feral cats mama and kittens

A mama cat with kittens rests in her cage at the Bakersfield Animal Care Center on Mount Vernon Avenue. The city recently got a PetSmart Charities grant to help fix feral or community cats to cut down on the population of unwanted cats.

Courtesy Bakersfield Animal Care Center Facebook page

City cats may not rejoice but residents tired of swarms of strays in their neighborhoods likely will.

The Bakersfield Animal Care Center launched its first ever trap-neuter-release (TNR) program last month — for free to city residents.

Kern County Animal Services has had a free TNR program for the past four years. But only for residents of unincorporated areas.

This has been a problem for a lot of residents who want to get stray cats fixed but don’t live in the county and can’t afford it on their own, even at the incredibly low prices offered by Critters Without Litters ($55 per female cat and $40 per male).

Well, no more.

Now city and county residents can both help cut down our massive cat overpopulation and not pay a dime.

I say that’s worth celebrating.

Yay!

But you need to get on it because the grant paying for the city’s program runs out at 833 cats.

In the last month alone, it has fixed 157 cats.

So, don’t let any catnip grow under your feet before you take advantage of this program.

The city got a $60,000 grant from PetSmart Charities that’s good for a year, or 833 cats, whichever comes first.

“And we’re welcome to reapply next year,” said Julie Johnson, director of the Bakersfield Animal Care Center.

I was a little concerned by how fast the shelter is running through the grant, but Johnson had another take.

“On the flip side that’s 157 cats and all their future kittens that won’t be coming to the shelter,” she said.

And the potential for kittens from feral cats is astounding.

Factoring in survival rates, the numbers can go as high as 49,000 cats/kittens produced by just one unspayed female over a 10-year period, according to the website calculate-this.com.

Assuming the city fixes the full 833 cats (and that looks like a foregone conclusion), the number of avoided unwanted kittens is, well, it’s a whopper.

“Oh I think it’s great,” said Sue Bennett, director of the Kern Humane Society, of the city's new program. “It saves us money.”

Kern Humane has been giving out $25 vouchers to help people fix feral cats for several years.

Even with the city’s grant, Bennett said, Kern Humane will continue to give out the feral vouchers because the city’s program only goes through Critters Without Litters, which is sometimes backed up and can’t get to the surgeries right away.

Kern Humane’s vouchers are accepted by most veterinarians in town, she said.

Combine all that with what Kern County Animal Services has been doing since July 2013 and there’s hopefully at least the hint of a glimmer of light at the end of the animal overpopulation tunnel.

The county has fixed 5,660 cats since starting its TNR program in July 2013, according to Animal Services Director Nick Cullen.

Interestingly, the number of cats coming through the program is declining, he said.

In 2014, the first full year of the program, the county fixed 1,908 cats, then 1,473 in 2015, 1,398 in 2016 and only 438 so far this year.

“It’s tough to draw any conclusions from just a few years of data,” Cullen said. "But it's indicative of something."

But one thing’s certain, the shelter used to have to kill 80 percent of the cats that came in and that’s down to 20 percent now.

He praised the city’s TNR program as a step in the right direction, though he cautioned patience.

“The estimate is there are 120,000 strays in the county,” he said.

So even if the city and county, Kern Humane and other animal organizations combined could fix 4,000 cats a year, it will take time (seven to 10 years is the average) to get the stray population under control.

OK, got it, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

But for now, I’m excited to see the city join the race.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 661-395-7373 or email lhenry@bakersfield.com follow her on Twitter @loishenry or on Facebook at Lois Henry.

 

LOIS HENRY ONLINE

Read archived columns by Lois Henry at http://bakersfield.com/columnists/lois-henry.

 

(1) comment

Marian Brown

Neuter release programs do not reduce overall feral cat numbers because 75 to 90 per cent the cats in the area have to be neutered at the same time to actually impact the population. Neuter release programs also increase dumping of cats into an area, as people think they will be cared for. Feeding also attracts intact cats, which are more aggressive than neutered cats, so there is a constant infiltration of intact cats, which breed at higher rates in the presence of extra food or natural food sources.

I recommend reading Dr. Peter P. Marra's book, Cat Wars, to better understand the complexities of population dynamics and wildlife extinction rates. He also covers some of the public health impacts from feral cat parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, and infectious diseases, such as rabies. Marra says the only success from neuter release is actually in the removal of cats and kittens suitable for adoption, which does reduce the feral cat population, but that is removal, not neuter and re-dump. Neuter and re-dump is not supported by ecological research, but is rather a feel good Band Aid for feral cat lovers who enjoy feral cats, but don't understand population dynamics.

Neuter release can reduce overall population in a closed system, such as a sanctuary with a predatory fence to keep the neutered cats in and the intact cats out. However, the cost for the lifetime of a single cat in that situation, with food, water, shelter, and veterinary care is approximately $5,000 per cat. A feral cat in such circumstances can live 11 to 16 years, sometimes longer.

Neuter release not only fails to reduce overall feral cat populations, but fails to prevent disease transmission to other cats, wildlife and humans. It is also inhumane to re-abandon a domesticated animal, which is what cats are. The cats die from exposure, starvation, parasites, worms, infections, dog attacks, coyotes, car tires, cat viruses and poisonings etc. How humane is that compared to timely rehoming for adoption if socialized, or humane euthanasia if unsuitable for adoption? I agree with Marra that the re-abandonment of feral cats is inhumane and not good for the cats, the wildlife or public health. Here is a link to one of his talks on the subject (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cat-wars-effects-of.../). I've also read his excellent book and found it highly educational.

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