2016-08-17 / Featured / Front Page

Richmond Animal League addresses feral cat problem in Jeff Davis corridor

By Donna Gregory Burch

The Richmond Animal League is launching a new program targeting feral cats in the Jeff Davis corridor. 
iStock The Richmond Animal League is launching a new program targeting feral cats in the Jeff Davis corridor. iStock If you take a drive along Jefferson Davis Highway, you’ll likely notice a mix of aging businesses and modest housing. But if you look closely, you just might see a few green eyes peeking out at you, too. The Jeff Davis corridor is home to one of the county’s largest populations of feral and stray cats (also called community cats).

The Richmond Animal League (RAL) is launching a new project to reduce the number of homeless cats in the corridor and help them lead healthier lives. Project TNR is a pilot program that provides free spay/neuter surgeries for feral/stray cats.

RAL is trying to raise $6,000 to sterilize at least 85 percent of the community cats in the corridor. Reaching that threshold will dramatically decrease the population of community cats and, in turn, reduce the number of cats that end up at the county’s animal shelter.

TNR stands for trap-neuter-return, a strategy for reducing feral cat populations. Community cats are humanely trapped and then transported to a clinic for sterilization. After they have recovered, the cats are returned to their colony where they live out their lives. Each cat’s left ear is tipped.

“That serves as a universal signal to other people that the cat has already been sterilized,” explained RAL’s volunteer coordinator Cynthia Reed.

Sterilizing stops the growth of the colony and, over time, the cats die off from natural causes. It also reduces negative behaviors, such as fighting and marking territory.

Trap-neuter-return is used and endorsed by animal welfare organizations worldwide.

Reed and RAL volunteers have identified several feral cat colonies along the Jeff Davis corridor that should be sterilized; they just need the money for the surgeries. The average cost of a spay/ neuter surgery for a cat through RAL’s Loving Spay/Neuter Clinic is $50, which includes a rabies vaccination as required by state law.

“People are willing to put cat food out [for the community cats], but when you’re talking about 10 cats, and they all need to be fixed, not many people have the money to take all of those cats in and get them sterilized on their own dime,” Reed explained.

Trapping and transporting the cats to and from surgery is also time and labor intensive, so RAL has enlisted volunteers to help. Since March, Project TNR has sterilized about 40 cats from the Jeff Davis corridor, but there are many more in need of surgeries.

A number of factors have contributed to the corridor’s increasing community cat population. Jeff Davis is home to many apartment complexes and motels, and residents tend to be more transient.

“There’s a lot of community housing … [such as] apartments, so there’s high turnover rates,” said Project TNR volunteer Elizabeth Whitby. “People just leave their cats behind.”

Cost may also be an issue. A spay/ neuter surgery can cost more than $100 through a private veterinarian – an expense lower-income Jeff Davis residents may not be able to afford.

As a result, Jeff Davis’ community cat population is booming, especially during the summer months when kitten season peaks.

“Female cats go into heat at about five to six months of age, and then they can go right back into heat as soon as their kittens are six to eight weeks old, so they can give birth to two or three litters a year,” Whitby said. “If they have four kittens per litter, that’s 12 kittens that one cat has put off in the year. You can see it gets out of control very easily, very fast.”

Kind-hearted people sometimes scoop up the kittens and take them to the animal shelter where they can be tamed and adopted out, but the only sustainable way to stop the cats from multiplying is mass sterilization.

“Our goal is to have fewer kittens born to feral cat colonies, and that ends up being fewer cats in the shelters,” said Project TNR volunteer Caitlin Bergendahl. “TNR is the only way to effectively manage the feral cat population.”

RAL is using the crowd fundraising site Indiegogo to raise funds for Project TNR’s Jeff Davis initiative. For more information, visit animal-pet-fundraising/help-the-jeff-davis-corridor-cats--2.

Volunteers for trapping and transporting are also needed. Email for details.

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