Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Better Meow

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Thanks to some industrious residents, a grassroots trap-and-release program is controlling the chaotic Coronado cat population.

Five cats at one house, perhaps a dozen at another. Their car-hit carcasses were common sights in the neighborhood, and those that survived were painfully emaciated – the area simply didn’t have enough birds, rodents and wild food sources to sustain its growing feral cat population. The residents who tried feeding them were overwhelmed.

Deluged with wild felines, the Coronado Historic District in Phoenix was an animal-control nightmare – that is, until a few concerned neighbors banded together to create a humane trap-and-release protocol they hope will become a model for other cat-besieged neighborhoods. “The great thing about this [program] is that it was grassroots,” the program’s creator, Andrea del Gado, says. “It started almost on accident and a lot of people decided to help – neighbors meeting and talking until they figure it out together.”
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Dubbed “Coronado Cats,” the program aims to trap feral cats, neuter or spay them, and return them to the neighborhood, stymying reproduction without loss of life. Del Gado, 54, who works in finance, started in 2009 by trapping the odd cat with the help of the Animal Defense League of Arizona, which lent advice and cages. In the three years since, she and her team of volunteers have trapped and fixed more than 350 cats in Coronado. 

Their system is simplicity purrsonified. The volunteers target an area where they’ve noticed a cluster of cats, or respond to calls from neighbors. A team member arrives around dusk and sets up anywhere from three to 20 cages, which are long and narrow, and closed on one end. The volunteer places a can of tuna near the closed end – irresistible bait for a hungry cat. Soon, an errant paw trips a lever that causes the trap to snap shut with the now-thrashing animal inside. A volunteer puts a cloth over the cage, which invariably subdues the captive cat.

The next morning, del Gado or one of her volunteers retrieves the cage and delivers the cat to a local vet, who fixes the animal and clips one of its ears to prevent repeat visits. (Volunteers release all cats that have collars or clipped ears.)

Five hours later, the cat is back in its natural habitat and no longer a reproductive menace. Sterilized cats eventually die off naturally, and the sterilized alpha-dominant cats continue to repel interlopers in their territory, thus stemming out-of-control population growth.

Coronado Cats exists off donations, primarily to cover the $25-per-cat fee they negotiated with the vet. Otherwise, it has zero overhead, since the leaders get all materials donated and do the work themselves. Still, there are critics. According to Coronado volunteer Binnie Williams, some people hoard cats and don’t want anyone decreasing their collection. Others don’t want neighbors judging their failure to fix their pets. Some critics think eradication is the best solution – a position that Williams passionately disputes. “When you destroy cats, it just opens up more space for other cats,” she says. “It doesn’t solve the problem.”

The Coronado Cats effort is so successful that organizers helped implement a similar system in the nearby Green Gables neighborhood. To date, that effort has sterilized 150 cats.

Labor-intensive? Maybe. But for the cat-fancying Good Samaritans who do the labor, it’s the only humane solution. “If we have a problem that can be solved, why not try to solve it?” says del Gado. “We’re humans. That’s what we should do.” For more information, visit coronadocats.org.

Trap-and-Neuter Statistics According to the Humane Society:
• Four million cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year. That’s one cat or dog put down about every eight seconds.

• Only about 50 percent of cats in shelters find homes. The rest are killed.

• Evidence shows that females spayed before their first heat are healthier.

 

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