Chico and Orland programs vary greatly on efforts to reduce feral cat populations

A just-trapped cat grabs a bite to eat while waiting for release.

A just-trapped cat grabs a bite to eat while waiting for release.

PHOTO Courtesy of sarah downs

In the two-plus years since the Neighborhood Cat Advocates formed to try to deal with Chico’s feral cat population, the organization has trapped, neutered and released 1,971 such felines. The cat’s ear is clipped as proof it’s been fixed.

Trap-neuter-release (aka TNR) is considered by many to be a more humane, viable and cost-effective way of dealing with wild cats than trapping and euthanizing them. The fixed-and-released cats remain outdoors and either fend for themselves or are fed by humans but are unable to breed and continuously expand the population.

Self-proclaimed “cat ladies” Sarah Downs and Armeda Ferrini are the humans behind Neighborhood Cat Advocates. Downs said that back in 2011 she suggested to Ferrini that they form a group whose primary focus would be to trap, neuter and release the area’s feral cats.

“Armeda is a firecracker and she ran with the idea,” Downs said. “A few of us got together and started having meetings, developing a plan of action and coming up with fundraising ideas. In 2013, we became a 501c3 nonprofit under the umbrella of Companion Animal Welfare Alliance. Also underneath that umbrella is Pawprints Thrift in Chico, which is the primary source of our funding.”

The store is all-volunteer, which means its profits go to spay-and-neuter programs for both feral cats and those whose owners can’t afford to get them fixed.

There are currently six volunteers who do the trapping, Downs said. The cat advocates have tried to recruit more volunteer trappers via social media, but have had little luck. The trapping itself is generally not that difficult, she said.

“It depends on the situation and how many cats there are,” she said. “There’s always going to be a couple of cats who know the game and resist the smelly mackerel or sardines in the trap until the very end.”

While they currently accept only kittens that cannot fend for themselves and injured cats, personnel at the Chico Animal Shelter say they’ve seen positive results from the TNR program.

“The program is definitely affecting us and the cat numbers have certainly decreased,” said Traci Mohr, the shelter’s animal services manager. “The euthanasia numbers have dropped, especially for this time of year. We normally fill up with droves of kittens coming in, but that has also dropped. Not as many cats means we can help the ones that really need our help.”

In 2012, when the city took over operations, the shelter took in 1,181 cats, Mohr said. The following year, when the TNR program began and the shelter stopped accepting healthy surrendered adult cats, the number fell to 442. Last year, only 304 cats were brought to the shelter. Cat euthanasia rates have also dropped significantly, from 527 in 2012 to 88 the following year and only 62 last year.

The first week of March, the city of Orland put into place a program directed at its feral cat population that does not include returning the animals to the wild. Critics have called the program an “adopt-and-euthanize” agenda.

City Manager Peter Carr said the city is partnering with the Burnham Veterinary Clinic in Willows, which accepts feral cats from citizens for a $5 charge. Citizens can rent a cat trap from the Orland Police Department with a $20 deposit and a $1 daily rental fee.

“The cats are trapped and taken to the vet, where they are scanned for chips and checked for health to see if they are adoptable,” Carr said. “The vet makes the determination for what is best, but we are not returning them to the wild.”

The city reimburses the clinic $20 for each cat processed. The adoptable cats are transfered to Town & Country Humane Society in Orland, Carr said. But that organization does not have the space to keep many of the cats nor is there a demand for feral cat adoptions.

Orland’s program was spurred by complaints in recent months from citizens who said the felines were overrunning parks, getting into trash, attacking domesticated pets, killing birds and spreading disease and odors.

Carr said he finds it offensive that the effort has been referred to as a euthanasia program.

“We do have a public safety obligation,” he said.