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Athens Feral Cat Program Defunded, May Not Affect Population Control

The Athens-Clarke County Commission pulled funding from a feral cat program aimed at decreasing populations in Athens, Ga. Some advocacy centers say defunding won't affect population control efforts.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission's decision to pull funding for the city's feral cat program may not affect sterilization and vaccination efforts.

Athens commissioners elimated $10,000 alloted toward people who care for feral cat colonies from its 2013 budget. , which includes animal control, began issuing vouchers in 2010 to reimburse citizens who volunteered to have feral cats spayed or neutered. 

The program divides local feral cat populations into six "colonies" and uses the "trap-neuter-release" [TNR] method to decrease reproduction. 

Central Services Director David Fluck, who oversees in Athens, said only two people had applied to use the program this year. He also said people interested in participating in the program's TNR efforts will still be able take care of a cat colonies.

"The way the program was set up a few years ago was that if people wanted to help feral animals in their area, have them spayed or neutered, they could register to take care of a cat colony," Fluck said. "The ordinance that allows for feral cat colonies is still there. People can still go in and do TNR in these cat colonies. It's just that the money that was given to subsidize the spaying and neutering is no longer there."

Fluck said there was no way to estimate feral cat populations in Athens, or project how the program's defunding might affect cat colonies.

"We know the cats are out there, but we don't know how many," Fluck said. "What you could argue, though, is for those that are trapped and neutered, that's less feral cats because that's less animals that are being allowed to reproduce."

Some local feral cat advocates say the defunding will not affect efforts to control animal populations, however.

Kelly Bettinger, a coordinator at Campus Cats, which works to reduce the number of homeless cats on the campus, said government reimbursement was only a small part of community efforts to control cat populations.

"It really is not a big deal," Bettinger said. "We had never asked for funding. That was a pleasant surprise that was tacked on. It was only $10,000, and that was just a drop in the bucket compared to what people were doing on their own."

Citizens can take feral cats to several low-cost clinics, including , Madison Oglethorpe Animal Shelter and Catlanta. Some of these programs will neuter and vaccinate a cat for about $35, Bettinger said.

"There's plenty of vets who will spay and neuter feral cats," she said. "And with the resources we have not only at Athens Regional but also Madison Oglethorpe and Catlanta, there's no reason people can't take care of two or three cats."

Tiffany Stevens June 06, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Let us know what you think about this issue. Do you think feral cats populations pose a serious problem in Athens? Do you think community efforts to spay and neuter the animals will be enough without government funding?
Steve Holzman July 05, 2012 at 07:15 PM
It never was about the neutering. Its about the feeding. Feeding feral cats increases their interaction with native predators (raccoons and skunks) which increases the likelihood of rabies transmission. Yes, TNR'ed cats are given a one-time rabies shot that may (or may not) last for the short life of a feral cat (3-5 years - decreasing now that coyotes have learned that feral cat colonies means easy prey). This should be about what local animal control's policy is going to be to minimize public health concerns and animal welfare (both feral animals and wildlife). If all people were doing was capturing a cat and neutering it and releasing it, then no one could argue that the net result was a positive. But what we are talking about here is the legalization of feeding feral cats in colonies. We are talking about creating a class of animal that is not wildlife and not domestic (with an owner responsible for its care).
Steve Holzman July 05, 2012 at 07:17 PM
When I said 'positive', I meant positive as compared with doing absolutely nothing. It and of itself is not a positive act, if you are the cardinal, brown thrasher, or hummingbird that will lose its life as a direct result of the release of a non-native predator.
Dave Ballard August 18, 2012 at 09:30 PM
In answer to Tiffany's question, I think one of the reasons the program is being dropped, rather than continued or expanded, is because A) it's having no real impact, and more importantly B) no one's using it. Doesn't make sense to spend tax dollars on anything that fits both of those criteria, so let's go ahead and drop it, and see about finding another way. In answer to Steve's comments, I tend to agree that we should look into the legality/advisability of feeding feral pet populations (all kinds, not just cats) while taking no ownership otherwise. The idea behind the program was that the fewer un-fixed cats, the lower the feral population would be, with vaccinations limiting (not ending) the spread of disease. The reality, though, is that we can't fix/vaccinate them faster than they can breed, especially when they have easy access to food. Limiting the feeding of these colonies may actually be far more effective in the long run, and be better for both humans and the local wildlife.
Pat Thomas August 19, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I have to say I hate the idea of starving kitties, but I think not leaving food out for them is the best idea. Left over cat food attracts all sorts of other animals, like possums, skunks, raccoons, and that's just the small stuff. It means even when the cats aren't around to eat, there's still food for the wildlife (they'll take Friskies in a pinch, happily!). Taken all together, feeding feral felines means more of them (unless we just start killing them off ;_; ), more predators eating, injuring, or infecting those cats, more disease in those cats to transmit to the rest of us and our pets, AND those predators will be spending more time wandering around our backyards because they get accustomed our presence. That just ups the risk of injury and disease for us and our own outdoor pets even more. I don't know how practical it is to make feeding feral cats illegal, but it's not a good idea. You may not be feeding "wild" animals, but it's the next best thing. Certainly, if people want to go out and do the TN/VR thing, that's great, and it helps (adopting where possible would help more, but I know that's not usually an option...), but I think feeding just makes the whole cycle worse, for the kitties and everyone else.

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