Rescue groups face problems preventing cats from breeding

Stray and feral cats and the volunteer groups trying to help them are in the eye of a perfect storm, caught in the vortex of too few vets and too few staff, COVID challenges and changes in the world. operation of public shelters.

“This day has been around for a while,” said Dr. Kate Hurley, program director at UC Davis’ Koret Shelter Medicine Program, during a Zoom conference with Contra Costa County Animal Services and groups that perform rescues. cats. “The pandemic has pushed him to the limit. “

At the heart of the storm is the lack of veterinarians and qualified personnel to perform the necessary sterilization / sterilization surgeries on so-called community cats. Groups that once offered free or low-cost operations have closed their doors during the pandemic or have dramatically reduced the number of procedures they can safely perform.

It is also not a localized problem, although each area has its own challenges. All of the Bay Area rescue groups that perform NRT – trap, spay, return – are struggling to find appointments to spay cats.

Contra Costa Animal Services, for example, performs free sterilization for stray cats, struggling to keep up with demand. And animal rescue groups, which trap dozens of cats every week, are angry that they are repeatedly turned back.

Beth Ward, director of Contra Costa Animal Services, said that while it may not seem the case for some trappers, the county has performed more surgeries in 2021 than it did before the pandemic. In 2018, he performed 400 TNR surgeries; this year, they made 1,080.

The problem, she says, is that there is currently a “sterilization desert”. Private rescue groups that run clinics should step up to help more, but they face the same veterinary staffing issues.

“We want to partner with your organizations,” Ward told TNR groups on the Zoom call. “We are faced with our resources. “

Lisa Kirk, who has done TNR for decades for the Sacramento and Contra Costa County relief groups, is frustrated to the point of giving up. She believes public shelters that limit the number of sterilization and sterilization surgeries they perform for relief groups place an undue burden on nonprofits, forcing them to seek and pay for surgeries elsewhere.

“I’m not trapping anymore because I don’t have a vet service, so the population (of feral cats) there is just growing,” says Kirk.

CONCORD, CA – NOV. 20: Community Concern for Cats volunteer Catherine Burnham prepares food trays to feed feral cats near an industrial estate in Concord, Calif. On Saturday, November 20, 2021 (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group)

“We tried to prioritize TNR,” says Dr Katy Mills, veterinarian at Contra Costa shelter, “but it’s hard to predict what will happen in the shelter”.

The personnel problem is widespread. Some 87 percent of U.S. shelters are understaffed, according to an August survey by the Best Friends Animal Society. The shelter’s medical staff are down 40% from their approved staff level, Mills says, and their obligation is to animals already in the shelter, which must be sterilized before they can be adopted, according to California law. .

Public shelters aren’t the only ones struggling with staffing issues. Community Concern 4 Cats, one of Contra Costa’s more established rescues that has its own sterilization program, fell behind during the pandemic when it lost one of its vets and had to stop offering services to other groups.

“We lost a vet,” said Gemma Osendorf, head of the organization, “but we have recovered. We are cutting him up right now, but… I hope we can feel strong again. We persevere.

The Palo Alto Humane Society operates its own sterilization support program for low-income pet owners, feral cats and the animals it welcomes for adoption.

“We faced the same problem of reduced access to sterilization / sterilization clinics and services at low cost,” said Carole Hyde, Executive Director of PAHS. “COVID has exacerbated a larger situation with a staff shortage in the area of ​​veterinary services. It’s a real crisis.

CONCORD, CA – NOV. 20: A wild cat warms up in the sun near an industrial estate in Concord. (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group)

Ruby Waderich, who runs the fully volunteer Solano County Animal Friends, said the Napa County clinic that handles rescue sterilization surgeries is booked so far in advance – three to four months – volunteers have led cats in Sacramento County when they can find openings. The delays overwhelm the organization’s foster families, who welcome the cats until they can be adopted.

Meanwhile, Contra Costa Animal Services has adopted a new policy that reflects what shelters across the country do: only welcome cats that are sick, injured or at risk. You don’t have to bring in community cats who do well on their own, says Hurley of UC Davis. Cats are generally not adoptable and end up being euthanized. Some could actually be the pet of someone who has been allowed to roam. And there is evidence, says Hurley, that feral cats breed more when their colonies are culled.

But TNR groups fear that without adequate sterilization efforts, the feral cat population, estimated at 70 million in the United States, will continue to grow.

Catherine Burnham, who has worked as a foster carer for Community Concern 4 Cats for about 10 years and has been practicing TNR trapping, says she’s never seen it so bad before. The “kitten season” has become a phenomenon throughout the year.

When COVID hit, the county shelter began limiting sterilization services for TNR groups, taking eight cats per day, capped at two per trapper. As staffing issues increased, some surgeries were limited or canceled.

“For four days in a row,” says Burnham, “I stood in line from 5:30 am and got turned back every time. We have to work with the county – we have no other options – but it has become ridiculous. “

The overall problem remains, but at least one thing has improved: Contra Costa County has just announced that it is moving away from its first-come, first-served policy and returning to dates – four a day, Tuesday to Friday – and set up a task force to work together on issues.

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