Trap-neuter-return program offers best results for reducing stray population, group says

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March 16, 2012
— Michelle Spohn’s neighbors left behind a cat when they moved away a dozen years ago.

“She wasn’t fixed,” Spohn said.

The unsterilized cat bore unwanted kittens, and at one point, as many as 15 cats roamed the North Pleasant Hill Drive neighborhood on Janesville’s northeast side.

She called Community Cat for help.

“The cat population was getting out of control. I can’t feed that many cats,’’ she said.

Community Cat is a nonprofit spay/neuter organization headquartered in Whitewater that offers trap-neuter-return services.

“Our purpose is to help owned and unowned cats in our area by facilitating high-quality, high volume, low-cost spay/neuter services; helping caregivers to find resources to keep and humanely care for their cats; and providing care to cats in need, especially those who may not find help elsewhere,” said Lela Schuster, co-founder of Community Cat.

Spohn is among a growing number of people in Rock and Walworth counties who are trapping outdoor cats, getting them spayed or neutered and returning them to their territory.

“My goal is to trap the adults, then they’ll get fixed at Community Cat,” Spohn said.

The organization also vaccinates the cats for rabies and distemper and treats them for parasites.

Gerry Harris, rural Whitewater, had Community Cat trap three colonies of feral cats. She helped her landlord pay thousands of dollars to have 62 cats sterilized and returned to the Clover Valley Road farm.

“If a cat is not taken care of, it is very territorial and will fight with each other constantly,” Schuster said. “But when they have been fixed, they get along, are happy and do their mousing job around the buildings.

“TNR is not about rescuing cats, it’s about population control and permanently reducing the number of feral cats in an area.”

Since Community Cat formed nearly three years ago, 3,400 cats and more than 400 dogs have been fixed she said. Of those, half of the cats—some tame, others wild—are free roaming, Schuster said.

Rock County Humane Society Executive Director Angela Rhodes agrees TNR is the only method proven to effectively reduce the number of cats and wrote a guest editorial in The Gazette in January when she said:

“Many cats come to us as feral community felines for which we have no resource without a sustainable trap-neuter-return program in our community. Trap-and-kill methods may temporarily reduce the number of feral cats in a given area, but two things happen. First, unsterilized survivors keep breeding prolifically. Second, other cats move into the now-available territory.’’

The problem of stray cats is widespread, Schuster and Rhodes said.

“Supposedly, if you take the human population and divide by six, that’s the number of feral cats you have for that area,” Schuster said, citing numbers from national studies.

Rhodes said of the humane society doesn’t have an adequate stray receiving facility to serve such a large stray population.

Schuster agreed that outdoor cats can be a nuisance and wasn’t surprised to learn that Spohn’s neighbors shot at or poisoned the strays hoping to alleviate the problem.

“Her story is what we hear about neighbors. She’s the kind-hearted person who doesn’t want to see animals starving yet gets blamed,” Schuster said.

“When they’re not fixed, females do some yowling when in heat. It’s not pleasant even if you’re an animal lover. Once they’re fixed, the more feral they are, the more they fade into the landscape and not be as noisy, or smelly. They just go on about their lives. Any annoyance they might be causing neighbors is going to virtually disappear.’’

Another benefit of having a group of fixed cats is they tend to drive off cats that are not fixed, Schuster said.

“TNR is about lowering stray intake and euthanasia rates, reducing costs for animal control, and creating better, less hostile environments for cats,” she said.

Community Cat prefers to organize cat trapping projects but doesn’t have enough money or volunteers to do every project. It offers step-by-step trapping instructions on its website at commcat.org.

Community Cat volunteers will talk people through trapping, explaining when to start trapping and the best way to do it.

Community Cat sells live traps at a discount and lends traps for a refundable deposit. It suggests people might be able to borrow traps from their local humane society or from neighbors.

Websites with more information include:

-- neighborhoodcats.org
-- guerrillaeconomics.biz/communitycats

To contact Community Cat, call (608) 201-3241 or write to Community Cat, P.O. Box 447, Whitewater WI 53190.

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