SIDNEY — Slow progress is being made with the feral cat problem in Sidney. That is the consensus near the end of a three-year, concerted effort to control the population by capturing stray cats through the trap-neuter-return (TNR) program.
In 2016, the Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation (SCARF), the Shelby County Animal Shelter and the city of Sidney implemented the TNR program, originally for a three-year period. The final 2018 clinic will be in December.
“We are definitely at least putting a dent in future populations. I have at least 12 colonies that have not grown because we’ve gotten the entire colony. That’s a starting point,” Shelby County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelly Ward said. She is the Shelby County dog warden and an adviser to SCARF. “But I think it’s going to take a while. I think it’s going to take longer than the three years, before the population is stagnant. It just went unchecked for so long.”
Feral cats, according to iheartcats.com, are unsocialized cats that do not trust and are afraid of humans. Stray cats are cats that were once domesticated but have been abandoned or lost. These cats usually live outside in groups known as colonies. Most feral colonies originate from unneutered stray cats.
The TNR clinics, with property owners’ permission, place cages with food and water in areas known to have feral cats running around. Cages are placed on a Friday night and are retrieved as cats are captured or by Sunday evening. On Monday morning, the captured cats are taken to NOMAD Spay/Neuter Clinic for Cats’ mobile veterinarian Dr. Laura Miller. They are given a medical examination, spayed or neutered, given a rabies vaccination and then their ears are given a small tip so they can be recognized if they are ever recaptured. Afterward, volunteers return them to the areas where they were captured.
“A couple of years ago, we had a major problem (with feral cats) in the city and so SCARF (members) got together to help to trap,” said Steve Wagner, 4th Ward Sidney City Council member, who has volunteered as a city representative with TNR for the last several years. “We have found that the most humane thing is the TNR program.”
The weekend-long clinics have taken place four times to six times a year and paid for with $5,000 per year that was budgeted by City Council. The program is run by SCARF.
About 400 cats have been captured as part of the TNR program. Within this time, only a small number of very ill or injured cats have been euthanized; less than 3 percent, Ward said.
Ward shared during an August City Council meeting she believes the program has prevented the birth of approximately 500 kittens over the last three years. According to Spay USA, one unspayed cat per mate and all their offspring can result in up to 11,000 cats in five years.
“Our main goal is not to deplete the population, but maintain it and keep it stable, in a humane way. By no means, we are not depleting the population. But we want to keep it healthy and controlled,” Ward emphasized to the Sidney Daily News during the program’s most recent clinic.
She emphasized the intent is only to capture, spay or neuter the cats, and then return them where they are found. Ward explained that badly injured or sick cats could infect the rest of the colony, if returned, and ones in need of daily care and antibiotics are the only ones that are euthanized.
Dr. Miller praised the city of Sidney for taking the steps to deal with the issue in a humane way, which she doesn’t see in all communities.
“I’m so impressed how the city of Sidney is so involved. In other cities, they are not so willing to spay and neuter to reduce the population,” Miller said. “Every cat spayed or neutered I really think is making a difference. These cats needs us. Everywhere I go, it’s packed to the gills with cats and kittens. So to decrease that multiplication of babies, and then the babies suffer because they are either starving to death, or sick, or get run over, or coyotes or snakes.”
During the August City Council meeting, council decided to continue with the TNR program. Although Ward will no longer be able to continue running the clinics, she will continue to coordinate the program. The clinic’s new director, volunteer Amy Simindinger, will be taking over the program in 2019.
Ward said she believes the TNR program is a great option for dealing with the feral cat issue. Unhappy people who cannot bring unwanted cats to the animal shelter are usually are less upset when she recommends placing cages to capture and neuter feral cats in the area.
Ward recommends calling the animal shelter to report a problem in a neighborhood. Trapping is done in locations based on calls received by the Shelby County Animal Shelter at 498-7201.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.