Just a quick update on how Bakersfield’s new, free TNR effort is going.

In a word: GREAT!

The Bakersfield Animal Care Center got a $60,000 PetSmart Charities grant earlier this year to fix 833 feral or community cats and it’s already more than halfway done after only four months.

TNR (trap, neuter, release) has been in place for many years at other shelters and was started back in July 2013 by the Kern County Animal Services Department almost on a wing and a prayer.

But the city lacked funding until PetSmart Charities stepped in.

“We’re invited to apply for the same grant again next year and we absolutely plan to,” said Shelter Director Julie Johnson.

She said the public has been very excited to take advantage of the program while it lasts.

If you’re unfamiliar with TNR, it’s an attempt to reduce and stabilize feral and/or community cat populations. Bakersfield's stray cat population is estimated to be about 120,000.

Feral cats are considered totally wild, are unhandleable and avoid humans. Community cats can be handled, and tend to cruise the neighborhood getting fed here and there.

Either way, once they start reproducing unowned cats can create a major problem in a hurry.

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.

So far, the city has fixed a little more than 600 cats using the PetSmart Charities grant.

Which means a whole mess of unwanted kittens will never be born.

Which, in time, will mean a lot fewer unwanted cats and kittens coming into shelters only to be euthanized.

“Shelters don’t want to be in the extermination business,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to save lives, not end them unless there’s a threat to public health and safety.”

To that end, she said, she’s seen a significant reduction in cat intakes from July 2016 of 460 to 263 this past July. In fact, this July's cat intake was the lowest in four years. 

A single year-over-year monthly statistic may not be proof of a TNR effect, but Johnson was hopeful the trend would continue.

Especially considering the county has been fixing an average 1,200 cats per year through its free TNR program since its first full year in 2014.

Including half of 2013, when it started, the county has fixed more than 6,000 feral and community cats.

That has to start making a difference at some point.

“Over the years, we have seen a reduction in ferals coming in and it’s been consistent,” said Kern County Shelter Director Nick Cullen.

It stands to reason that any large-scale, ongoing spay/neuter program will have an effect as long as people use it consistently for their animals.

So, good for the city and county.

Much applause.

Now, to those people — and you know who you are — who write me nasty grams about how releasing cats back into the community is an affront against wildlife, save it.

Yes, cats kill birds and lizards and bugs.

They also keep the rodent population in check, which is mighty helpful in tamping down pesky little things like bubonic plague and hantavirus.

And I don’t know how it escapes the anti-TNR crowd, but TNR reduces the cat population. REPEAT: Fewer cats.

Fewer cats means more birdies and lizards.

I’m not sure what the anti-TNR people want — for us to round up and kill every stray cat in the county? Build a giant indoor cat-o-rama to hold them all?

Anyhoo, since I live in the real world, I like reasonable, doable solutions.

And TNR is exactly that.

(3) comments

Konni Ellen

Thank you for this article, and for creating awareness around this issue. Yes, there are a lot of street cats out there and a grant for 800 spay/neuters may not create a dent. However, I make sure all the street cats on my block are trapped are fixed, and I spay/neuter all my own pets. Blaming animal control or the feeders is not the solution. Euthanizing the cats by the thousands every year has not helped. Animal control did not create the problem, the community created this problem. People can either make the decision to complain or they can make a difference.

JJ McKibbin

Except that TNR is not a solution. And neutering a few thousand cats out of an estimated 120,000 cats won't even slow the growth, let alone stop it or reverse it. Talk to an actual scientist about population dynamics. He can confirm what I'm about to tell you. Based on the known reproduction rates of cats, in order to stabilize the population and keep it from growing, you need to neuter approximately 75% of the cats in a single year. That's 90,000 cats. It isn't a situation where "every little bit helps". If you don't at least hit that 75% mark it makes no difference whatsoever. The breeding of the remaining intact cats will far outstrip those lost to trauma and disease. It's a complete waste of time, effort, and money. It's time for animal control to step up and do their job. Require pet cats (the original source of all feral cats) to be spay/neutered, licensed, contained to owner's property, micro-chipped and collar tagged. Ban feeding of feral cats and heavily fine violators. Start removing the largest cat colonies. Adopt out the ones you can. Euthanize the rest.

Konni Ellen

So who are the people that are going to remove and euthanize all the large colonies? Are you going to do it??? Who's going to pay for it??? You may have a science friend to quote, but I know a lot of intelligent people who could not find their way out of a wet paper sack with instructions included...haha You make a lot of good points, but funding is not easy to come by for fixing or killing them so good luck with that. Have your science friend work out a budget for trapping, killing and re-homing the thousands of "adoptable" because it would be in the millions of dollars range. 120,000 feral cat population is a very, very low estimate for Kern county.

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