Local group wants city to try new approach

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is on its way to becoming the standard system to humanely deal with the cat overpopulation crisis in Indianapolis and Marion County. Through TNR, stray and feral (wild) cats are humanely trapped, evaluated, vaccinated and sterilized by a veterinarian and returned to their familiar habitat. Locally, a nonprofit called IndyFeral (www.indyferal.org) has performed TNR on 5,103 cats locally in 913 managed cat colonies since starting in 2002. This feral kitten from Hamilton County has a clipped left ear. Cats vaccinated and sterilized through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) have their left ear clipped to indicate that they are members of a managed feral cat colony.

On Aug. 3, the Indianapolis Animal Care and Control board heard testimony supporting the adoption of a TNR ordinance at its last meeting. Experts estimate that 175,000 free-roaming cats live in the city. Five thousand to 6,000 free-roaming cats are brought to the ACC each year.

"So, even in two years we have impounded about 3 percent of the problem. That's not a good way to spend tax dollars," said Jeff Bennett, ACC administrator. "But this [TNR] gives us another tool, another set of resources to call upon in situations that warrant it. It's already popular with the public. It's popular with people who have benefited from seeing cat populations reduced without being euthanized. It just makes sense. If good politics is good policy, then this is good policy."

Lisa Tudor, IndyFeral president, told the board: "It's going to provide a humane, non-lethal option to people who oppose trap and kill as a method of controlling free-roaming cats. TNR is going to offer many benefits to our city. ... It's going to lower the euthanasia rates at our shelters, and feral cats don't belong in shelters because they aren't adoptable. They already have a home outdoors, so by keeping the cats out of the shelters it actually will provide more space to the cats that are adoptable."

She explained that, three years after the city of San Diego adopted a TNR program, shelters saw a 40 percent drop in euthanasia rates and saved approximately $800,000 in tax dollars. The national average cost for an animal care and control to trap, process and euthanize a feral is $130. The fee to sterilize and vaccinate a feral cat through IndyFeral is $20.

"The most common complaints we get regarding stray and feral cats are their behaviors: typically spraying, fighting and having kitten after kitten," Tudor added. "And many of these are just mating behaviors that are substantially reduced once you just get the cat sterilized."

IndyFeral's surgery waiting list is filled with 800 cats. "So, that would tell me that people want a humane alternative to controlling the cat overpopulation crisis," she said. "Ferals are not pet cats and they demand a different approach." TNR, she said, addresses their long-term care, their health and over-breeding while improving neighborhoods and protecting public health.

The Public Safety Committee will review a drafted proposal of the ordinance and the City-County Council will vote on it this fall. The draft is available for review at http://accd.indygov.org.

Counties surrounding Indianapolis also have feral overpopulation problems. Rebecca Stevens, executive director of the Humane Society for Hamilton County, said, "The feral cat population is an issue in Hamilton County as it is in Indy. I do think it's [TNR] necessary."

A kitten in a managed feral cat colony having been TNRed through IndyFeral was recently shot and beaten to death. "It's not only necessary to support a TNR release program, but as with this kitten, we need to have a way to protect them after the fact from these senseless acts of cruelty. It's unrealistic to expect the police department or animal control to address every call or concern regarding these animals as there just aren't enough resources to do so," she said in support of TNR.


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