One night two weeks ago, I went around the corner of the alley where I feed, where there are 5 houses across the street from the schoolyard. I stayed there for an hour and a half. I repeated the process two times more over the next two weeks at slightly different times to better watch what was going on. I watched over periods from 9 pm to 11:30.
What I saw was amazing.
Each night I saw an average of 11-12 cats in the alley with 6 houses on each side, and one short block of five houses around the corner, across from the school yard. My stable colony of 5 may have had as many as 6 additional visitors over 3-4 nights. They came in after the colony fed, and usually there was no food left over, but they came anyway.
During that same period I saw 4 feeders feeding this group of 12 even though 3 feeders (including me) fed the alley cats at different times and 2 fed the schoolyard cats at different times. Therefore, at some colonies 3 feeders were feeding at different times, and at the schoolyard site, 2. One one feeder overlapped the two colonies. Each had their own section or neighborhood so to speak.
Most feeders left a fairly small amount of food, not nearly enough to sustain the colony alone. Perhaps they would have left a lot more as I fed first and fed well.
I went with one of the alley feeders one night 6 months ago to see what she did. She fed 13 different colonies. At 2 locations, at least one other feeder fed them at different times. She did not practice TNR but assisted when some TNR group volunteered to help them. I was amazed to find at one location ,at the back of a large parking lot with two restaurants, they (she and another "cat lady") had a permanent feeding station which they claimed had been there for 10 years. One of the cats allegedly had been there for that entire time.
I know of a fifth feeder in the same area who is mostly retired from feeding, and had also fed those same alley cats in the past. She still fed other colonies out of the immediate area and also nearer her house.
I am sure I missed both some cats and perhaps a feeder. Some cats appeared to be indoor-outdoor house cats out for additional feed. Many were fairly tamed .
A black cat observed in both locations may have been "community" between the 2 colonies or there were 2 different black cats. I think there were two.
Who could know the true number without tagging and trapping?
It is obvious from the short observation that the number of cats on the streets on LA must be astronomical and the number of feeders far, far higher than anyone imagined. There was about 1 feeder for every 3-4 cats, and about 1 outdoor cat for every 1-2 households.
I have no idea how representative this is of the residential city overall.
Given that LA has about 4,000,000 people and 1,800,000 households, there may be as many as 1.2 million street cats, housed, strays and ferals in residential areas. I think Merritt Clifton would guesstimate a far lower figure and the Stray Cat Alliance about 3,000,000.
My "guestimate" does not take into account blocks where there are people with "too many" cats, feral and inside/outside domesticated cats. If 1 block in 10 has someone with 25 cats, this would substantially increase the number of outdoor cats. My guess is that there are households where there is an outdoor population of 6-7 cats every 2-3 blocks.
How many residential blocks are there in LA? Then again, there are all the non-residential blocks with supermarkets and restaurants that attract cats, and how many are fed in parks?
Given these observations and calculations, there is no way that street cats will ever be brought to zero as long as so many feeders and cats are on the streets without a massive TNR effort. Even with a massive effort, progress, according to the literature, will be very slow.
Given that only a small percentage of feeders actually also practice TNR, there are always kittens being born, but from what I hear, there is a high mortality rate.
Knowing these people and their attitudes, even if feeding were made illegal, the feeders would continue to feed—no matter what.
I cannot see any solution to ending the pain of cats living in the streets other than an oral vaccination/chemical treatment that lasts a few years. Oral vaccinations, or chemical methods, could either by pill, or included in food. If the latter, there needs to be a chemical/vaccine with a wide latitude of toxicity.
I saw an estimate that anywhere from 5-10% of housed cats become strays each year, and colonies add about 16% new cats each year due to these new strays. I think LAAS guesstimates there are 700,00 housed cats in the city, making about 50,000 new cats added each year, even while many colony cats die from injury, disease or starvation.
TNR efforts would need to continue for years, albeit at a diminishing rate, until it gets down to about 5-10% of what it is now. A high percentage of the new strays are already sterilized.
I was most amazed to observe the psychology of feeders. They will stop at nothing to continue to feed and protect colony cats, despite neighbor harassment, intimidation, official intimidation by Animal Services or police, or even lack of transportation. Nothing stops them.
I was also amazed by the “dance” of the cats and their feeders, with schedules, cat migrations to feeding stations and between sites at various times, and the bondings and behaviors occurring between the cats and their caretakers. Many feeders zip and and out to avoid contact with hostile residents or hiding from them that a colony exists and is being sustained in their midst. Others stay with a colony long enough to pet or play with the cats.
Animal people are the most amazing—if not always rational--people in the world. They are an essential and unrecognized component of the conscience of Los Angeles. Legal and legislative efforts to control feeding would be ignored and a new class of misdemeanor criminals would be born.