Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Helping local felines

For the past 2 years our clinic has participated in a city funded program for spaying and neutering feral cats. There are large groups of wild cats in Austin, and the thought is that if they are all sterilized, you can keep a closed colony. If you trap and remove (or kill) all of them, they just get replaced by new strays. (Opponents argue that the feral cats kill way too much wildlife, especially protected bird species. Very true, however, Austin is not a trap-and-kill kind of place.)

We started participating in this program to give back to the community. The surgeries are DEEPLY discounted, and we also perform basic vaccinations and parasite treatment. At the end of the surgery, we "tip" the ear (cut off the top of it). This way a sterilized feral cat can be identified at a distance by his silhouette, without having to actually capture it.

The cats were to be brought in by "trappers," private citizens who were looking out for the cats, and had gotten previous approval by the city. They were to make an appointment and present the cat with a city voucher.

In reality, the program did not run so smoothly. The trappers were often those special kind of "crazy cat people," who did not want seriously sick or injured cats euthanized (as per the guidelines of the program). They wanted to drop off more cats than they had scheduled, or repeatedly scheduled an appointment then no-showed when they couldn't catch the cat.

They also didn't want the ear tipped, as required by the program. "Please don't notch the ear, because this cat is nice, and I might be able to place it in a home," they reasoned. Many of the cats that did manage to get caught for this program were awfully friendly for "feral cats." So basically these people were trying to get free service for friendly strays, not the true feral cats of Austin. Plus, the city took months to reimburse us.

Things got a lot more complicated, and some of the trappers started becoming a drain on our system. None of the people who brought us cats under this program ever became clients. Of course, that is not why we participated, but it did seem we were spending lots of time dealing with the people and their friendly stray animals. The time we gave was not proportionate to the benefit the city and its feral cat population was getting.

We decided to opt out of the program, BUT to still offer the same prices to about three of our own clients who do a lot of cat rescue themselves. These are wonderful clients who spend thousands of dollars annually on their personal pets, and also take care of feral cat populations or foster kittens in their home. These individuals always agree to whatever diagnostic or treatment plans we recommend for their pets, but sometimes take the strays to discount clinics for cost reasons alone. I am so excited to be able to help these people and the needy cats in their homes.

Today I spayed the last cat under the city program. She had been scheduled before we made the decision to stop. She was an adorable calico that had obviously had many litters. She snuggled under my chin as I examined her -- some feral cat! But Friday I will be spaying/neutering 3 foster kittens for one of our most prized clients. I know she will be grateful, and will agree to any other treatments that I might recommend. I can't wait to help her and her kittens.


Christian Kay said...

I always stood behind the trap/release programs because they seemed the most humane. I now wonder if this is as true as I thought. I had no clue about the ear tipping and find that cruel and unusual. I am actually appalled and can't believe I hadn't heard about this before. Maybe it is something that they leave out of the articles for fear of backlash.

I really enjoy your blog. I am happy you are no longer participating. I will have to read up and re-think my stance on the whole trap/release program. Not like my opinion matters anyway. :)

Anonymous said...

Jenn, I am a licensed veterinary tech in Charleston, SC and our clinic also neuters/spays/vaccinates feral cats--but without city assistance. There are pros and cons involved in this service with the most obvious pro being slight population and disease control of feral cats. Cons include those you mentioned--scheduled surgeries that do not show up tying up the schedule and the cost involved for the clinic. There is also the inherent danger to clinic employess, which comes with the territory when handling extremely wild (none of ours are friendly strays) and possibly diseased animals. I do not have a problem at all with notching ears. These cats are not easy to trap or handle, and being able to identify from a distance those that have already been captured and neutered is much less stressful for the cats as well as safer for the trappers.

Laura said...

Personally, I think the ear notches are fine. I'd even be willing to have my own cat, should I ever adopt another, notched. Max had been tattooed with the universal female symbol with a strike-through, indicating she'd been sterilized. But I digress... what I wanted to say was that there is a researcher in Arizona who has developed a sterilization program for dogs on reservations where the female dogs are chemically sterilized, rather than surgically altered. The chemical works (on lots of species, including humans) by destroying ovarian follicles. The dog goes through a "perimenopasal period", and then ceases to produce ovarian follicles. Permanently. [As did the women who worked with the chemical in tire production plants before it was discovered that it had such negative effects.] The nice thing about the chemical is that it's less invasive and does not require a recovery period, which is good when you're dealing with a truly feral population.

Laura said...

Oh, and sorry, apparently, I can't spell "perimenopausal".

Emily said...

Very interesting posts and comments, Jenn!

I don't personally have a problem with the notching of ears...it seems a good way to easily identify them.

What a pity that some of the trappers seem to be abusing the system. I wholeheartedly support your clinic's decision to opt out of the program.