Group captures wild cats for spaying, neutering

When people think about stray pets, the comforting image is of dogs or cats being rescued and adopted into loving homes. But there is another side that lacks the warm and fuzzy feeling.

“Trapping kitty cats is not a glamorous part of the animal rescue world, so most of the organizations do not do this,” says Cathy Wells. “That’s what we do.”

Wells directs the Feral Cat Coalition. On any weekend, Wells and about a dozen area volunteers trap feral cats, which are then spayed or neutered, given rabies vaccinations and returned to the area, no longer able to reproduce.

The purpose is to reduce the number of stray cats as humanely as possible. Catching and euthanizing the cats is in ineffective because fertile cats repopulate the areas where the others were removed. And, if such predators disappeared, rats would flourish.

In warm-weather climates like south Louisiana, cats can have multiple litters per year, quickly overcoming removal efforts. Returning non-breeding cats to the area slows down the population growth.

“I would rather address the problem on the front end rather than on the back end, because we’re not going to adopt our way out of this mess,” says Suellen Stafford, one of three Feral Cat Coalition volunteers who set traps on a recent Sunday morning at a residence near downtown.

Wells, a senior researcher for the Louisiana House of Representatives, started Feral Cat Coalition in 2000. Having volunteered for animal organizations since moving to Baton Rouge in the early 1980s, she was frustrated by the Sisyphean task that animal rescue groups faced.

“Every year I saw we were euthanizing 10,000 animals in East Baton Rouge,” Wells says. “Again, spay-neuter is not glamorous. People do not want to do it, so I chose to do something I felt was needed rather than go with the adoption programs.”

Wells got the idea of trapping, neutering and returning cats from Merle Suhayda, who created such an effort to deal with the feral cat problem at LSU. A veterinarian volunteered to spay or neuter and inoculate the cats she caught. Wells wanted to operate in much more of Baton Rouge, so that would require additional help.

Obtaining a grant through PetSmart Charities, Feral Cat Coalition pays the Baton Rouge Spay/Neuter clinic to handle the cats, a situation that also provides hands-on training opportunities for veterinary students.

On a typical Monday morning, 30 or more cats are delivered to the clinic, then returned to their old prowling grounds. Feral Cat Coalition works in six local zip code areas, and its goal is to trap, neuter and return at least 1,000 cats a year. The cats also have an ear notched so they can be easily identified if caught again.

Which helps, but does not solve the problem.

“Think about how many are euthanized over at Animal Control,” Wells says. “You still have about 3,000 a year that are euthanized. We always wonder if we didn’t do what we did, what would the numbers be?”

On the recent Sunday, Wells, Stafford and volunteer Margaret Madere trapped 11 cats on the front porch and in the back yard of the downtown home. In all, using canned tuna as bait, the organization trapped 33 cats that weekend.

Feral Cat Coalition gets requests to trap cats when people call other animal organizations. People can also call the coalition directly at (225) 772-8609.