Program offers humane option for feral cats

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Some Socorroans are exploring a more humane alternative than euthanasia for controlling feral cat populations in the area, and everyone is invited to their seminar to learn about it.

The Trap/Neuter/Return seminar is Dec. 11 from 3-5 p.m. at the Best Western, presented by New-Mexicatnr Network supporters. The seminar covers basics of the TNR process, plus includes informative segments on socializing kittens and fostering cats through the local shelter. Raffle prizes are a four-foot kachina, a handmade bow and arrow, and three bracelets.

Elaine Burgess, who started TNR in Socorro, explained TNR is a program to catch feral cats, both male and female; get them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies; and turn them loose with their ears tipped to show they have been fixed.

Feral cats are usually not adoptable because they are not socialized to people, so many shelters just kill them when they catch them. Burgess said TNR is more humane and less expensive than the old catch-and-kill method of controlling feral cat populations; shelters can save 20 to 35 percent in costs by practicing TNR rather than euthanasia.

Burgess said the city of Socorro has not yet taken up TNR; only a few private citizens are doing it right now, including Burgess and her husband Don. They started in March and have already fixed 75 wild cats.

"I started TNR here because there are so many loose cats," Burgess said. "And in Socorro County, cats seem to be the underdog."

Jill Urban, another TNR advocate, expressed hopes that people with free roaming cats on their properties will attend the TNR seminar and learn how to manage a cat colony. She said colonies are easier to manage through TNR.

Urban explained killing feral cats leads to a vacuum effect, where other strays come in from elsewhere to repopulate the area. Also, more cats left to populate a colony will lead to smaller litters born to the cats that are still fertile.

Burgess explained "nature takes over" when it comes to making up numbers in a cat colony. In an area bereft of cats, litters consistently number five or more kittens each.

When cats are left to populate the colony, such as in TNR neighborhoods, those that are not yet fixed will bear two or three kittens per litter.

Burgess noted fixing the cats makes them more pleasant neighbors. TNR stops the yowling and spraying that accompany the mating process, and the incidents of fighting decrease.

Urban said cats are a necessary part of the environment. They control pests — not only do they hunt mice and rats, but all kinds of bugs, snakes, scorpions and spiders.

"There is no pest control like cats," Urban said.

Burgess added cats are immune to hantavirus.

Burgess said many cities across the country have adopted TNR as their normal practice. She said TNR is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and over 2,000 municipalities nationwide.

Burgess said her volunteer TNR effort has had good results in different parts of the city and county of Socorro so far.

Urban said the city of Socorro does not currently practice TNR because of wording in its animal control ordinance. Animal control staff must follow the city's ordinance, which prohibits them from turning cats loose at all. The ordinance would have to be changed to allow for the practice of TNR by city staff.

Burgess said Sierra County, Albuquerque and Deming currently practice TNR with very positive results. She noted TNR leads to fewer kittens being relinquished to animal shelters.

Urban strongly urged people to adopt cats from the Socorro shelter, noting the shelter provides a $50 coupon toward spay/neuter services.

"It's cheaper to get cats from the shelter than to adopt them from a friend," Urban said.

Burgess currently has five humane traps she uses to catch the cats. She then transports them to a veterinary clinic in Albuquerque. She explained that particular clinic gives New-Mexicatnr Network a discount; the procedure costs about $10 to $15 per cat, a significant savings. She noted the smaller veterinary offices in Socorro could quickly become overwhelmed if she took the cats to be fixed here.

Burgess said transport is an all-day commitment in Albuquerque. Burgess said she, her husband and one other person are the only people trapping cats now. She said if they could get seven or eight more volunteers just to drive the cats to Albuquerque, it would help tremendously — even if people could only commit to transporting once or twice a year. She said she can only trap cats about once per month, twice at the very most.

"This is a four-day process for me," Burgess said.

Urban urges people to contact the Zimmer Feline Foundation if they can't afford to have their pet cat spayed or neutered. Zimmer issues free vouchers to have cats vaccinated for rabies and fixed. She said people with a household income under $40,000 per year can qualify, and it only takes five minutes to apply over the phone.

Burgess added Zimmer will issue up to eight vouchers for people to have their yard cats fixed also, as long as the person is committed to feeding the cats. She said people can get their vouchers from Zimmer, then she will come and trap the cats to have them fixed.

Call the Zimmer Feline Foundation at 505-466-1676 to obtain free vouchers to have cats fixed and vaccinated for rabies.

For more information about TNR or to volunteer, email Elaine Burgess at nmcatnr@yahoo.com. Donate to the local TNR effort at First State Bank to the account labeled NMCATNR. Donations pay for fuel, cat food and humane traps.

Donations to Claws and Paws Rescue can be sent to 120 Mustang, Socorro, NM 87801. Email Urban at snugglepuffs@hotmail.com for more information or to volunteer.