New nonprofit takes fresh approach to managing Chico’s cat population
“Trying to socialize a feral cat is very difficult,” Armeda Ferrini said during an interview at Butte Humane Society’s Spay and Neuter Clinic, gesturing to claw marks on her arms. “I’ve got scratches all over me.”
As a member of the nonprofit organization Neighborhood Cat Advocates (NCA), which formed early this year, Ferrini knows first-hand how antisocial cats can become after long stretches in the wild, and that most of the feral cats trapped by well-intentioned members of the public aren’t adoptable. But through their work with the NCA, Ferrini and her fellow volunteers are striving to make sure those wayward felines aren’t euthanized and, just as important, don’t reproduce.
Ferrini spends many of her early mornings trapping feral and stray cats in the Chico area. When she traps a cat, it’s brought to the spay-and-neuter clinic, fixed, given a rabies shot, and gets the tip of an ear clipped. Ferrini typically will keep the cat in her garage overnight and release it back into the area where it was captured the next morning.
This approach, called “trap-neuter-return”—or “trap-neuter-release”—is intended to more humanely stabilize Chico’s out-of-control cat population. In an interview with the CN&R earlier this year, Tracy Mohr, animal-services manager at the Chico Animal Shelter, estimated Chico is home to some 14,500 feral and unowned cats. During a recent interview, Mohr said that the traditional model of catching and killing feral and stray cats is, along with being unsavory work, simply ineffective in terms of making a dent in the cat population.
“Trapping them and bringing them to the shelter—where most of them are euthanized because you can’t find them homes—doesn’t work,” Mohr said.
Part of the issue with removing cats from certain areas is a phenomenon known as “the vacuum effect,” according to Alley Cat Allies, a national cat-advocate organization. When cats are removed from a territory, others move in to “take advantage the newly available resources and breed,” creating “an endless and costly cycle.”
Mohr said if the unowned cats are healthy, they tend to thrive and don’t require human intervention other than making sure they don’t reproduce.
“If they’re feral or stray and we trap, neuter and release them, at least we’re not getting that influx of kittens,” she said. “Why spend lots of taxpayer money, lots of staff time, all of these resources in trapping them, bringing them in and euthanizing them? Why are we overcrowding our shelters … when [the cats] are better off if you leave them alone?”
As of Feb. 1 of this year, Chico Animal Shelter ceased accepting feral or stray cats unless they are sick or injured, or are orphaned kittens, while Butte Humane Society agreed to handle all “surrenders” (cats given up by their owners). When combined with the trap-neuter-return efforts of NCA members, the new policies have shown early signs of success.
For instance, 282 cats were euthanized at Chico Animal Shelter between February and July of last year, including 19 at the owners’ request. This year, in the same time period, the shelter euthanized 58 cats, including 30 at the owners’ request. Meanwhile, the NCA has trapped, neutered and returned about 400 cats since February.
But NCA, which funded the spay-and-neuter operations through grants from individual donors, ran out of money on Oct. 8. In an email that day, Ferreri said the organization will be forced to stop fixing cats until more funding is made available, though the nonprofit will continue offering trapping and transport services for those willing to pay for the procedure. (Neutering a male is $40 and spaying a female is $60.)
A fundraiser for NCA will take place at the Chico Women’s Club on Nov. 15, from 7 to 10 p.m. The evening will include dancing, a silent auction, a no-host bar, refreshments, a raffle and music by Richard Moore and the Atomic Cats. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at TrailBlazer Pet Supply (752 Mangrove Ave.).