Utah winters are frigid and filled with snow — difficult enough even for people with warm and safe shelter to return to, but life-threatening for feral cats.
Aggie Cat Services, a group of Utah State University volunteers, has been feeding and sheltering campus ferals for eight years.
The volunteers catch feral cats with live traps, have them spayed or neutered, release them back to their colonies, then feed and manage them at one of several feeding stations. This trap-neuter-release-manage (TNRM) system has improved the health of campus feral cat colonies and prevented them from reproducing.
“We’re making a healthier environment for the cats but also a healthy environment for the people,” Aggie Cat Services volunteer Ilona Jappinen said. “We are not in the business of creating cat colonies. We’re making the existing colonies healthier and less numerous.”
Jappinen found out about Aggie Cat Services from a friend and joined after she retired from teaching at USU.
Corey Vorel is the campus volunteer coordinator for Aggie Cat Services. She first became involved with the group when she was a student when she saw their booth at USU’s annual Day on the Quad, an event designed to showcase organizations on and around the campus.
“The idea behind [the TNRM program] is that once you have an established colony and they’re not reproducing, they just maintain their number,” Vorel said. “It keeps cats from moving in because they’re so territorial.”
When cats are taken to the vet for neutering, they are also vaccinated and treated for any health problems they might have.
Thus far, only two of the dozens of cats trapped by Aggie Cat Services have been so unhealthy that they needed to be euthanized.
“We don’t want to do euthanasia unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Jappinen said. “When [the cats] are cared for, they have a good chance of having a perfectly normal life.”
And those perfectly normal lives are often good for the environment.
According to the Aggie Cat Services website, effectively managed feral cat colonies prove beneficial to communities by keeping local rodent populations under control.
Most of the feral cats on campus were dumped or abandoned there, often the result of unprepared owners.
Aggie Cat Services helps the ferals survive Utah’s harsh winters by providing several feeding stations and insulated, weatherproof shelters on and around USU campus.
“We started out with 250-300 very unhealthy, very unhappy cats,” Jappinen said. “We have been able to reduce and improve that population to about 48 very healthy, very happy cats.”
Aggie Cat Services has been working with Logan City and animal control to expand their efforts beyond USU campus and establish a TRNM program in Logan City, said Jappinen.
“If we catch them when they’re young enough we can basically domesticate them and find them homes, but when they’re older it’s impossible to do that,” Vorel said. However, Jappinen said regular feeders tend to bond with the cats.
“We make sure all of our cats have names,” Jappinen said.
But the organization isn’t content just to work with cat lovers.
“We’re thinking of calling a meeting amongst the people who hate cats, because we’re doing them a huge favor by reducing the numbers of cats,” Jappinen said. “If you like cats, join us. If you hate or dislike cats, join too, because we’re making them less of a nuisance.”
[Source: Utah Statesman]
Note: The photos in this article are by Oregon artist Chriss Haight Pagani from her photo blog The Feral Cat Rescue Project. You can support Pagani’s feral cat rescue efforts by buying her fine art prints and photo calendars or making a donation at her website.