on Trap/Alter/Release Programs
Karen Johnson. Reprinted here with permission.
National Pet Alliance, PO Box 53385, San Jose, CA 95153, 408-363-0700
The most common
preferred method put forth by animal control organizations for control
of cats has traditionally been to capture and euthanize feral/unowned
cats. Others, who refer to this means of control as the "trap
and kill"' method, consider it inhumane and objectionable on
several fronts. A major factor has been that it has been shown that
as soon as a cat is removed, a new one will move in to take over
the food source. Additionally, unless the cat is making an unusual
pest out of itself, why should a wild animal be euthanized simply
for not having a human address?
After a six-year
study and daily observation of a feral cat colony, it has been documented
that stray female cats start cycling when they are 4 to 6.9 months
old, or as soon as the days are long enough. January and February
are the start of the kitten season, with the litters born in March
and April. These cats have an average of 2.1 litters per year of
4.25 kittens. Forty two percent of the kittens will die by the
age of two months of natural causes. Many more will end up at
the shelter. Those who escape early death and the shelter go on
to be prolific bearers of kittens over their short lifespan of approximately
mortality into account, along with birth and death rates, the
average stray female will have 5.25 litters in her lifetime, encompassing
22.3 kittens. At age two months there should be 12.9 survivors,
roughly six females and seven males (at maturity, roughly 2/3
of the stray cat population is male[Ref6], due to the high mortality
of females during first pregnancy and birth), which will decrease
to four females over time. These six females will go on to have
their 22 surviving kittens each. Realistically, over 12 years,
one unspayed female, with all her unspayed female offspring, reasonably
can be expected to be responsible for over 3200 kittens if there
is no human intervention.
to advocate the trap and kill eradication approach. However, if
eradication programs really worked, we wouldn't be faced with
so many stray cats and their offspring at the shelters. Cats are
territorial. They don't allow other cats into their territory
to steal their food. Altered cats will stand their ground and
guard their food source, will not have kittens, and will die in
a few years. Remove the cat(s) from the habitat without changing
the habitat and another cat will move in.
Society of Santa Clara Valley estimates over 50% of their stray
cats euthanized are either wild, or their unweaned offspring.
Once the offspring of these feral cats are over about six months
of age, it is nearly impossible to socialize them to the degree
necessary to be placed as house pets. An unsocialized cat is an
unadoptable cat. The Cities and Counties pay for the handling
of these stray cats and their offspring. Reducing the number of
kittens born to these cats would substantially reduce the number
of cat euthanasias at the shelter, thereby reducing the costs
born by the taxpayers to handle and kill stray cats which cannot
cats are routinely euthanized at shelters. Even though the kittens
can often be socialized for placement, it does take a minimum
of two to three weeks of intensive work. Shelters simply don't
have the time, personnel or cage space to socialize the kittens.
Many do not have foster care available for this work. The alternative,
for the most part, is euthanasia.
Intervention as an Alternative Approach
In 1989, Stanford
University officials announced a plan to trap and kill approximately
500 stray cats living on campus. As a result, Stanford Cat Network
was formed. SCN was able to present an alternative solution in which
they would organize to trap, alter, release and manage the cats,
to stop the progression of reproduction on campus. Because of their
hard work, Stanford cats now have zero population growth as a result
of diligent and on-going trapping and spay/neuter efforts, and the
population is declining through natural attrition. Over 60 kittens
were caught, socialized and adopted out during the first season.
By 1994, only four kittens were found on campus. The campus population
is now estimated at approximately 300 cats. Stanford's current cat
population is healthy and well-cared for, and its maintenance involves
students, staff, and faculty.
accomplished all of this without financial support from the University.
SCN's successful five-year program with a very large cat population
demonstrates that feral cat colonies can be managed and kept under
control, and that a workable, viable alternative to a rush for
extermination does exist.
In San Diego
County, the non-profit Feral Cat Coalition has trapped, altered
and released in excess of 3,100 cats over the past two years.
In addition to these cats, which were over five months of age
at the time of altering, an unknown number of kittens were also
trapped, socialized and adopted into new homes.
Prior to this
project, San Diego County Animal Management Information System reported
an increase of roughly 10% per year in the number of cats handled
by San Diego Animal Control shelters from 1988 to 1992. The increase
peaked at 13% from Fiscal Year (FY)91 to FY92, with a total of 19,077
cats handled. After just two years, with no other explanation for
the drop, only 12,446 cats were handled--a drop of 35%. Instead
of another 10% annual increase, euthanasias plunged 40% from 1991-92
Animal Control Cat Statistics 1988-1994
return to wild, transfer to correct jurisdiction, wildlife rehab,
stolen, escaped, DOA, died in kennel, died in truck, died at contract
Of the 3,153
cats trapped by the Feral Cat Coalition which were altered, 54%
were female and 46% were male. Of the 1639 females spayed, the
following characteristics were noted:
Only 3%, 86
cats total, were found to have been already altered. 17 cats were
refused surgery for being under five months of age, or too ill.
18 cats died during surgery. 679 cats (22%) needed additional medical
treatment -- generally amoxicillin for infections, or ivomectin
for mites or worming. Additionally, cleaning and suturing wounds
and abscesses were very common.
72% of these
stray female cats were either in heat, pregnant, or had recently
had kittens. This is at least a three and a half times higher
incidence of pregnancy than found among owned cats. Three studies
have shown between 16-20% of owned cats have a litter prior to
altering. A 1991 Massachusetts SPCA study found 20% of owned cats
had a litter[Ref7], a Las Vegas Study reported 16% of owned cats
reproduced[Ref8], and in the 1993 survey of Santa Clara County
residents, 16% also verified that their cats had a litter prior
the project to trap, alter and release cats in San Diego County
has had a dramatic effect on the number of cats handled and euthanized
at their shelters, which even historical or nationwide downward
trends cannot explain.
County Animal Control has estimated that the cost to handle a
stray cat for the three required days in the shelter, plus euthanasia
and disposal, is $70 per cat. There are still only three alternatives
to handling the population of stray cats: 1) alter/release/mnagement;
2) exterminate/euthanize; 3) ignore.
Let us now
= $52 on a low cost program
VS. 3 Day required
stay at shelter = $70
3200 offspring = $224,000
41% of the known
cat population in Santa Clara County is unowned. This equates
to 168,463 cats which will, for the most part, be unaltered. Do we
allow them to continue to breed, adding ever more cost to animal control
budgets and taxpayer burden, or do we take the initiative to trap,
alter and release them, reducing the number of fertile females to
the start of kitten season, is the time to start trapping the
cats. Every female trapped now will reduce the number of kittens
needed to be handled by animal control this summer by at least
Two. Do we spend $52 now on the spay, or $140 to handle the two
kittens estimated to survive this spring? There are volunteers
in the community who care about cats. Animal agencies should aggressively
take the lead in encouraging and enabling citizens to help out
on this problem. Organization must be established within the community.
This enables volunteers to know what to do. Provide the means
for the medical treatment, and citizens will provide the services
to trap the cats and take them to the veterinarians. But, for
the best possible outcome, provide both for those areas with large
for a program of this type can take many forms:
There may be those
who prefer to continue the eradication method. The concerns put forth
are usually centered around noise (cats fighting over territory or
mating), smell (of spray), vector infestation, disease transmission
or possible injury. The assumption of a quick and clean solution makes
this avenue of population control especially attractive. Yet eradication
programs are ineffective. While attractive from a theoretical
and short-term perspective, eradication has proven to be an elusive
at the figures from San Diego, one can readily see that for
a cost of (3153 cats X $52 per cat) $163,956, they have reduced
the expenses at their shelter by at least 6500 cats, or $455,000,
over a two year time span. This successful track record shows
that in actuality no additional funds need be raised--the program
will pay for itself through less shelter costs. The initial
funding for altering could be taken from the shelter budget.
(San Diego, however, did not pay for the veterinary services.
All services were donated by veterinarians and others. Medical
supplies were purchased through contributions to Feral Cat Coalition).
- For those
who prefer not to gamble with the shelter budget, an alternative
is to request the Board of Supervisors to allocate seed money
for a trap/alter/release program, after showing them the future
savings to the animal control budget. The City of San Jose found
surplus funds in the Animal Licensing budget. Perhaps the County
may also find such a surplus.
if a restricted pet product surcharge was proposed in this county,
for use only for trap/alter/release program seed money, and
the surcharge would end as soon as the program was proving that
the shelter costs for stray cats and kittens were decreasing,
probably few in the pet community would have an objection. The
decreased shelter costs would then more than fund the ongoing
trap/alter/release programs, mating behavior and noise is eliminated.
The male urine spray smell is eliminated. Disease transmission to
humans is a negligible factor due to the few diseases which cats
can pass to humans. Rabies is one. There were only two cat rabies
cases found in 1993 in the entire state of California, out of a
current population of some 13 million owned and stray cats. The
risk is minimal. Vector problems should increase with removal of
stray cats, until such time as an increase in other rodent predators
takes the place of the missing cats. Most of us would probably prefer
to have a small, healthy feral cat population, rather than a larger
Norway rat and seagull population in habitats where those are the
recommend immediate issuance of vouchers for all unincorporated
county residents to take their stray and ``loosely owned'' neighborhood
cats in for free altering. The sooner the program begins, the sooner
the reduction in shelter costs will occur. For the fastest method
of notifying residents of the programs, perhaps a utility insert,
or special mailing to residents could jump start the program fast
enough to show reductions in shelter expense within 3-4 months.
estimated that due to death of owned cats, in excess of 17,000
kittens are needed annually in Santa Clara County just for replacement.
These kittens will need to be altered. It would be ideal to develop
the trap/alter/release program in such a way that the 17,000 owners
of kittens which need altering, and who could otherwise afford
to alter their cat, do not use the voucher funds to the detriment
of the stray cat altering program.
86% of owned
cats in Santa Clara County are altered. From San Diego we know
97% of stray cats are not altered. There is no doubt which cat population
is causing the huge numbers of cat euthanasias at the shelter. It's
time to get to work and start altering the stray cats now.
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