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Trap, neuter, release: Group aims for humane solution to control stray cat populations

Spring is officially kitten season for area shelters

Cats recover after surgery on “the beach,” a heated pad in the surgical suite at the Iowa Humane Alliance regional spay/neuter clinic in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. The cats’ tongues are sticking out to allow for monitoring of their oxygen levels. Once the cats are beginning to wake from anesthesia they are transferred back to cages. The low-cost clinic can spay or neuter up to 40 animals in a day and offers special packages for community cats, including a “Last Litter” program for mother cats and her litter of kittens. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cats recover after surgery on “the beach,” a heated pad in the surgical suite at the Iowa Humane Alliance regional spay/neuter clinic in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. The cats’ tongues are sticking out to allow for monitoring of their oxygen levels. Once the cats are beginning to wake from anesthesia they are transferred back to cages. The low-cost clinic can spay or neuter up to 40 animals in a day and offers special packages for community cats, including a “Last Litter” program for mother cats and her litter of kittens. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Springtime in Iowa brings with it longer days, warmer weather and blooming foliage, but for animal shelters the season means one thing — an explosion in feral cat and kitten populations.

That’s why the Iowa Humane Alliance is offering classes and resources for communities to trap, sterilize and rerelease their feral cat colonies, as well as campaigning to raise money for its spay and neuter program.

“Kittens are born all year long, but it really ramps up when it gets warmer,” said Kathleen Schoon, development director and volunteer coordinator for the Iowa Humane Alliance. “We want to make sure all cats under the age of 6 months are spayed or neutered, but we especially want to get to those feral cat populations. Those are the kittens that if they are born without a home and they are not socialized before they are 3 or 4 weeks old, they will have a much harder life. They tend to not do well in a shelter or home situation, and they will have kittens of their own, and that’s how the population really explodes.”

The Cedar Rapids-based organization is offering two trap-neuter-return workshops in March — one from 10 a.m. to noon March 16 at the Bertram Township Hall in Bertram, and another from 10 a.m. to noon March 30 at the U.S. Bank Community Room in Vinton.

Additionally, the organization has rolled out its “Stop Kitten Season in its Tracks” campaign, which aims to raise $10,000 for spay, neuter and vaccination assistance for clients involved in trap-neuter-return efforts for community cats as well as for owned cats under 6 months of age.

In trap-neuter-return programs, feral or community cats are humanely trapped with box traps, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and then returned to their outdoor homes. In some programs the cats are eartipped — a sign the cat has been neutered and vaccinated — or microchipped.

These programs can be controversial, said Diane Webber, project manager for the Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control Center, as some people oppose the idea of free-roaming cats, and some city ordinances do not allow for free-roaming animals.

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In Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, city ordinances dealing with animal regulations do not take into account free-roaming animals, such as feral cats, instead considering all unattended animals as “at-large” animals, which are prohibited. That creates some confusion when it comes to trap-neuter-return programs because these programs return the feral cats outdoors once they’ve been altered and vaccinated.  

“That’s something we are currently trying to change in Cedar Rapids,” said Diane Webber, program manager at the Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control Center. “Right now, we are pursuing revision of the city ordinance in order to specifically allow TNR (trap-neuter-return), because the language used right now does not clearly define whether such programs are allowed.”

Every spring, Webber said, the shelter is inundated with “hundreds of kittens,” many of them feral. For the feral kittens that are young enough to handle and socialize, the chances of the shelter being able to find them homes is promising. However, for those that can’t be handled, “the outcome is never positive,” she said.

“Feral cats are essentially wild animals,” Webber said. “We can’t tame them, we can’t handle them, we can’t even reach into the cage to clean up after them because we’ll get attacked. Those are animals that we cannot adopt out, and in those cases the only option we have is to euthanize them. A TNR program would give us another option, and that would be to take care of the animal’s medical needs and then return it to its outdoor home.”

Trap-neuter-return programs offer an alternative to euthanizing untamed cats and kittens that end up in the shelter, Schoon said. And the program has the added benefit of gradually and naturally decreasing the stray cat population.

“TNR programs can also reduce the nuisance aspect of feral cat populations, and it would reduce the risk of communicable illnesses,” she said.

But there is a catch, Webber said.

A community cat program requires residents to step up and act as caretakers, ensuring the animals have adequate food and water and making sure their medical needs are met — something Webber thinks people are willing to do.

“It’s amazing what true caretakers will do,” she said. “People will step up, especially if they have help with the tools and resources they might need to be caretakers. True caretakers truly care for animals and will do what they can to ensure they live safe, happy lives, and that’s what we want for these cats.”

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For more information, contact the Iowa Humane Alliance at 319-363-1255 or visit iowahumanealliance.org.

• Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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