Group training volunteers to catch, fix and release feral cats to keep numbers in check

Nancy Wahl knows the stereotype — older women who focus their attention on kitties. Lots of them, including strays, ferals and abandoned house cats.

“But caring for the free-roaming felines in our communities isn’t the domain of crazy cat ladies anymore,” Wahl said. “We have young people, couples and men who see the need to slow the growth of a population that’s out of control and do it in a humane manner.”

With cats being abandoned at an alarming rate during this economic recession and cat shelters trying to deal with more animals on less money, people are seeing the need to get involved in trapping and neutering homeless cats, said Wahl, a founder of the Community Cat Coalition.

To that end, the coalition, which includes several area cat shelters, is offering free monthly classes on how to trap a cat, schedule a free or low-cost birth-control surgery, care for the cat after it’s fixed and then return the animal to the place where it lives.

People who take the class also are assigned to mentors who help monitor the trapping process and offer advice on such things as taming feral kittens for adoption.

Phil Prothero of Everett recently joined the coalition.

“I have a fondness for cats,” he said. “But I also believe that since humans started this mess, we all need to help put a dent in the overpopulation.”

On his own, Prothero caught a homeless cat in his downtown neighborhood and paid to have it neutered. But when the cat brought its siblings around, Prothero reached out for help.

People at the Purrfect Pals shelter near Smokey Point put him in touch with Wahl, who organizes the trapping classes.

On Sunday, Prothero joined other volunteers in a venture to capture about 20 stray cats in a large back yard in Gold Bar.

A resident of the Skykomish River valley neighborhood told Wahl that a family moved away last year and left behind two mother cats.

Considering that a mama cat can produce two or three litters a year and that four to six kittens in each litter is common, it wasn’t surprising that the two cats quickly multiplied, Wahl said.

“This is the typical scenario,” she said. “Homeless cats are especially a problem way out in the boonies or at large apartment complexes. It’s time for people to stop expecting that ‘someone’ will come and take care of the problem or solve it for them.”

Cat shelters are overwhelmed.

“It’s scary out there,” said Purrfect Pals executive director Connie Gabelein. “Our donations are down, it’s harder to get grants for spay and neuter clinics, and, though we probably are doing better than a lot of places, we’re seeing the results of foreclosures and people leaving animals behind.”

On a single day last month, the shelter answered 300 phone calls from people wanting to drop off cats at the shelter, Gabelein said. Earlier this week, two cats in carriers were left after hours outside the shelter.

“My goal is to get people to understand that the animal agencies can’t do it all,” Wahl said. “We have to tackle this problem as a community.”

It’s all about birth control, she said.

Neutering cats takes care of many of the headaches caused by feral toms, such as foul-smelling spraying, yowling and fighting. Neutered and spayed cat colonies tend to keep other strays out of their territories and feral cats are known to provide good rodent control. It used to be that coyotes would help control feral cat populations, Wahl said. But as these predators are pushed away from developing neighborhoods, more cat colonies survive.

Wahl had placed traps at the Gold Bar site ahead of the coalition effort on Sunday so the cats there could get used to the traps. The coalition group was able to catch a dozen of the stray cats, which were taken Monday to the Feral Cat Spay Neuter clinic in Lynnwood.

More than 50,000 cats from around the state have been spayed or neutered since the spay-neuter project got started in 1997, clinic officials said.

Gabelein said the Community Cat Coalition is developing a solid network of people who can handle all of the tasks involved in dealing with feral cats and not leave the task up to people such as Wahl.

A nurse at Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, Wahl is a cat lover who has been volunteering for years on this mission to spay and neuter feral and stray cats. She is beginning to see a change in attitude about the trap-neuter-return philosophy she follows.

The ultimate goal is to gradually eradicate feral cats, but not by killing them or having them put down.

“We are beginning to get respect for what we are trying accomplish,” Wahl said. “Euthanizing cats is costly for taxpayers, and it’s unnecessary.”

Community Cat Coalition classes offered so far have resulted in about 25 new people who are now trained as cat trappers, which gives Wahl hope that someday — perhaps — feral cats won’t be such a problem and that all cats will have a home and the care they need.

After the trapping project on Sunday, Prothero said he would encourage anyone who loves animals, and has time to help, to take the class and learn how to trap the cats.

“Controlling the cat population is a win-win for everybody.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

To learn more or to donate to the Feral Cat Spay Neuter Project, go to www.feralcatproject.org or call 425-673-2287. To contact Purrfect Pals, go to www.purrfectpals.org or call 360-652-9611. The next Community Cat Coalition trap-neuter-return class is 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday in Lake Stevens. To get involved or take the class, contact Nancy Wahl at nwahl@netzero.net.

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