Visalia Animal Services ‘cat’-eyes TNR expansion

The exterior of the Visalia Animal Care Center building, located at 29016 CA-99.(Danielle Gutierrez)

City’s animal services looks to intensify community outreach efforts for feral cat neuter program

VISALIA – Visalia Animal Services has made progress in recent years to reduce the number of feral cats on the streets, and a recent grant will allow for the Trap, Neuter, Release program to complete additional surgeries.

“We were given a grant last year that will allow us to do 175 additional TNR surgeries over what we are currently doing for the residents of Visalia,” Visalia Animal Services Manager Candace Harrington said in an interview with The Sun-Gazette. “TNR is definitely the most productive way of managing our cat population. I think we need to do more targeting in our community to see the changes we are wanting to see.”

The program allows residents to trap feral cats and bring them to the shelter, where the animals are spayed or neutered and then released back to where they were caught. It also eliminates overpopulation of feral cat colonies by preventing cats from breeding.

In an effort to continue reducing feral cat colonies in Visalia, Harrington said animal services will be ramping up public outreach efforts at public events and conduct a survey to help the shelter determine hotspots of feral cat populations, as well as expand on opportunities to inform and educate the community on ethical ways to handle feral cat communities. She presented these efforts to the Visalia City Council during an overview report for the Visalia Animal Services on Feb. 20.

Harrington informed the council that one of the issues the shelter is looking to address is residents who put out large amounts of food for cats. While the intentions are good, Harrington explained that feeding cats attract other pests and frequently causes a mess when the food gets wet and is not removed.

Visalia Animal Services is also conducting a community TNR intake event on Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. Residents can bring trapped feral cats to the event on a first-come, first-served basis. The shelter will be accepting 25 cats at that event. The cats will be taken in, anesthetized, have the surgery and then be ready to be picked up by the resident and returned to the place where they were captured on March 1. 

Not all organizations believe that TNR programs are appropriate. Some studies have shown little to no reduction in the number of cats in a population as a result.

“TNR programs fail because they do not operate in an enclosed system and cannot spay or neuter a sufficient number of cats to affect feral cat numbers at the population level,” the website for The American Bird Conservancy states. “Despite the good intentions of many involved in TNR programs, TNR has been found to be a waste of time, money and resources.”

However, Harrington said there are a variety of issues that continue to plague efforts to reduce feral cat populations. Among the biggest challenges are funding, along with a nationwide shortage of veterinarians and the long-term effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, which only worsened the overall situation.

“For almost three years, most vet clinics were shut down because they weren’t considered necessary,” Harrington said. “That bloated our population and our shelters are still feeling it today.”

Harrington added that Visalia Animal Services does not provide adoption services for cats due to limitations on funding and regulations that cats are considered free-roaming. The shelter only takes in cats that are sick or injured enough that they must be euthanized. Harrington added that the shelter works with other rescue groups to try and adopt out animals.

“We are also doing a partnership with our Parks and Recreation Department, where volunteers can walk dogs in our local park to get them some exercise, get the community some exercise, get the dogs some sunshine and maybe one or two of them will find a good home,” Harrington said in the interview.

The shelter primarily deals with large-breed dogs such as Shepherds and Huskies. Harrington explained that the low adoption rates the shelter reports have a lot to do with the difficulty of finding rescue or adoption placement for working breeds.

“Before I came on board, we weren’t doing as many off-site adoption events, either,” Harrington added. She said shelter staff will be at an event on March 2 in Exeter, and will bring some dogs which will be up for adoption. They will also help provide the community with information about the TNR program and other services the shelter offers.

Research into cat colonies indicates TNR programs are a more effective way to reduce populations than removing and dumping, or euthanizing, feral cats. According to research published in 2014 and discussed by the Humane Society, a group that advocates for the prevention of cruelty to animals, Trap and Remove programs – also known as Cull Programs – often have the opposite effect.

“Researchers suspect that the populations increased because new cats moved into the sites to take advantage of resources that became available when previously dominant cats were removed,” the Humane Society noted.

Another explanation provided by the Humane Society noted Trap and Remove procedures might not be as effective because kittens born to the unsterilized remaining cats had a better survival rate thanks to more readily available resources that were left over after the other cats’ removal.

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