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Indy Feral Cat by the numbers
•Since the TNR program began, there has been a 47 percent reduction in the number of cats brought to Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.
•Indy Feral has trapped, neutered and returned more than 28,000 cats.
•Indianapolis estimates the city spends $150 per cat to process stray and feral cats.
•In 2007, Indianapolis estimated that Indy Feral’s TNR program saved the city more than $280,000 over two years.
Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
A tipped ear indicates that a feral cat has been treated as part of New Haven’s trap-neuter-return program.

Cat(ch) and release

Feral feline control experiment has both champions and critics

Technician Katie Pease cares for a feral cat recovering from surgery at H.O.P.E. for Animals.

“People who love cats don’t want to see them come to harm. People who hate cats don’t want them in their neighborhood. The thing to understand is that with this program we can accomplish both things, more humane treatment of cats and fewer feral cats.”

Madeleine Laird, executive director

of H.O.P.E. for Animals

In February, H.O.P.E. (Humane Organization to Prevent Euthanasia) began a program aimed at reducing the number of stray and feral cats roaming the streets of New Haven. The trap-neuter-return, or TNR, program has promise but will not be a quick, easy or perfect solution to cat overpopulation.

After getting approval from the New Haven City Council, the group began sectioning off the city, concentrating on the areas with the highest population of stray and feral cats. The group traps them, then brings them back to the shelter for examination. Cats are then vaccinated, sterilized, ear-tipped and microchipped.

Snipping off the tip of the cat’s left ear is a sign the cat has been neutered and is part of a controlled cat colony, Laird said. That way people know the cat is cared for and should not be taken to Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. New Haven has a contract with FWACC that allows its citizens to bring animals to the city shelter.

When the cats recover, they are returned to the same area where they were found. Volunteers act as cat colony caretakers, providing food and monitoring the cats’ health.

Cat overpopulation

“Cats are territorial,” Laird said. “If you don’t return the cat to the same area, other cats will eventually move in. If you sterilize all the cats in a territory, no new cats can come into the area. It only takes one pair to reproduce thousands.”

According to the U.S. Humane Society, one pair of un-neutered cats and their offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years. An unspayed female can have three litters of kittens each year with each litter having an average of five kittens.

“Feral cats live short, unpleasant lives,” she said. “Eventually, by attrition we can end the problem.”

H.O.P.E. estimates the feral cat population in New Haven is about 1,000. The organization has already treated 80.

Laird will know the program is working if they see a decrease in the number of feral cats brought to Animal Care and Control from the targeted area. “We’d like to see results on this colony by the end of the year,” she said.

It costs about $35 for H.O.P.E. to process each cat.

“At the end of the day, people should realize this could save taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Neutering feral cats is becoming a more common practice for dealing with cat overpopulation nationwide. But not everyone likes it.

Bird watchers

“TNR is a failed strategy being implemented across the United States without any consideration for environmental, human health, or animal welfare impacts and can no longer be tolerated,” said a February news release from the American Bird Conservancy. “Local governments need to act swiftly and decisively to gather the 30-80 million un-owned cats, aggressively seek adoptions, and euthanize those cats that are not adoptable.”

The Bird Conservancy pointed to a report from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that drew a lot of attention earlier this year. The study highlighted the danger outdoor cats – feral, stray and those allowed outdoors by their owners – pose to birds and small mammals. It concluded outdoor cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals annually in the United States.

The study also indicated a link between outdoor cats and the extinction of 33 bird species.

“TNR does save cats’ lives,” said Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. “The challenge here is we need to show data that it also saves birds’ lives.”

Lewis said she has no plans to approach the Fort Wayne City Council about a TNR program in Fort Wayne just yet. She wants to be able to point to some successful programs, and more importantly she wants more data to back up the claims that TNR will decrease the feral cat population.

Like many communities, Fort Wayne has a leash law. Implementing a TNR program in Fort Wayne would require amending city ordinances.

“We’ve got 25 years of data that show euthanizing does not decline the feral cat populations,” she said. “The question is does TNR diminish the feral cat population. I don’t know the answer to that yet. There is a balance that needs to be met. We don’t want to just say ‘stray cats are OK now.’ ”

Success in Indianapolis

Both Lewis and Laird are keeping close tabs on the success of Indy Feral, the trap-neuter-return program in Indianapolis that has achieved some promising results.

“Strays and feral cats are the greatest source of cat overpopulation,” said Lisa Tudor, executive director of Indy Feral. “They produce over 80 percent of the cats that flood the shelters every spring and summer. At many shelters you can have a euthanasia rate of 70 to 80 percent. And that’s not to point a finger at the shelters. It’s the scope of the problem.”

The group specifically targets areas that tend to attract a somewhat transient population, such as college campuses, apartment complexes and trailer parks.

The Indianapolis program unofficially started in 2002. The TNR ordinance was adopted in 2006.

“Statistically, we are definitely seeing an impact at our city shelter,” Tudor said. “Fewer cats (taken in) at the shelter, fewer cats euthanized and fewer tax dollars being spent.”

A 2007 study by Indianapolis Animal Care and Control found Indy Feral’s program saved the city more than $280,000 over a two-year period.

“Programs like these save money in the long run,” she said, “For every dollar spent on prevention, $10 is saved from the back end.”

Stacey Stumpf is an editorial writer for The Journal Gazette.

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