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Daily Republic Story - March 24, 2009 PDF  | Print |

By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | March 24, 2009 12:33

Spay Surgeries in Progress at Feral ClinicFAIRFIELD - One by one, the floppy, unconscious cats moved down the assembly line and into a sterile room where their chances of ever having kittens would end.

By the end of the day, there were 84 small victories in the long fight to tame Solano County's feral cat problem.

An all-volunteer group based in Fairfield has been working for two years on reducing the number of feral cats in the area by trapping wild cats, having them fixed and releasing them. The volunteers are in need of help.

'This gives people another option besides doing nothing and letting the problem get worse or taking them to the shelter where they will be destroyed because they're not adoptable,' said Michelle Bartlett, director of the Solano Feral TNR Task Force.

The approach, called trap-neuter-return, has been used successfully in other communities, but this is Solano County's first shot at bringing colonies of thousands of wild cats under control.

Feral cats are generally seen as a nuisance because they prey on native birds, harass domestic cats, make a racket and clog local animal shelters. The Solano County Animal Shelter receives between 5,000 and 5,500 cats each year, the vast majority of which are euthanized at taxpayers' expense, shelter manager Ron Whitfield said.

'Other agencies (that) have been doing the trap-neuter-return for years have had a pretty good, substantial drop in the number of cats coming in and being euthanized,' Whitfield said.

The approach is more expensive, at least initially, but proponents argue that it has better long-term results than simply exterminating the cats. If an entire colony is euthanized, they argue, nearby cats will overbreed to take over the colony's food and territory.

With the neutering program, the cats are left in place but no longer can have kittens, leaving the colony to die out eventually. Fixing the animals also reduces their urge to fight, mark their territory and make noise during mating season.

'A lot of people think, 'Why should I have to pay for a cat to be fixed that's not mine?' ' Bartlett said. 'Well, they're already paying for these animals. Their tax dollars are going to keeping this shelter up and running. This is giving them an opportunity to have it spent in a humane way.'

The task force conducts about 10 clinics a year at the Solano County Animal Shelter. The cats are trapped a day earlier by volunteers and put under anesthesia. In an assembly line-like process, the cats are given checkups, cleaned, vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

The vaccines and medication are administered by students from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, other tasks are handled by community volunteers and the surgeries are performed by veterinarians volunteering their time.

'We would like to see more participation from the vets in Solano County,' Bartlett said. 'The problem is most of the vets work Monday through Saturday and we are asking them to give up their one day a week to come in and spay and neuter.'

Several volunteers said they would like the shelter to start offering low-cost spaying and neutering, which would remove the price barrier to people fixing their pets.

Longtime volunteer Mona Lisa Garcia became involved with the program when she moved to Fairfield and realized she lived near a feral cat colony.

'Every time I would go by there, my heart would just sink because I knew they were multiplying,' she said. 'I heard about this program and it was really cheap. They tell you what to do and I ended up trapping all of (the cats) and getting them fixed. It is a great feeling to have.'

USA Today Article on Feral Cats - May 6, 2008 PDF  | Print |

Not all outdoor cats are ferals. Nancy Peterson, feral cat expert for the Humane Society of the United States, says the population known as free-roaming cats includes:

Indoor/outdoor cats that roam neighborhoods. These are pets, and wandering does not make them "wild."

Cats that were once pets but have been abandoned or gotten lost and have learned to survive on their own or joined feral colonies. These cats, when captured, can usually be re-socialized to live with humans. But their initial reaction to being captured is often frantic, and they can be mistaken for being feral.

Feral cats, which are generally one generation or more removed from being house pets, and their offspring aren't socialized to humans and can rarely be tamed. (But their kittens, if caught young, can become pets.)


Hundreds of websites can aid people looking for info about feral cats. Among them:

Alley Cat Allies maintains a comprehensive assortment of info ranging from events and conferences to basic Q&A to legalities at

Maddie's Fund, which finances scores of animal causes, has nearly 500 ferals articles and resources. Click here for a good starting point, for interviews with ferals experts and details about model feral programs.

Go to the American Veterinary Medical Association for articles and debates about feral management and the group's official position on TNR.

The Humane Society of the United States has lots of feral cat information updated regularly.

The American Bird Conservancy says free-roaming cats kill hundreds of millions of birds a year (a charge disputed by others who say there are easier-to-catch food sources) and have launched a campaign called "Cats Indoors!!"

No More Homeless Pets in Utah's site,, has informational aids, including solutions to conflicts and trapping instructions.

Downloadable documents -- from trapping tricks to post-surgery guide -- are at

At there's info and links to many resources and guides, including how to tame a feral kitten.

Go to for info and guidance from the ASPCA. There's also a list of upcoming training sessions in New York.

Compassion often eludes feral cats; groups out to save them
Feral cats — nearly invisible and often reviled — have prowled into the spotlight.

The free-roamers with an aversion to humans have grabbed headlines this spring because of a bounty on their heads in Iowa, a threatened roundup and disposal in Fairfax County, Va., and other elimination plans across the country.

But the cats also are receiving attention of a different sort.

Grass-roots groups and animal-welfare organizations are directing money and energy toward helping the tens of millions of feral cats that skulk about college campuses, cluster around back-alley trash bins, swarm among the rocks at beach communities and colonize the nether-reaches of suburban parks, military installations and abandoned barns and fields:

•PetSmart Charities will announce in July a $13 million spay-neuter program in Los Angeles. A clinic in Burbank, which Best Friends Animal Society in Utah also is helping fund, will sterilize 20,000 feral cats a year. PetSmart Charities has committed $862,000 to feral cat programs in Austin and Dallas as part of a $5.5 million five-year grant to Texas cities.

•The Humane Society of the United States has just completed a CD/DVD. Effectively Managing Feral Cats will be free to 6,000 shelters, communities and feral-cat advocates through a PETCO Foundation grant. The Humane Society also holds workshops and has given thousands of dollars to a few small groups launching initiatives to protect feral cats.

•Alley Cat Allies, which advises individuals and groups on feral-colony management, is embarking on major research to collect data about ferals and the people who help them. The non-profit group also will launch a year-long educational campaign beginning Oct. 16, National Feral Cat Day, and will push for public disclosure on how many feral cats shelters take in and euthanize to "make more transparent" every community's "animal-control practices applied to feral cats, which most often rely on lethal control methods," president Becky Robinson says.

•No More Homeless Pets in Utah runs a sterilization program and works with city, county and animal control officials to develop alternatives to trapping nuisance homeless cats and depositing them at shelters — "a practice which almost guarantees euthanasia," says the group's Gregory Castle. A decrease in the number of cats in colonies and concurrent lower euthanasia rates have been "dramatic" in some locations, he says.

All major efforts involve trapping, neutering and returning the cats to their colonies. This method thwarts future litters and reduces the yowling, spraying and fighting that annoy humans. In the process, the cats usually are vaccinated, treated for minor problems and given a notch in the ear to identify they are sterile. Over time, the colony will grow smaller through attrition.

"TNR is not only the most humane, it is the most practical way of stabilizing the populations and … reducing them," Castle says.

"Some New York neighborhoods no longer have feral colonies, or the colonies are much smaller," says the ASPCA's Aimee Hartmann, which holds workshops throughout the city, performs hundreds of sterilizations and loans traps to groups employing the method.

Scores of other groups participating in the practice report similar results.

Opponents speak out

The TNR method is not without detractors. Many veterinarians refuse to do such sterilizations because they say cats shouldn't live outdoors because they become victims of the elements, predators and vehicles. And some bird and conservation groups say feral cats can decimate bird and small-mammal populations and spread disease.

Advocates counter that ferals exist because house pets were set loose or escaped, they adapted to survive, had litters, and now, a generation or more removed from being house cats, they can't be tamed. And refusing to deal with that reality leads to more litters and more cats killed once they become public nuisances, are captured, taken to shelters and euthanized because no one will adopt them, advocates say.

Moreover, most ferals don't live short, hideously deprived lives but are quite healthy and less apt to harm wildlife than toxins and development that overtakes habitats, says Julie Levy of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, an expert in infectious disease and feral cats. When neutered and vaccinated, such animals live many years.

A right to roam free

"For a long time, the prevailing feeling was that these animals aren't deserving of help," Robinson says.

But attitudes are changing.

"There are people who have been taking care of these colonies for years, getting up before dawn, leaving food and water." Once regarded as odd, they're increasingly regarded as "unsung heroes."

Today, a live-and-let-live attitude is taking root, she says.

A 2007 Harris survey found that 81% believe feral cats should be allowed to live out their lives roaming free.

Still, many people have never seen a feral colony and are unaware of their numbers, which, combined with strays, could be as high as 80 million, Levy says, so these animals occupy a lower rung on the public's concern-about-creatures hierarchy.

Advocates insist the separate-and-unequal distinction is specious.

"A good proportion of these free-roaming cats were once owned, or they are one generation removed from house pets," says Susana Della Maddalena of PetSmart Charities. "We don't think it's fair to exclude them from help."

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Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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