part of Animal Allies, a group that combats the trend by catching the stray or "feral" cats and getting them spayed or neutered to slow their numbers. Leach said Animal Allies treats about 600 cats a year.
"Behind every shopping center, you will see cats," Leach said. "Most people don't know how bad and serious the homeless cat situation is."
Although Leach isn't one of the active trappers, she is active in getting the cats to one of the volunteer veterinarians that perform the operations, and she finds homes for the homeless animals. The government does not fund the program, and all the members are volunteers who are doing it as a humane way to address the problem. They do not kill the animals.
"You do what you can. I think a lot of people don't understand the problem," Leach said.
KINGSTOWNE resident Ed Shafer first got involved five years ago, and he has adopted three of the cats since he started. He catches the cats in a baited cage and twice a month takes them to a clinic in Washington, D.C., where a veterinarian spays or neuters them. After that, they are adopted, or Shafer releases them back into the group where he found them.
"It's the love for cats and to try to eliminate some of the pain and suffering," Shafer said.
The pain and suffering Shafer refers to are from exposure to the elements, feline leukemia, and the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Cats are known to fight with other cats, opossums and raccoons, which can carry rabies as well.
Cat owners should keep their cats indoors, Shafer said, which some homeowner associations rules require. In Kingstowne, for instance, cat owners are required to keep their cats inside.
Recently, Shafer has been after a gold tabby that's been hanging around the neighborhood for the last six months. Shafer set the trap to catch it but has been unsuccessful so far.
"It comes around every night," he said. "I know for sure it's a stray. We haven't had success trapping it."
Trapping is an intricate operation, as well. Just setting the trap and baiting it aren't enough. Shafer watches the cat’s habits and puts the food closer and closer to the cage, gaining the cat's trust, until he puts the food in the cage and the cat goes for it.
Pet owners abandoning cats is the main cause of homeless animals, said Leach. A cute kitten becomes a cat in a matter of a few months.
"We're like a throwaway society. It's very bad on campuses," where students get a cat for a year or two and abandon it upon graduation, Leach said.
Giving pets as gifts isn't always a good idea, either.
"They say the shelters are full after Christmas," Leach said.
ORGANIZATIONS SUCH as the national group Alley Cat Allies, or Animal Allies, which is based in Fairfax Station, are focused on homeless animals. Elaine Milatta of Fairfax Station is the president of the Animal Allies group in this area.
According to the Animal Allies' newsletter, the group's goals are to find "responsible homes for unwanted animals; promote spaying and neutering of pets; and maintaining a sanctuary for wildlife in Culpeper, Va., where less adoptable pets are kept."
The PetsMart in Springfield runs a weekly adoption operation in conjunction with Animal Allies. One section in the store is devoted to the effort, with a few cats in cages and applications for pets. Adopters are screened before the cats are released to them. On the application, information is requested about housing, living conditions, longevity, children, allergies and current pets. Applicants are requested to sign under the assumption that the applicant can be rejected.
PetsMart is based in Phoenix, Ariz. All of the company's stores across the nation are active in various adoption programs, according to Andrea Davis, PetsMart spokesperson.
"A majority of our stores have an adoption team," Davis said.