A speckled kitten named Zendaya sat in her cage, playfully swatting at her name tag and greeting passersby with a friendly meow at PetSmart in Dawsonville Saturday morning as she waited to be adopted.
Her two siblings had already found their families and Zendaya patiently waited her turn during the PetSmart National Adoption Weekend Feb. 23.
The playful kitten with big, bright eyes was given a second chance at happiness after being pulled from the Forsyth County animal control by the Feral Cat Program of Georgia, or FCPG.
"Sometimes we'll go to an animal control or shelter and we'll see what's on their euthanasia list and we'll pull those just to give them a second chance," FCPG board member Cyndi Eversole said.
The volunteer-led nonprofit organization has a habit of fostering cats they've rescued from other shelters and helping them find their forever homes, but what the program is really passionate about is helping the often forgotten feral cats of the community.
"We just trapped ferals because we saw a need in our community. No other group was doing it," Eversole said. "Everybody was just adopting out friendly cats, which is great but nobody was helping - like making a real dent in the overpopulation of cats in our community."
The Feral Cat Program of Georgia began more than 10 years ago with the goal of trapping, neutering and returning (referred to as TNR) feral cats in the hopes of controlling the population of feral cat colonies in north Georgia.
And while some might hear the word "feral" and think that means a cat is wild or dangerous, Eversole said feral cats are just cats that have not been socialized with people.
"They're very scared and they tend to run from people," Eversole said. "They're usually cats that people see behind restaurants and by dumpsters or in the bushes of a neighborhood, and they're not going to approach you. They're just more scared because they've not been around people."
Feral cats play an important role by acting as natural pesticides: they control the rodent population around restaurants and barns.
"If you have rodents or field mice or anything like that, they're great to have around," Eversole said.
Eversole became involved with FCPG six years ago after she had been independently trapping and fixing feral cats in her community for 15 years. She saw the feral cat program as a way to help cats across communities and to help educate the public about the importance of spaying and neutering.
Each year, a cat can have two to three litters with four to six kittens per litter in most cases, and female cats can become pregnant as early as four months old. If that one female cat was not spayed, in five years she and her offspring could produce 2,900 cats, according to the FCPG website.
While pet owners might be aware that spaying and neutering can help control the population of unwanted litters, feral cats don't always have owners that can afford to step in to help. That's where Eversole says FCPG comes in.
"If there's a need and the only thing stopping them from getting them fixed is a financial issue, we step in," Eversole said. "If they're coming to us asking to fix a cat, let's fix the cat... let's make it happen."
Feral cats are humanely trapped so they can be fixed and then returned to their colony so they can continue with their lives without creating or birthing numerous litters.
Eversole said that by spaying and neutering feral cats, it prevents many tragedies for young kittens living out in the wild.
"We've had cats, especially now cats are having, with all the rain, kittens under crawl spaces and if it's raining a bunch these kittens will just die. They'll drown because they're not mobile yet," Eversole said.
Coyotes, foxes, cars and birds are also dangers for young feral cats. In one instance, Eversole recalled a litter of kittens that had been killed by crows and one kitten attempting to make its way across Ga. 400.
"We speak for the underdog of cats - the cat who has no advocate for it. Those are the ones we try to reach out to and help: the one that's a stray kitten, the one behind a restaurant, the one that's crossing 400, those are the ones we try to get to," Eversole said.
In some cases, feral kittens are trapped and are able to be put into a foster home where they are socialized and are then able to be adopted out as indoor pets.
Every Saturday, volunteers from FCPG bring their friendly foster cats to the PetSmart locations in Dawsonville, Cumming and Alpharetta to find them permanent homes.
"Sometimes we won't have any adoptions on a Saturday. Some days we'll do seven. But to me even if we had one, it's worth it," Eversole said. "It's worth driving here in the rain and setting up. It's worth it because it will change that fate of that cat forever."
For more information on the Feral Cat Program of Georgia, visit www.feralcatprogramofgeorgia.com.