“As you can see we have a lot of cats,” NHS executive director Bonney Brown said as she gestured to the cages of cats lining the walls. “This is one of the reasons we support the feral cat program.”
The program in the Reno-Sparks area is aimed at decreasing the amount of feral cats, which are undomesticated animals living without human contact. It’s run by Community Cats, a non-profit organization dedicated to the reduction of feral cat overpopulation through sterilization, the improvement of feral cats’ quality of life and the betterment of human-cat relations.
According to local veterinarian Diana Lucree, feral cats are very quiet so they don’t draw attention to themselves,unlike domesticated felines that might meow when they want something. They also like to have their space. When they feel cornered or threatened, they are likely to hiss and strike out at you, Lucree said.
Community Cats was founded in 2003 by a small group of feral advocates, including Lucree. The goal of the feral cat program is to decrease the number of untamed cats and bring kittens that are six weeks old or younger to the NHS so they could be adopted out.
In order to accomplish this goal, the program uses a trap-neuter-return (TNR) policy. Traps are set up in areas where colonies roam and once they are trapped they are taken to a vet for proper care. The cats are neutered, given all their shots and then returned to their colony.
“Once the cats are neutered they stop fighting, spaying and meowing,” Dr. Lucree said. “This is why the program is so important to get these things taken care of.”
Some people disagree and believe that trap and kill programs are the way to deal with the feral cat overpopulation. Brown explains why these types of programs are costly and don’t present viable solutions to the problem.
“Trap and kill programs are expensive and a repetitive cycle,” Brown said.
For trap and kill programs you have to pay people to set up the traps, Brown said. Those professionals have to come out and take care of the body and then the traps have to be removed and they charge different rates for their services.
Dr. Lucree said that trap and kill programs are not very successful at getting rid of cat colonies. As soon as you kill one colony, she said, another one will move in.
The idea behind the feral cat program is that by neutering cats there are fewer kittens that grow up feral and that will ultimately decrease the number of cats coming into the shelter.
“The trap-neuter-return program is more cost effective then trap and kill programs,” Brown said. “And population will decrease over time.”
The NHS already has seen a decline in the number of feral cats.
So has Doug Nesler, veterinarian at Pyramid Veterinarian Hospital, who didn’t have estimates on the number of feral cats he’s recently treated.
Nesler has been working in the Reno-Sparks area since 1981. Early in his career, Nesler said that he saw a lot of trauma because there were more feral animals running around.
“We are seeing a lot less trauma, not as many feral animals getting hit by cars,” he said.
Dr. Lucree said that the evidence supports Nesler’s evaluation.
Last year about 1,400 feral cats in Washoe County had to be euthanized; this year, that number is under 100.
Lucree is very happy about that total, considering the gravity of the situation. Her passion is working with the cats, she said, she feels an incredible sense of fulfillment from not just helping the community, but also the cats in the community.
“I find it very satisfying to work with them,” Lucree said. “Just me and the cats.”
For information about feeding undomesticated cats or to report a colony, call the Animal Help Desk for more information at 856-2000, ext. 200, or send an e-mail to email@example.com.