The city has embarked on an aggressive program to reduce the city's feral cat population, not by capturing and killing them, but by trapping and neutering them, then returning them to their habitat, Special Enforcement Manager Drale Short says.
The Columbus Free Roaming Cat program, as it is officially known, is being financed in part by a $58,250 grant from PetSmart. That money will pay for spaying or neutering 1,000 cats, 50 feral cat dens, 50 traps and various educational and marketing materials.
With the help of citizen volunteers, the city has trapped, spayed or neutered and returned to the wild more than 200 feral cats since the program began in mid September, Short said.
Short said it would be impossible to know exactly how many feral cats are in Columbus. But she said the Humane Society of the United States uses 1.5 per household as its standard for estimating.
Columbus has about 70,000 households, so if the HSUS numbers are accurate, the city has more than 100,000 feral cats roaming about. That would mean there are more feral cats here than there are people in Macon.
So managing the feral cat population is critical, Short said, because they can cause many problems, especially when their colonies grow too large.
Neutering males cuts down on their aggression and territoriality, and eliminates them spraying to mark their area. It also cuts down on the noise of the fighting and mating. And, of course, it eliminates any more litters from that cat.
One female cat can produce four litters a year, with each averaging three to five kittens. So even a small colony with only five females could produce 100 kittens a year. If half of those are female, the problem will have increased 10-fold in only one year.
That prolific nature of cats is why traditional trap and kill programs are ineffective, Short said. You can't catch and kill them as quickly as they can reproduce, making those programs a waste of time and taxpayer funds. The more effective and humane approach is to cut off the ability for them to reproduce.
There are other public health benefits, too. Captured cats are checked out by a veterinarian and vaccinated for rabies. If a cat is found to have a dangerous communicable disease that could spread to other cats, including household pets, it is put down, Short said.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has been pushing for a program such as this one since she took office. She said when she first moved to Columbus, there was a bad feral cat problem in her neighborhood, Overlook. Working with local veterinarian Hank Hall, she, her husband Tripp and neighbors trapped cats, had them fixed and then released them.
She said there are only three or four left of the original colony, which had been well over 50.
When Tomlinson took office in 2011, the overall euthanasia rate at Animal Care and Control was 8o percent, and has since fallen to "41 percent, and dropping," she said.
"This TNR program is going to take us the rest of the way," Tomlinson said. "Because this is where we're struggling with our population rates and euthanasia rates."
Volunteers who want to adopt a colony and administer the TNR program can contact Becky Carter, administrator of the program, at 706-332-4191, or call Animal Care and Control at 706-653-4512.
Volunteers will be provided with a den and a trap. When they trap a cat, they will get a voucher to take to one of five locations around town that are participating in the program.
They are: Affordable Veterinary Services on Veterans Parkway, Benning Animal Hospital on Bennning Road, Northside Animal Hospital on Veterans Parkway, PAWS Humane on Milgen Road, Macon Road Vet Clinic.
"No matter where you live in town, you can pick from any one of them, the one that's closest to home, the one you love the most, whichever is your preference," Short said.