Animal advocates estimate that in Los Angeles, a city of 4 million people, there are anywhere from 1 million to 3 million feral cats roaming the streets on any given day.
“It’s very surprising. A lot of people are like, ‘I had no idea,’ and it makes sense. I mean, cats come out at night and if you’re not kind of looking for them, you won’t really notice them,” cat rescuer Esmerelda Alvarez told KTLA’s Kacey Montoya.
Alvarez has been involved in cat rescue for eight years. She’s also been trying to humanely control the booming population with other animal lovers, like Drew Weidhaas, by doing what’s called TNR or trap, neuter, return.
“We trap the cats in humane box traps. We bring them to a spay-neuter clinic, like FixNation, and then, if they’re feral, they get returned so they can continue living out their lives without reproducing. If they’re friendly or if they’re kittens, we’ll try and find homes for them,” Weidhaas explained.
The problem is that it’s costly and it has become harder to get appointments to get the cats spayed and neutered.
“Cats can have three or four litters a year. Each litter can be anywhere from four to eight kittens and it’s just massive,” Alvarez said.
In seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 kittens.
So why are there so many cats in SoCal?
Rescuers said the climate and easy access to food make L.A. a great place for these colonies to thrive.
Christi Metropole is the CEO of Stray Cat Alliance, a nonprofit rescue and advocacy group. She said another big reason there is an overwhelming homeless cat population is that the city has not been allowed to help for the last 12 years.
“In 2009, a lawsuit was filed against the city of Los Angeles by certain bird and wildlife groups and they said the City of Los Angeles was participating in trap, neuter, return without doing an environmental impact report,” Metropole said.
The city lost the lawsuit, and a judge issued an injunction in the 2010 ruling, saying all spay and neuter of community cats had to stop, leaving organizations like Stray Cat Alliance and others to pick up the slack.
“It made it 100% up to citizens like us to try and fix the problem without city backing,” Weidhaas said. “That’s near impossible with the scale of the issue.”
L.A.’s feral cat problem is the topic of an award-winning new documentary called “Crazy Cat Lady.” Producer Garrett Clancy said that other cities with government support for TNR have successfully reduced their community cat populations.
“New York City, for example, has about 500,000 estimated feral cats,” Clancy said. “Chicago, less than that. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, hardly any at all.”
There is some hope for the cat crisis.
In December 2020, the city council unanimously approved an environmental impact report proving TNR is not a threat and the injunction was finally lifted.
“But it took 10 years and it should not have, and we’re still not moving forward,” Metropole said.
In November, L.A. launched the Citywide Cat Program and pledged to fix 20,000 cats every year for the next 30 years, but rescuers said the funding has, so far, been hard to get.
“It’s just an endless, endless cycle that needs to be stopped,” Weidhaas said.