City needs volunteers for feral cat control program

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 7, 2013 

The city of Columbus is looking for cat people.

More specifically, it is looking for volunteers to help out in its Trap, Neuter and Release program aimed at controlling the city’s free roaming or feral cat population.

The city’s TNR program is relatively new, but has trapped, neutered and released 323 cats since its inception on Sept. 11, according to Animal Control Manager Drale Short.

Working with a $58,000 grant from PetSmart, the city has enough money to handle 1,000 cats, but the charity said there may be more available if the city manages to run that many cats through the program.

The program involves colony caretakers to feed and water the cats and possibly provide some shelter. They set out traps to catch the cats one by one, take them to local veterinarians who will spay or neuter the cats at no cost to the caretaker. A voucher paid for by the grant takes care of the vet bill.

Short said the city knows of 100 colonies in the city, and the program needs more volunteers to handle that many.

“We need volunteers who are willing to transport shelter cats and for elderly people who want to be part of the program but don’t have the ability to take the cats back and forth,” Short said. “We need caregivers, people who want to take care of a small colony at a separate location from where they live.”

Intact cats reproduce so rapidly that the traditional capture-and-euthanize approach does not work, Short said. The TNR approach has been shown to reduce feral cat populations in cities that have embraced it, she said.

Jacksonville, Fla., for example, launched its Community Cat Management program in 2008. Since then, the number of cats brought into its Animal Control system annually has dropped from about 11,000 to about 8,300. The euthanasia rate for cats in the Animal Control system has dropped from almost 75 percent to less than 30 percent, according to city documents.

Another benefit Jacksonville has seen since beginning the TNR program is that the large colonies have all but disappeared, replaced by smaller, more manageable colonies of about five cats.

But getting those kinds of results takes volunteers, Short said.

In addition to caretakers and transporters, Short said the program needs donations of food, people to monitor cats after their surgery, and to deliver food and water to colony sites.

Director of Public Works Pat Biegler said that in addition to rodent and snake control in neighborhoods, people who have barns on their property can benefit from a small colony. She also suggested that schools could host cat colonies as class projects, and again keep rodents and snakes at bay. She said that should probably be limited to high schools and junior high because elementary school children might be tempted to approach the cats.

Biegler said she plans to establish a cat colony at the city’s new Recycling and Sustainability Center because of its proximity to the Pine Grove Landfill, which attracts rodents.

Tom Bryan, a colony caretaker who along with his wife has been doing this for 25 years, said people who don’t like feral cats roaming around should embrace the program. “If you don’t like cats, you’ll love this program,” Bryan said. “Our goal is to have no cats outside.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the program can contact Becky Carter, program administrator, at 706-332-4191 or call the Animal Care and Control Center at 706-653-4512.

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