Whether or not one is in the market for a feline companion, it is a misnomer that populations of cats are plentiful.

When a female cat produces a litter of kittens, it usually contains between three and five kittens.

While Executive Director of Caring Hands Humane Society Kevin Stubbs said unaltered (or fertile) female cats often produce two litters a year, he believes the mild winter of last year might have resulted in many female cats instead producing three litters.

After the season for kittens starts, in April or May, for the next six months, Stubbs said Caring Hands receives a consistent 100 cats every month.

Stubbs said the shelter can comfortably hold 100 cats. At maximum, the building can house as many as 150.

In situations where the number of cats exceeds 100, Stubbs said the cats are cramped – with multiple cats sharing the same cages.

As of Thursday afternoon, Stubbs told The Kansan that Caring Hands had 141 cats, 38 dogs and two rabbits.

"We're getting three quarters of our entire annual intake in six months time," Stubbs said, "It's just too much, the facility is not built to handle that many animals, and it's too many animals for us (the employees) to really handle."

While the program has already shown signs of success, Stubbs said they are hopeful the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program can further help them to manage the influx of cats.

Trap-Neuter-Return is a humane approach for controlling populations of stray cats, sometimes referred to as community cats.

Having been in practice for decades in the U.S. and first proven in Europe, scientific data has suggested the TNR program improves the lives of cats, their relationships with residents who live near them and decreases their numbers throughout time.

In the TNR program, cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinarian at Caring Hands to be neutered and vaccinated.

After those cats recover, they are returned to their outdoor area. Before being released, socialized kittens and cats may be adopted into homes.

Unlike outdated and ineffective capture and kill programs, the TNR program stops the breeding cycle of cats, improving their lives while preventing reproduction.

The TNR program helps cats by putting an end to their sometimes dangerous cat mating behaviors, such as roaming for mates, yowling, spraying and/or fighting with other cats.

Among many additional benefits, cats picked up in the Trap-Neuter-Return program are vaccinated, so they are less affected by infectious diseases.

Under the Cat Crazy! program, which Stubbs said is a multi-faceted TNR program that has been going since February 2013, they still need Community cat Alteration Management Program (CAMP) volunteers – to help with trapping cats.

"We really need help with that," Stubbs said. " ...We had some houses that were wanting help this month, but we couldn't go do it because we didn't have enough volunteers to help out."

Regarding where stray/community cats in the community are coming from, Stubbs said the feral population of unaltered cats is still living out there. Also, some owners have cats that go indoors or out, some of them are not spayed or neutered.

Oftentimes, Stubbs said cats are left behind by their owners. When they are not spayed or neutered, they also contribute to overpopulation problems.

For stray or non-pet cats, Stubbs prefers the term "community cats," instead of "stray cats" or "feral cats," because the community plays a part in their continued existence.

Stubbs said he still needs volunteers for CAMP and that those helping out would be asked to go out from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday nights or from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays to set up and watch humane TNR traps at predetermined locations.

"I think they (the people of Harvey County) need to understand that we're out here to help them, that we're here to take care of the cats out in the community," Stubbs said, "but to do that, we need their help too."

Some owners have male cats and don't have them altered because a male cat will not return with kittens. Despite that logic, Stubbs said unaltered males are leaving female cats with kittens all over town.

Others feel justified leaving their cats on country roads or leaving them behind in their homes. While cats can often fend for themselves and survive, Stubbs said that does not control overpopulation.

"This is a national problem," Stubbs said. "It isn't just happening here. It is happening everywhere..."

Newton Animal Control Officer Jennifer Burns said an overabundance of any type of animal population can increase risks of disease, posing potential dangers to other animals or to people that population interacts with.

Nonetheless, Burns said she only picks up feral cats if they are causing problems, and that the shelter's TNR program mostly handles harmless strays.

Regarding people intentionally leaving food out for cats, Burns said, "we've learned that most people don't really change their behavior. Our best solution is to try to change the situation."

Residents are not going to stop feeding the animals, Burns said. In fact, residents feeding the cats is beneficial – because it keeps cats from preying on local birds and wildlife.

Burns said the cat control program at Caring Hands "...has definitely helped," as it has curbed stray cat populations and she has responded to less calls about cats than before.

In closing, Burns noted that the cats will always be here, and that Newton does not have a larger population of stray cats than other cities.