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Wednesday, January 23, 2013 8:46 PM

Photo by Matt Bristow/The Ottawa Herald


A family of kittens and their mother occupy a kennel Tuesday at Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, 3173 K-68, Ottawa. Mi’Chielle Cooper, the shelter’s executive director, said the shelter is partnering with the Great Plains Society for the Protection of Animals to institute a capture-neuter-release program to help control Ottawa’s feral cat population.

Animal shelter beginning capture-neuter-release

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

For Ottawa’s free-roaming, feral cat population, reproduction presents an ever-increasing health risk to their human neighbors, as well as other animals.

To combat the problem, Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, 3173 K-68, Ottawa, plans to begin a capture-neuter-release program aimed at controlling the feline population, which grows rapidly and is known to spread illness and disease.

“The reason we’re going to be trapping cats is because they are a lot like wild animals when they’re feral and free roaming,” Mi’Chielle Cooper, Prairie Paws executive director, said. “You have to focus on herd management, just like a squirrel or a rabbit that’s reproducing.”

Catching up

Prairie Paws’ goal is to decrease the overall feral feline population in the city, Cooper said. The captured animals will be taken to the Great Plains Society for the Protection of Animals in Merriam where they will be spayed or neutered. Next they will be transported back to Ottawa and released.

“One of the things that we’re going to try to do over the next two to three weeks is to have neighborhood residents call in and let us know what our areas of biggest concern are in town,” Cooper said. “We are going to target neighborhood by neighborhood to really tackle the problem and clean it up.”

But for the program to work, she said, it’s going to take more than just a phone call. The shelter is seeking a volunteer from each neighborhood to set out traps, pick them up the following morning, take the captured animal or animals to the shelter and be responsible for their release when returned to the shelter.

“It’s going to be very much a community participation program,” Cooper, who previously helped establish a similar program in Emporia, said.

Through fundraising efforts, the shelter has raised enough to purchase several traps and arrange for the SPCA to take two loads, carrying between 20 and 50 felines each, to be neutered. In the future, residents might be asked to pay a small fee for the surgeries, if fundraising efforts fall short.

Cooper said she’s hopeful that won’t be necessary, citing the shelter’s coming “SPAY”ghetti dinner and pie auction to raise money for the program. The dinner is planned for 4:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Sacred Heart Parish Center, 426 S. Cedar St., Ottawa.

Some people, especially those who feed the feral cats, might worry about the animals’ safety during the capture-neuter-release process, Cooper said. The cages, TNR Cat traps, are specifically designed to protect humans and animals from injury, so people can be assured the cats are being treated with the utmost care, she said. The animals even will listen to classical musical on their 40-minute trip in the “Neuter Scooter.”

The process is not a quick fix, Cooper said, but if it’s successful, the area should start seeing results within about two years.

Why spay and neuter?

As a nonprofit, low-kill shelter, Prairie Paws facilitates a minimum of 25 surgeries a week on dogs and cats through three local veterinarians. Every animal that leaves the building for adoption is either spayed or neutered, Cooper said, which helps control the pet population.

The Ottawa Police Department’s animal control officer mostly handles dogs, Capt. Randy Allan, with the police department, said. The city has no ordinances limiting the number of cats a resident can own, he said. Such regulations do, however, apply to residents’ dogs.

“There’s nothing to restrict cats. We don’t pick them up as strays,” Allan said. “We pick some up once and a while for the quarantine if somebody’s been bitten. We don’t have a cat ordinance.”

The animal control officer took about 80 animals to Prairie Paws last year, he said.

What about pets?

While the program isn’t set to start for at least another month and a half, Cooper said, she wants residents to be aware of the trapping days to prevent their pets from being caught in place of the feral cats. The dates are expected to be announced once they have been solidified, she said.

Captured animals will be checked for tags and microchips both by the SPCA and Prairie Paws staff.

“They will be evaluating them when they go up to the Great Plains SPCA vet clinic and they will check them out to see if they belong to someone,” Cooper said, adding they will do their best not to trap owned animals.

Feral cats are a major intake source for the shelter, she said. Many times such animals are not able to be adopted and must be destroyed, she said. The capture-neuter-release program is hoped to prevent such situations, taking more of a bottom-up, proactive response to a growing problem that is fixable, Cooper said.

“If we all work together to spay and neuter everything as much as possible, everybody benefits,” she said. “It costs the city less, it costs us less and, so it’s a budgetary investment.”

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