Last week I read an article reporting that 11,454 cats were euthanized by a Florida animal shelter in 2010. These were feral, community or otherwise trapped cats brought into the only public shelter in Florida's most populous county, and the shelter simply had no room, and no alternatives.
Being a cat owner, cat lover, and having known many felines throughout my life, all with their own distinct personalities, unique quirks, and endearing ways of showing affection, it's heartbreaking to think of 11,454 individual cats' lives being brought to an end because of a lack of space, funding, resources or support .
Fortunately, that same animal shelter's live release rate (the percentage of animals leaving a shelter alive through adoption, return to owner or transfer) skyrocketed from 43% that horrible year, to 90% in 2015. Why? With the help of community partnerships and grant funding, they were able to implement a targeted, effective return-to-field program, also known as TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return or Release).
Now, instead of accepting and euthanizing the thousands of cats they have no space or resources to care for, cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear tipped and returned back where they were found to continue living their lives.
Thankfully, our community isn't overwhelmed quite to that extent with community or stray cats and shelter intake, but we do have more than our fair share of free-roaming or abandoned cats resulting from breeding feral cats or unsterilized owned cats who are allowed to roam, and we also have limited space to care for them.
You can help by making sure your own cats are spayed or neutered. Even if they are indoor-only, cats can easily slip outside and are highly motivated to do so when overcome with the urge to mate. With affordable surgery prices and voucher programs reducing the price to just $20, cost is no longer a reason not to have it done.
You can also help by participating in local TNR programs if you know of free-roaming cats in your area. The process varies slightly depending on City or County programs, but I spoke with Aiken Public Safety Animal Control Officer Alan Willing to learn how the City of Aiken's program, which is a partnership with the SPCA Albrecht Center, works.
Humane traps can be rented by citizens, or officers place them themselves, in an area that a stray cat is known to visit or live, and set with an open can of food to lure them inside. Once trapped, the cat remains until picked up by the citizen or by Animal Control. Officer Willing states that placed traps are checked at least daily, and are never placed during rainy weather or in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
Cats are then brought into the SPCA Veterinary Care Center, medically treated if needed, sterilized, given a rabies vaccination, ear-tipped (to distinguish "fixed" community cats) and returned the following day to the location where they were found.
Even if you don't participate in this program, it's important to be aware of its purpose in case you come across a trap near your home or work. There have been instances of well-meaning citizens removing food from traps and disabling them, believing they are saving a cat from a doomed fate. Please leave traps open and allow the program to work. The cat will be returned to the area treated, vaccinated, and unable to reproduce.
You can learn more about the City of Aiken's TNR program at LetLoveLive.org/tnr and you'll also find a link to Aiken County's TNR program which offers free spay/neuter for feral or community cats.
Have some time on your hands and live on the south side of Aiken? A local volunteer TNR group needs some help feeding colonies of community cats near Publix and PetSmart. Food and training are provided. You can help just once per week, be available as a fill-in, or more. Call Tonia at 803-599-3426 if you can help or if you have questions.
Until the day that there is a home for every pet, TNR is one of the best solutions we have to combating feline-overpopulation and euthanasia of healthy cats.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her family which includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.