Liveblogging No More Homeless Pets: What’s new in feral cats?

October 23, 2009 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

Pet Info

This workshop is titled “thinking outside the shelter,” and it’s a big theme here at the No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas: Keep feral cats out of the shelter system.

I was a bit late for this session because I had to re-charge my laptop battery. It’s being led by Cimeron Morrissey of The Bay Cat Project in Foster City, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco. Her project is a groundbreaking collaboration between a local cat rescue group, the city, and… are you sitting down?… the local chapter of the Audubon Society to protect both endangered birds and feral cats.

They set up feeding stations, and have found that cats usually spend their whole lives within 400 feet of the feeding station — so they just locate them far from the areas where the birds are.

She also says not to “hide your colonies” — that publicizing the colonies cuts down on abandonments. The city paid for signs warning that abandonment is illegal and would be prosecuted, and they’ve had only 3 abandoned cats in 5 years.

She talked about the book “Getting to Yes” and how you have to establish INTERESTS rather than develop positions. For instance, in Foster City, everyone wanted to protecxt the birds, and yet the bird advocates were surprised to discover that. Also, she sid their goal was to reduce the feral population to zero — they’d assumed they wanted a permanent sanctuary.

She said she has the Project Bay Cat toolkit on her website at www.cimeron.com (click on PBC Tool Kit).

She says feral advocates need to be professional, optimistic, punctual – make them want to be part of your team. They expect crazy irrational cat ladies, so the bar is low. Basically, though, you’re telling them there’s a big problem and you’re going to fix it… that’s good news!

Don’t be defensive or combative. Show compassion for other animals that might be affected.

Things to avoid: Cat motif clothing, jewelry, etc. Do not ignore people’s concerns. Don’t make emotional appeals or arguments. Be detached… if they say they’ve done catch and kill, ask how did that work? “Oh, they came back? Well…”

Audience question about working with purebred fanciers.

Cimaron said she writes for Cat Fancy and works with breeders. She says she has a weird thing about people breeding cats when there are so many homeless cats, but so many of them, like Golden Gate Cat Club that just donated a thousand dollars to them, just care about cats. They really do. They take in cats to foster, and most are very supportive. Try to work with them.

Asked about non-surgical sterilization – she will welcome that day, but not yet.

Audience asked: The goal is eradication over time? The colony will just die out?

Cimaron said, don’t say eradicate. All of us would love the day when there are zero feral cats throughout the US. Population shrink over time. But yes, to zero. And it is possible.

She also warned repeatedly and strongly to never, ever work with PETA, which she said was horrible, horrible on feral cats. Some in the audience seemed surprised, so she repeated it again. And then again.

Next was Rick DuCharme from Jacksonville, Florida’s Feral Freedom Program. Saves lives of nearly 5000 cats each year. Has one of the large s/n clinics in the country — does 495 surgeries per week. Also Scott Trebatos from Jacksonville Animal Control. Live release rate went from 10 to 50 percent, due in part to a coalition with local rescue groups and humane society.

How Jacksonville, Florida was able to jump off the eternal treadmill of catch and kill. Rick says, catch and kill does not solve the problem.

Scott said he came to Jacksonville because he wanted somewhere open to new ways of doing things.

Aggressive s/n has led to 26% decrease in shelter intake, but still thousands dying in shelters. He said he once thought ferals would be the last animals dying in shelters after we figured out how to adopt and save the others, but he now knows that’s not true.

In Feral Freedom Program — community initiative — Scott says would not have been possible without help and support of Best Friends, and also have gotten more and more of the community to accept this. Best Friends helped fund the program with 162 thousand dollars, and commited to funding for next year.

Rick said it was the year of big solutions. Working with city of Jacksonville, came up with plan of returning all ferals to area from which they came after sterilization, ear tipping, and vaccination. They budgeted for 3000, because that was how many ferals they were killing. But then they realized that many of the cats coming into the shelter in traps were not feral. Ironically, the obvious true ferals — unhandleable — were being released, but purring cats were often killed in the shelter when couldn’t be adopted.

He said many of these aren’t exactly feral, but were community cats. So they started fixing, ear tipping, vaxing and releasing those cats, too.

Has decreased shelter killing around 25 percent (I missed the exact number).

Scott spoke in favor of the “community cats” concept, or “free-roaming” instead of feral. Not just animal welfare is seeing change in thinking, but also animal control.

Feral Freedom has seen 6002 cats; only 45 euthanized; 296 to rescue. 430 trapped more than once. 59 percent decrease in adult cats; 19 percent in kittens. Live release of adult cats went up 360 percent, adoptions up 50.6 percent.

(Sorry, lost some here when Internet ate an update.)

Audience asked if cats were treated — parameters of those 45 euthanized cats. They treat dental problems, lacerations, put in drains, sutures. Euthanize body score of 1, which suggests serious disease.

Audience asked about FeLV and FIV positive cats. Rick: We don’t test them. (Applause.) Said Dr. Levy at Univ Florida has found ferals have same very low rate of those diseases as owned cats, less than 3 percent, and transmission in spayed/neutered is very rare.

In 5 years have had only 24 complaints about program, mostly in the beginning when were promoting it more. Have come to conclusion that these are community cats, and people have been living side by side with them, and most people pretty much ignore them, or take care of them. If there is a problem, they will try to find a solution, but it really hasn’t been that much of a problem.

Audience asked about costs. Saves city around 10K per year, and frees up animal care resources to work with adoptable pets. Didn’t eliminate any positions, so hard dollar savings are minimal, but resources are better allocated.

Have stopped chipping all the cats, but they do check for chips.

Rick said sometimes vets call with new pets as clients, cats with their chips in them who have been adopted by community members! Some discussion of this in audience, because it protects cats from being brought to shelter by disgruntled community members, and end up being killed. But in Jacksonville, since animal control won’t kill cats under those circumstances, it’s not necessary.

Ordinance in Jacksonville says that it’s illegal to feed any pet outside, but it exempts feral cats in its language. Not pets.

Rick shouted out to PetCo Foundation for donating their feral transport van.

He said that feral cats are NOT HOMELESS. They have a home.

Has to be cooperation between organizations if you want to make a difference — animal control, rescue groups, etc. This is a big step in the ending of killing dogs and cats in shelters. Rick said to keep statistics, you have to be able to demonstrate that this accomplishes that goal.

He said he started this organization with just him.

Someone from Los Angeles asked about legal issues re: TNR.

Scott said he wasn’
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