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March 2010

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Feral cats find compassionate and caring friends

By Marty Metzger
North Forty News

"Welcome home, wildcats!" could well be the motto for Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals.

The 30-volunteer group, headed by founder and director Leslie Vogt, began its efforts in February 2009 to help assist feral cats and control their numbers.

Many communities in the United States are teeming with unnoticed, un-homed felines. Northern Colorado's are estimated by the Larimer Humane Society as 25,000 to 30,000. This vast, opined head count, if even remotely accurate, has dire implications for smaller mammals and birds, the environment and the cats themselves. While these issues stir heated debate, the ultimate, compassionate, best solution is trap/neuter/release (TNR).

Friends of Ferals' first TNR clinic on March 1, 2009, commenced pursuit of that goal. Vogt said that subsequent clinics have been conducted one to three times per month at various sites, including VCA Fort Collins Animal Hospital, Raintree Animal Hospital and Larimer Humane Society. She praised the generous veterinarians (who sometimes donate all necessary medications), especially Dr. Tom Welsh whose "amazing help" has done so much to assist the group's objectives.

Friends of Ferals works under the 501(c)(3) auspices of Greeley's Animal Rescue Connection. Dr. Welsh donated an RV to them for mobile spay/neuters. This minimizes stress on the cats and broadens numbers altered, as well as locations where procedures can be done.

Potential caretakers usually discover covert cat colonies. These tenderhearted folks start feeding them one or two at a time, only to discover many more individuals.

When a caretaker requests trapping, Friends of Ferals obliges. Volunteers set and frequently check live traps throughout the given day. Once captured, the entrapped cat's cage is immediately covered to calm the animal. At the clinic, a pronged fork is used to slowly position the cat so anesthesia can be safely administered. From there, things proceed quickly.

The cat is prepped, eye lubricant applied, vaccines given and surgery performed. Spays usually take seven to 10 minutes per animal; neuters take four to five minutes. Then it's one-half to one hour in recovery, an overnight stint in the cage (complete with gourmet meals) and release the following day – "Welcome home, wildcat!" This expeditious pace allows 30 to 50 procedures per session; one even managed 64. Four or five vets normally work each clinic.

Vogt said that Wellington and Windsor trapping requests have recently greatly increased. Logistics and meeting clinic dates and times present difficulties for caretakers themselves to trap cats, so it's better to call for assistance rather than do it yourself.

Sarah Swanty, director of Fort Collins Cat Rescue, said her organization rents out traps to people who choose to set them. But the rescue group will do the job, time and volunteers permitting, and also provide feed on a regular basis to caretakers who spay/neuter their colony.

Swanty estimated that since March 2007 her group has helped with many hundreds of cats, one to 50 in each colony. Most are released post-surgery, but some can be placed in barn homes. Kittens caught when less than 12 weeks of age can be socialized and adopted out.

Vogt's vision is not only to reduce feral numbers but also to improve cats' lives. Friends of Ferals also provides food to caretakers for altered felines.

Neutered animals don't produce more untamed generations forced to struggle for survival. They're vaccinated at the clinics against diseases and avoid exposure to those encountered during mating. And eventually, feral numbers would drop to near zero, given a 100 percent spay/neuter success rate.

One outstanding model for feral management is ORCAT, featured in the January-February 2009 issue of Best Friends Magazine. This group cares for ferals in the upscale island community of Ocean Reef in Key Largo, Fla. Their TNR program began in the 1990s to address a 2,000-plus feral cat inhabitant crisis.

In the 1960s, Ocean Reef was a small fishing camp overrun by rats. To dispatch the rodents, five cats were ferried in. But as rat numbers dropped, cat numbers burgeoned because the feline predators had been sexually intact. The solution had become the problem. In the '80s, murderous roundups became residents' last resort. Then, cat lover Alan Litman initiated a TNR program that eventually grew into ORCAT and Grayvik Animal Care Center.

The remaining cats, approximately 350, are fed daily at stations, sometimes trapped for vet care, and appreciated by human neighbors. An annual fashion show fund-raiser, complete with cat- and dog-carrying models attired in Saks Fifth Avenue garb, pumps money into ORCAT's coffers.

Those who would like to help further a similar tolerant truce in this area may call Leslie Vogt at 224-1467 or the Fort Collins Cat Rescue at 484-8516.

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