Montana's Sanders County Tackles Pet Overpopulation with Spay/Neuter

Cat Complaint calls plummet as 755 cats get fixed with the help of a PetSmart Charities grant

A feral catA litter of 2-week-old kittens orphaned. Dozens of cats wandering the fairgrounds. Feline pets abandoned when their families left town. Cats crying, hissing and snarling at night. Kittens stuck in trees.

These were among the more than 1,000 cat complaints lodged in 2009 in Montana’s Sanders County,  one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the nation. The local economy, combined with an abundance of stray and feral cats, created a huge headache for the only all-volunteer animal shelter there.

“It seemed like we were getting calls all the time about stray cats wandering in, stray cats having babies, stray cats getting in fights,” says Wanda Thorpe, executive director of the Thompson River Animal Care Shelter. “We took them into the shelter as best we could, but there were so many.”

Humane and effective way to manage cat colonies

Experts believe that tens of millions of feral and stray cats roam the streets in the United States, breeding rapidly and causing problems like those in Sanders County. In addition to generating complaint calls to animal control and welfare organizations, they can flood local shelters with cats and kittens and transmit disease.

To help communities in need, PetSmart Charities provides grants that allow local animal welfare groups to conduct trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs. TNR is the most humane and effective way to manage and reduce the number of feral and stray cats.

During the program, cats are humanely trapped and taken to a clinic, where they are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. After they recover, the cats are returned to their original territories, where caregivers provide food and shelter regularly.

Spaying or neutering prevents the stray and feral cat population from growing. TNR programs keep the cats out of shelters, giving them the chance to live safer, healthier lives.

PetSmart Charities grant provides solution

After Thorpe applied for a PetSmart Charities free-roaming cat grant, her shelter was awarded a 2-year, $26,850 grant to put toward a TNR program.

The shelter spayed or neutered 755 cats, including 52 pregnant cats and 39 who were in heat. Each cat got a rabies vaccine as well.

“I really, really, really appreciate PetSmart Charities and all the work they do and all the support they give groups like us because there’s no way we could have done this without them," Thorpe says.

County TNR program saves lives, reduces complaint calls

After the first year of the TNR program, cat complaint calls in Sanders County went down from 1,032 to 411. The following year, only 166 calls came in.

“It is so nice to know that we don’t have so many cats wandering around our city streets looking for food and looking for shelter,” says Thorpe. “We’re saving lots of lives by getting them spayed or neutered and getting them healthy so they’re not having all these babies out there.”

Due to the success of the program, PetSmart Charities awarded Thompson River another 2-year grant in 2013. This award will target feral and stray cats in more secluded areas of the county.

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