EBR eyes program to spay, neuter ‘community cats’

In an effort to lower the staggering number of stray cats that are euthanized every year in Baton Rouge, the parish animal shelter is trying to introduce a trap, spay or neuter and release program that would allow homeless felines to be returned to neighborhoods as “community cats.”

The Companion Animal Alliance, a nonprofit that operates the public animal shelter, takes in more than 3,000 cats per year. Kittens have the best chances of getting adopted, but thousands of adult cats that come to the shelter are almost always euthanized for lack of interest from potential pet owners, said Christel Slaughter, CAA board president.

The nonprofit is pushing a new ordinance that allows for “free roaming cats” in neighborhoods that “may or may not be feral.”

Animal Control and shelter officials will trap stray cats, spay or neuter and vaccinate the cats, then return them to their neighborhoods. The cats’ ears are tipped so they can be identified and won’t be picked up again.

“A city that cares for its animals is a prosperous city,” said Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who is sponsoring the ordinance, which is set for a vote at the Aug. 27 meeting.

Wicker said her neighborhood has benefited from a few community cats over the years that were cared for by the neighbors.

She said her family used to occasionally feed a stray cat they called “Spotty” for its spotted coat, that frequented the neighborhood.

“Everybody loved her, but she was not necessarily a cat that wanted to be domesticated. She liked coming in and then venturing off,” she said.

Wicker said the program is important because it keeps the population down through spay/neuters in a humane way without having to put the cats down.

“This allows us to have one or two that hang around, but we don’t have to worry about 20 community cats,” she said.

Cats generally have litters of between four and six kittens at a time and can give birth several times a year.

Councilman Joel Boé said he has an issue with nuisance cats being allowed to return to neighborhoods where some residents don’t want them.

Many homeowners don’t like the idea of stray cats hanging out by their homes, walking on their cars or making noises in the night, he said.

“I’ve got some significant concerns about animals that are determined to be a nuisance that are put right back into the community,” Boé said. “Would they do that with a wild dog?”

Boé also said he’s frustrated because the CAA and other animal groups already are engaging in the cat release program without the ordinance on the books. He questioned whether they’re violating local leash laws.

Groups like the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society and the Feral Cat Coalition are already using spay, neuter and release programs to try to control the cat population. Dozens of stray cats, many with tipped ears, can be found in neighborhoods like Spanish Town and the Garden District where neighbors share responsibility for feeding them.

Slaughter said there are no rules on the books preventing them from engaging in the program, but the agency wanted to clearly spell out their intentions.

Slaughter said she thinks the agency can afford to spay, neuter and vaccinate every cat that comes into its possession with the help of grants and local animal rescue groups.

Generally, community cats would be picked up by animal control officials then released back into their old neighborhoods.

But for cats abandoned at the shelter with no known neighborhood affiliations, the ordinance allows the CAA to place cats into new neighborhoods.

Slaughter said if a cat is reported to be a problem in a particular neighborhood, it would not be returned.

The CAA took control of the animal shelter from the city-parish government in 2011 in an attempt to eventually transform Baton Rouge into a no-kill city.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/