STAMFORD — A little group is in a big fight to reduce suffering among creatures of the urban wild.
After more than eight years on the task, progress is tough to quantify, said Cora Martino, founder of Pitter Patter Feline Rescue, one of several volunteer agencies that work to reduce the population of homeless and semi-wild cats living on streets citywide.
The feral cats are the descendants of pets that were abandoned or allowed to roam un-neutered.
“I’m going to say that the population is a little less,” said Martino, who, with a handful of other volunteers, visits alleys, fields, yards, garages and other places where cats colonize, traps them, treats, vaccinates and neuters them, and returns them to their habitats.
So far this year, Pitter Patter has treated 162 feral cats, Martino said.
“I think we might be making a dent,” she said. “But there are still a lot of cats out there.”
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, no one knows. The group finds them starving, sick, injured, without limbs, poisoned, doused in gasoline or wounded by BB guns.
Then there are the kittens.
They are carried away by rats, raccoons, hawks, weasels or coyotes, killed in traffic or drowned in rainstorms. Each year a feral female can have three litters of four to six kittens. About half die.
Pitter Patter volunteers take in the kittens they find — about 1,200 to date.
The state does not regulate cats as it does dogs, but two years ago, the Board of Representatives revised the city’s animal welfare ordinance to prohibit owners from allowing their cats to roam unless they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and micro-chipped. Abandonment is illegal, and so is keeping strays without notifying Stamford Animal Control. Officers may investigate any property with a feral cat colony when it appears animals are in danger.
The ordinance incorporates the work of groups such as Pitter Patter, and requires that they keep records of the cats they treat.
Martino said grassroots groups step in when the city is not able.
“Animal Control can’t bottle-feed kittens, so we take the babies they find,” she said. “We also take the ones that need overnight care, and the ones that need socialization. We wrap them like a burrito, walk around the house with them, teach them to play. They are so scared that they don’t know how to play, but they are easy to turn around if you spend the time.”
Pitter Patter works with a network of foster families, including Tuesday Tamburri, of Darien, and her daughters, Sydney, 14, a student at AITE in Stamford, and Meisha, 11, who attends Middlesex Middle School in Darien.
The Tamburris and their family cat, Prosciutto, have welcomed 10 rescued kittens. The idea came from Sydney, an animal lover who is required to do community service as part of the AITE curriculum, Tuesday Tamburri said.
“Our goal is to make them as adoptable as possible. We really love it,” she said. “My daughters are doing all the socialization. When Meisha falls asleep, the kittens all fall asleep on her and around her. They go from super-skittish to super-socialized.”
Tamburri had to set a rule for the girls — if they keep any kittens, they can’t foster any more. But there’s an exception.
A 4-month-old gray and white kitten who was adopted was then found to have a serious heart condition, and the owners couldn’t meet the medical costs. The Tamburris will keep the kitten, named Mozzarella.
“He might live nine months or nine years, we don’t know, and there’s not a lot they can do for him,” Tamburri said. “The girls are sad but they want to love him as much as they can while they have him.”
Cruel and kind
Such outlooks provide reason to continue the work, said Martino, who has seen kittens drowned in gutters, ravaged by disease, blinded, starved, half-eaten. Few things are as sad as holding a dying kitten in your hand, she has said.
“The adult females are depleted from constant breeding and become unhealthy. Sometimes they’ll have a litter of six, and five die,” Martino said. “Some babies we just have to euthanize.”
The group leaves flyers at homes near the areas where they trap, telling residents to contact them about cat colonies.
Some people try to hit cats with their cars, Martino said. Others act from utter kindness.
“A utility worker found kittens at the base of a pole, put them in a bag and brought them to Rippowam Animal Hospital,” she said. “So you have people abandoning their cats and leaving them out there to breed, and you have people like the guy working on the utility pole.”
The feral cat population was created by humans, she said.
’To the bone’
“It wears you to the bone to see all the horrific stuff,” Martino said. “But when you see the suffering, you want to do something about it.”
Stamford and other cities do not have the resources to combat the problem. After the Connecticut Humane Society closed its Stamford shelter in 1998 — despite the group’s multimillion-dollar endowment — grassroots groups stepped in.
Pitter Patter this year received 75 vouchers from the state to cover the cost of spaying or neutering feral cats, she said. The group relies on donations to pay for the rest, and for food, medical care and other needs.
Several organizations help, Martino said, including Rippowam Animal Hospital in Stamford, and PAWS and Animal Nation in Norwalk. Pitter Patter kitten adoptions are advertised on Facebook and PetFinder.
The group has a fundraiser each spring but the work has increased, so Martino added a fall event. A dinner and raffle will be held at Zody’s 19th Hole restaurant in Stamford on Tuesday. Tickets are available at www.pitterpatterfelinerescue.org.