|Purred: Fri Nov 14, '08 3:59am PST |
Feral Freedom in Florida
October 15, 2008 : 5:41 PM
Ground-breaking new program in Jacksonville has already saved 650 lives
By Jennifer Hayes, Best Friends staff
Go directly to jail, do not pass go, and do not collect $200; that is what happens when you select the wrong card in Monopoly. However, it is no game when a feral cat is captured by most animal control officers. Fortunately, thanks to the new Feral Freedom program, the outdoor cats residing in Jacksonville, Florida have essentially received a “get out of jail free” card – which makes everyone winners.
What started out as discussions to microchip all the cats being sterilized at First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP), exceeded everyone’s expectations when Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, the Jacksonville Director of Environmental Resource Management, offered to send all feral cats to the clinic instead of the city shelter where they would face certain death.
Instead they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear tipped, treated for ear mites and fleas, microchipped, and best of all, returned to where they came from, without ever having had to step a foot into the shelter.
Thanks to a six month grant funded by Best Friends Animal Society, the pilot project officially began on August 1 and has already saved approximately 650 cats.
In the past, the only option for trapped ferals was euthanasia. Now, Rick DuCharme, founder of FCNMHP states, “Every surgery we do is a cat saved; it’s a cat that is going to live, instead of one who will die in the shelter.”
The City of Jacksonville Animal Care and Control (ACC) educates the public about the new program, loaning out live traps to residents, and picking up the captured cats to be brought to a protected area outside the shelter. FCNMHP collects the cats twice daily, to be housed overnight for surgery the next day. They are then returned to where they were originally trapped the following day.
“We’ve always thought that feral cats were the biggest problem we would have to face in animal welfare in getting to a no-kill community. And it seems like this has possibly turned out to be one of the easiest solutions we have, if in fact all we have to do is fix them and put them back where they come from,” noted DuCharme. He went on to say, “It’s certainly easier than finding 12,000 dogs and cats homes every year. These cats in reality already have a home. All we’ve got to do is fix them and put them back, so they’re not causing problems with anybody.”
While the vast majority of cats through the program are returned to where they were caught, occasionally one is found to be unsuitable for re-release. Monroe (pictured to the right) is one example, when it was discovered that she was blind due to a viral infection. Those cats are placed with local rescue organizations to find loving, indoor homes. In fact, Monroe is currently available for adoption from Lucky Cat Adoptions and despite her disability, has proved to be a daredevil who does not require any additional medical care.
While the program was originally intended to only fix cats who had proved to be a nuisance to the point where ACC was called, they are finding more and more people with colonies in need of their service. In fact, FCNMHP Program Manager, Cameron Moore, says “It’s kind of like a cat soap opera every day.”
Just recently, a woman captured one cat to be fixed. However, when he was re-released, eight more felines were seen in her yard. Though she did not consider herself a “cat person,” she could not bear to see the neighborhood strays go hungry, so planned to utilize the program further, to prevent her nine from reproducing to become 100.
This is not an isolated incident and while a wonderful resource for the community, funding is needed to help finance the additional sterilization surgeries of those unanticipated felines.
Nikki Sharp, Campaigns Manager for Best Friends, is very enthusiastic about this innovative new program. “I’m hoping that people will see that this is ground-breaking, not just because feral cats are not being killed in the shelter, but because the shelter is actually one of the partners that’s doing the trapping of the feral cats.” Of course Jacksonville benefits as well, saving money that had previously been spent on euthanizing and disposing of the cats. Plus, fewer animals being brought in to the shelter reduces the likelihood of disease transmission among the adoptable residents.
“We do believe this has definitely raised the bar in terms of getting us closer to expecting homeless, stray, and feral cats to be seen more as community cats that need our protection,” commented Sharp. She hopes that once all the data collected during the six months is analyzed, it will prove to not only save the lives of those cats who went through the program, but will translate into significantly reduced euthanasia at the shelter.
For now though, every cat through Feral Freedom can truly be considered a life saved.
“Not only are we doing 3,600 cats a year, but we’re doing the most effective 3,600 cats a year because now those cats that are yowling, fighting, and spraying; they’re not doing all that any more,” summarized DuCharme. “It seems like it’s a win-win all around.”
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