By Kelly McKinney
12:46 PM EST, February 20, 2013
The yard teemed with cats. Sheree Cunningham counted 38. Thirty-eight cats to be caught.
The haul from that yard is one of the biggest from one site Cunningham has done. And she’s trapped and hauled many, many cats.
Cunningham, who is on the board of and volunteers with Jessamine County’s Trap/Neuter Return Program, said Jessamine County is struggling with an overpopulation of cats.
The trap-and-return program, started in 2006, is an effort to control the population, she said.
Four times a year, in a routine nearly as well-honed as a military operation, Cunningham and other volunteers round up as many stray and feral cats as they can, take them to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, and then take them back the next day to wherever they were caught.
The usual haul of 50 to 60 cats takes most of two days, Cunningham said. First, volunteers set the traps, baiting them with food. Then they round up the trapped cats and haul them to the veterinarian’s office, where it takes at least six hours to spay or neuter them all.
The logistics are reversed the next day. After a comfortable night at the veterinarian’s office, the cats are reloaded, taken to their “homes” and released from their traps.
Cunningham believes spaying and neutering is the best way to get a handle on the overpopulation in the county.
Mike Cassidy, director of public services for Jessamine County, who also oversees animal care and control, agrees that the program is a good way to fight the problem.
“I think it’s been proven in other counties (to work),” he said. “We’re starting to see the effects of it now.”
Other agencies in the county such as animal care and control and Jessamine Humane Society place cats in adopted homes, but that doesn’t solve the problem of an overabundance of cats, Cunningham said.
“You can’t adopt your way out of this overpopulation,” she said.
Kim Hurst, director of Jessamine Humane Society, agreed.
“We have cats everywhere,” she said. “Spaying and neutering is the most effective way to deal with it.”
Jessamine Humane Society plans to start a low-cost spay-and-neuter program soon, though a date for its start hasn’t been determined, Hurst said.
That program will be for cat owners to bring in their cats and won’t have an income limit to qualify, she said.
“We want it to be available to everybody,” Hurst said.
She said it’s important for pet owners to take responsibility, and make sure their pets are sterilized, as kittens born to house cats can end up in shelters or as strays.
Cassidy agreed that pet owners can make a difference.
“We encourage people who have cats to keep them indoors, especially if they’re not spayed or neutered,” Cassidy said. “If those cats are just roaming around, that’s not going to help our cause at all.”
While carrying out its mission to reduce overpopulation, the trap-neuter program also strives to care for the health of the cats it brings in. In addition to being spayed or neutered, each cat is vaccinated and de-wormed, Cunningham said. The sterilization also results in healthier cats as many diseases are spread through breeding, she said.
“Our entire purpose is the improve the health of stray and feral cats,” she said.
The program relies on private donations to fund its operations, including paying for the operations, cat food, gas and other expenses.
Also, The Hope, Spay and Neuter Clinic in Versailles provides the surgeries for $15 each, and the county’s animal care and control transports the cats, Cunningham said.
Cunningham is one of four on the board, and the program usually has about 10 volunteers, she said.
Veterinarians working with the program do one more thing while the cats are in their care. The ear of each cat is tipped, allowing other animal agencies to know it has been sterilized and vaccinated.
It’s the program’s visible mark, left in the hopes that its work will leave a much bigger mark on the lives of cats and on the humans who live with them.
For more information on the trap-neuter-return program, call 859-983-9016.