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Volunteers dedicated to fixing cat problem.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Cary Lieberman and Karen Gaffney

Cats and kittens aren't always beloved members of the family. Sometimes they can be abandoned, leading to feral cat populations that grow unchecked.

A feral cat is not the neighborhood cat that is allowed to wander freely, but the unsocialized descendant of an abandoned cat. Feral cats, being unaltered, breed and produce more feral cats. When they live together, the group is called a colony.

A recent estimate puts the number of feral cats in Lane County at up to 40,000. It is estimated that there are more than 70 million feral cats in the United States.

Research has shown that a strategy called Trap, Neuter, Return is most effective for controlling feral cat populations and cat overpopulation in general. An established colony will defend its territory to protect the food source, limiting the addition of new cats to the group. The TNR approach stabilizes the colonies and eliminates many of the problems people find annoying about feral cats - spraying and urine odor abates; mating yowls are eliminated; and fighting is reduced.

Additionally, spaying and neutering feral cats reduces the number of unwanted kittens that enter shelters. The average stray female cat will have 5.25 litters in her lifetime, totaling 22.3 kittens, with roughly 12.9 of those surviving to the age of two months (roughly six females and seven males). Over 12 years, one unspayed female, with all her unspayed female offspring, can be expected to be responsible for more than 3,200 kittens if there is no human intervention.

In Lane County, we're working to reduce the number of feral cats through a collaborative effort called Feral Fix. This project involves the Greenhill Humane Society, the Lane County Veterinary Medical Association, the city of Eugene and Lane County Animal Services. Since last September, no-cost spay and neuter services have been provided to feral cats throughout the area as part of the project.

LCAS staff and members of its advisory committee have been at the table from the beginning, helping to craft this collaboration. LCAS officers in the field and other staff play an important role in informing citizens about Feral Fix and by identifying colonies in need of trapping.

Additionally, when the waiting list for the program grew to a point at which people would have to wait months, LCAS arranged for a visit to Eugene from the mobile Neuter Scooter to provide low- and no-cost spay and neuter services to 78 feral and other cats during one Saturday in June.

This project would truly not be possible without the volunteer veterinarians. To date, 35 veterinarians from the LCVMA have donated at least one surgery day to the project. This contribution helps keep expenses to a bare minimum and makes it possible to offer the spay/neuter services at no cost.

LCVMA veterinarians volunteer their time, and Greenhill Humane Society opens its surgery suite for the day. Greenhill coordinates the appointment schedule, schedules volunteers and a certified veterinary technician for the clinics, and provides training to volunteer trappers and feral cat caregivers.

So far, Greenhill has recruited, trained and scheduled more than 34 volunteers to help make this project work, in addition to the wonderful community members who trap and transport these cats for surgery.

The Web site was also established to offer basic information about caring for feral cats and to provide contact information for local resources including spay/neuter, medical services and trap rentals.

Since the project started last September, 395 feral cats have been spayed or neutered at Greenhill through Feral Fix, and an additional 78 cats at the one-day Neuter Scooter event.

Feral Fix is one component of a community response to feral cats. The solution includes the many individuals who are willing to trap these cats and arrange for them to be altered. These people often invest large amounts of their own time and money to help fix this problem. It also includes the low-cost spay/neuter clinics in Lane County that make it more affordable for people who are trying to do the right thing and keep these cats from continuing to reproduce. The solution also includes those people willing to provide basic food and care for these cats after they are altered, helping to maintain healthy colonies.

We are grateful to all who have rallied together for the health and safety of local animals.

Cary Lieberman is the executive director for Greenhill Humane Society; Karen Gaffney is the assistant director for Lane County Health and Human Services.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 15, 2009
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