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Feral cats still an issue, but problem improving

March 23, 2016
By CHUCK?BALLARO (news@breezenewspapers.com) , North Fort Myers Neighbor

It is unlikely that Lee County will ever completely solve the feral cat problem, but there are programs that are making a difference.

With an improved economy, fewer cats being abandoned by owners and a popular Lee County spay-neuter program, the cat population has been controlled slightly, meaning fewer cats euthanized or winding up in the Animal Refuge Center shelter.

Lee County started the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program in 2009, which has reduced the feral cat population. Last year it "fixed" 975 cats.

Betty Hughes, of ARC, said the TNR program has made a good dent in the cat population.

"Over the years, there's been a huge decrease in unwanted litters being born. That's a positive," Hughes said. "There may be pockets of areas that haven't embraced TNR. The success is based on the citizens being proactively involved."

That has been a problem, which has stopped the program from reaching its maximum potential, according to Mack Young, Lee County Director of Animal Services.

The feral cat population in excess of 120,000 makes the problem too large for the county to handle alone.

"From March to the end of October is kitten season, so we're trying to encourage people to being these cats in, but it's an ongoing process," Young said. "We need help from the community. This program has helped some, but not as much as we had hoped."

The TNR process involves the trapping of ownerless cats by caretakers. The cats are then sterilized, vaccinated, chipped, ear-tipped and returned to their colony. Caretakers continue to feed the cats but the cats no longer reproduce. The colony is eventually eliminated through attrition.

Some cats go to Barn Buddies, where they help cut down on the rat population.

For those who have newborn ferals, you may want to make an appointment now, since there is a three-month waiting list for TNR appointments, Young said.

"Along with TNR, we also have the regular vet duties in house as well as people bringing in their own animals. Our schedule is full," Young said. "Things fill up pretty fast because of all the other duties we have."

The program is free, but is restricted to feral cats. One of the advantages to fixing younger cats is that they can be tamed easier and become adoptable.

"If you get them young, they turn out to be adoptable companions. Otherwise, we would have the center full of feral cats," Hughes said. "We don't take in ferals anymore since TNR began."

Another problem is that no-kill shelters such as ARC are usually at full capacity (350 for cats, 60 for dogs), with openings happening only when a cat becomes adopted. Some cat owners simply put their cats on the street.

"Now, you have tame cats that were never spayed or neutered and they are now having litters. It's a tough situation all around," Hughes said. "We're always operating at or near full capacity. Timing is important."

To get these animals, however, it comes down to the community pitching in and helping.

"This is a big problem not just here, but everywhere. If we can get more people, we can put a good dent in the cat population," Young said.

For more information on the TNR program visit www.leegov.com/animalservices/vetservices/spayneuter/tnr

Lee County residents can contact Animal Services to schedule an appointment via email at spay@leegov.com or by calling 533-9234 to schedule an appointment(s). This is a free service; however, donations are greatly appreciated to offset veterinary costs.

 
 

 

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