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Editorial: Sterilizing feral felines reduces wild population

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May proved to be a significant month for the Johnson County Animal Shelter. For the first time in a decade, the shelter euthanized no cats.

Animal control director Michael Delp attributes that first kill-free month for cats to the Johnson County Humane Society’s new spay and neuter program for roaming cats. The humane society started recruiting cat caretakers in August. Volunteers catch cats to get them spayed or neutered and then release them back into the areas where they were caught.

The shelter works to find tame cats homes, and the humane society returns the others into feral cat colonies or releases them in barns, human society board president Janet Gorrell said.

She said having the cats spayed or neutered reduces behavioral problems, such as fighting, cuts back on new litters of kittens and allows the wild cat population to die naturally.

About 60 residents currently volunteer to feed the free roaming cats in their neighborhoods and help the humane society catch the animals so they can be spayed or neutered, Gorrell said.

Volunteer cat caretakers feed the colonies, which range in size from one to 20 cats, she said. The larger colonies are in rural areas.

Delp said euthanizing one cat costs about $60. Not having to euthanize any cats frees up money for vaccinations and medical treatment for other animals, he said. In May 2006, the county spent about $8,000 to euthanize 141 cats, he said.

“It’s saving the taxpayers money. Secondly, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The county has about 20,000 free-roaming cats, and the humane society’s goal is to get them all spayed and neutered and taken care of by a volunteer, Gorell said.

Residents interested in volunteering as a cat caretaker can contact the humane society at 535-6626.

Many feral cats are the result of thoughtless people who grow tired of a pet and release it on a rural road, thinking the animal is equipped to fend for itself in the wild. Similarly, pregnant females are abandoned by people who don’t want to deal with a litter of kittens.

The solution to the feral cat population lies in a multipronged approach.

First, cat owners need to have their pets spayed or neutered to eliminate the chance of unwanted kittens.

Second, those who no longer want or can have a cat should take it to the animal shelter or humane society rather than simply abandoning it.

Finally, by sterilizing feral cats, the wild population will be reduced by natural attrition.

The effort will require the cooperation of government, nonprofit organizations and the public. But the result will be fewer nuisance animals, fewer euthanizations and saving of taxpayer dollars.

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