AUSTIN (KXAN) — For several years, Taylor resident Marta Lucio has taken care of two young cats that live in her neighborhood, which she named Sarita and Anita. Several months ago, the cats started to look fatter, which Marta believed to just be due to a better diet.

However, with more time, Marta saw that specifically the bellies of the cats was getting bigger. She took in the two sisters, who gave birth in her home.

Anita feeds her newborns (Courtesy Mariah Lucio)

Marta’s granddaughter, Mariah Lucio, said that the births was a surprise to the family.

Sarita inspects one of her newborns (Courtesy Mariah Lucio)

“They’re only a week old. So, we’re still trying to figure out their personalities. They’re still like, eyes are closed and everything,” Mariah said. “It must be like such a big change for [Marta], like we’ve had dogs…but we’ve never had a situation like this. I think it’s probably a big shock, but I can tell she loves them and she finds a lot of joy in taking care of them.”

Mariah said that her grandmother hopes to keep both of the mother cats, but will look for adoptive homes for the kittens, once they are old enough to leave the care of their mothers.

“She loves having them here. She loves being able to bond and take care of them,” Mariah said about her grandmother. “But as far as like, going forward, it’s a little bit overwhelming. We want to make sure that they all get adopted and get into good homes.”

Caring for stray cats

As winter turns into spring, the warmer weather leads to a spike in cat pregnancy and births, causing a “kitten season.”

Austin Humane Society (AHS) Director of Community Support Programs Sarah Hammel said that the Lucio family did the right thing in a not-uncommon situation.

“We hear stories like that all the time, of pregnant cats kind of showing up. Or maybe suddenly, people find a litter of kittens in their shed,” Hammel said. “The mama cats definitely have an instinct to look for a safe place. And if people are feeding them, they’re attracted to that.”

According to Hammel, kittens are best left with their mother — sometimes, Hammel said, a litter may seem abandoned by their mother, who may have just gone hunting.

“We really recommend to wait a couple of hours and see if the mom comes back,” Hammel said. “If you just pick up the kittens and bring them to a local shelter, it’s a lot harder, they are more vulnerable that way. If mom is nearby, and she’s taking care of them, we recommend people just kind of keep an eye on the family, provide food, see if you can move them into a shed or a garage and a safe space.”

After at least four weeks, the kittens can be brought into the AHS and put into its adoption program. The stray mothers can be brought in and be spayed and neutered.

Why Spay and Neuter?

“All of the shelters in Austin really believe in keeping [the cat] population under control,” Hammel said. “Austin is growing so tremendously, the population of animals in the city is growing as well. Keeping up with the demand for spay/neuter, especially in cats, because it can so quickly spiral out of control.”

Hammel notes that since AHS started their spay-neuter clinic in 2007, over 75,000 cats have gone through the process.

“We’d like to think that over that time the impact that has been made by getting that many animals fixed, has helped decrease the total number of kittens and cats coming into the shelters,” Hammel said.

Cat populations can rapidly grow out of control and such booms can threaten to overwhelm local shelter capacity. Kittens, Hammel said, are more likely to be adopted over adult cats, which leads to shelters euthanizing animals.

Stray and feral cats can have “nuisance behaviors” such as fighting pets, entering gardens and homes, and overhunting of wildlife. According to Hammel, many of these behaviors are tied to cat reproductive drives, and that spaying and neutering can lessen them.

“A lot of the things that people kind of have issue with, with outdoor cats, are a product of them trying to find a mate, fighting with other cats, stuff like that,” Hammel said. “Getting them fixed can also decrease a lot of that it stops them from roaming, it helps them not travel as far, decreases their likelihood of getting hit by cars, stuff like that.”