PONDERAY — Hundreds of cats come into Panhandle Animal Shelter every year. Limited space to house them comfortably and safely has made PAS’s feral cat and low-income spay and neuter programs a top priority, said shelter officials.
Thanks to a $25,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, the shelter aims to alter 800 feral cats in Bonner and Boundary counties.
“We know that a proactive approach to the growing cat population is the only solution. We have been trapping, neutering, and returning feral cats, as well as bringing weaned baby feral kittens into the shelter to be socialized, altered, and later adopted out,” said Mandy Evans, PAS executive director. “Based on national statistics, this approach is the best and most humane way to reduce the homeless cat population in our area.”
From the perspective of community cats that are free-roaming or feral, Evans said there is a large problem in the area of cat overpopulation. She said the shelter "quite literally" can not keep up with the number of cats need to come into the shelter. Last year, she said, shelter staff worked with individuals from the community who have colonies of 30 to 50 cats on their properties. PAS altered 500 cats through its feral cat program in 2016.
"The whole idea of our program, the overall goal, whether it's a feral, owned or free-roaming outside cat that's friendly, we just want them to be fixed so we can lower the number of cats needing to enter the shelter every year," Evans said. "We operate off of a wait list almost the entire year."
But as 2016 ended without any additional funds, it didn’t look like they would be able to continue the program. Now, the PetSmart Charities grant not only provides the funds to support 800 surgeries in 2017, but also allows the animal shelter to purchase additional traps and provides funds to promote the program.
“The community is our number one resource when it comes to reducing the local feral cat population,” Evans said.
When community members call PAS regarding feral cats, traps are provided, as well as training and tools needed to manage the altering of a colony. The “it takes a village” approach expands the reach to help multiple colonies at once.
Cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and then returned back to the area it was trapped in. When cats are sterilized and returned, they effectively hold or defend their territory so more cats can’t move in. This stabilizes the area’s population. Evans said trap-neuter-return programs are effective at reducing the “nuisance ” behaviors associated with large groups of cats, some of those being fighting, yowling, spraying, and having up to three litters a year. Once TNR is in place, the cats will no longer reproduce, and the population eventually declines, she said.
While the shelter is unable to house feral adult cats, kittens under the age of 10 weeks can come in for socialization and adoption. Evans said kittens tend to move through the shelter regularly, but adult cats often do not get adopted as quickly. She said they used to house up to 20 cats per room, but since they changed procedures to follow the standards of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Veterinarians, PAS can only house seven cats in each room. Less animals per room significantly lowers illness among shelter cats, Evans said.
With the assistance of the community and the generous financial support of the PetSmart Charities’ grant, Evans is confident that there will be a significant reduction in the area’s homeless cat population in the coming years.
PetSmart Charities aims to proactively prevent pet homelessness through increased spay and neuter efforts. With the help of animal welfare partners, such as Panhandle Animal Shelter, PetSmart Charities has funded over 1.4 million spay and neuter surgeries in the U.S. since 2009.
To learn more about PAS’s trap-neuter-return program, contact Devin Laundrie, PAS shelter manager, at 208 – 265-7297, ext. 104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.