A decision by the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center to stop taking in cats last month has led to worry and confusion about how to find lost felines and what to do with an estimated 50,000 others wandering the county as strays or roaming free in neighborhoods.
“I think a lot of people in the community are confused because I think they saw the Animal Resource Center as a pathway for certain cats they were finding in communities,” said Brian Weltge, president and CEO for the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
Both the Humane Society of Greater Dayton and SICSA are looking to fill the void by stepping up initiatives to assist owners in finding lost cats and address overpopulation primarily through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs.
The Animal Resource Center (ARC) had contracts with a number of municipalities to remove unwanted cats from their communities, but those contracts were not renewed last year by the county, and on April 25, the ARC stopped taking cats altogether.
Robert Gruhl, interim director of the ARC, said cats taken to the shelter faced an unhealthy environment and long odds of leaving there alive. Fewer than 3 percent of cats are reclaimed by owners.
“We changed our policy because intaking cats into the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center was not producing good outcomes for the cats themselves,” Gruhl said. “They were highly susceptible to infectious disease, most notably upper respiratory infection, and the outcomes in terms of getting them adopted were not very good, or getting them reclaimed by original owners were not very good.”
Calls to SICSA in Kettering about what to do with felines skyrocketed after the ARC made its announcement late last month, said Nora Vondrell, president and CEO.
“We are certainly receiving hundreds of telephone calls a week with questions about what to do with cats, help with cats, resources for cats,” she said.
Previously, the ARC was under contract with several cities and municipalities. The Humane Society of Greater Dayton now has agreements with cities in Montgomery County including the city of Dayton as well as Clayton, Drexel, Englewood, Harrison Township, Huber Heights, Miami Twp., Miamisburg, Moraine and Trotwood. SICSA has agreed to handle Kettering, where it is located, and had its community cat contract canceled by the county at the end of last year.
Kettering announced changes to its ordinances in response to the ARC decision regarding the termination of community cat contracts. The changes allow the city to focus on TNR as a way to humanely control the community cat population. Englewood and Miamisburg have employed the practice for a number of years successfully, Weltge said.
Both Vondrell and Weltge said they support the ARC’s decision to end the old system, which didn’t work to bring down the population and put many cats to death unnecessarily in the process.
“The reality is, the vast majority of those cats scooped up were euthanized, resulting in over 1,700 cat euthanasias across two years – 2017 through 2018 alone,” Vondrell said.
Weltge said county residents will have to adjust to trap/neuter/return programs, that can be “counter-intuitive” for some, but will become the new normal for controlling local cat populations.
“Simply removing cats from an area is not an effective approach to the community cat overpopulation facing our city,” Weltge said. “By returning cats to the communities where they are trapped ensures we do not leave a void in a food source, called a vacuum effect.”
Weltge said if cats were simply removed, others not spayed nor neutered would move in and the population would continue to climb.
“By placing the spayed and neutered cats back into the community, they can continue to thrive, but are no longer reproducing or contributing to the issues,” he said.
Vondrell said existing science and research prove TNR is a humane and effective approach to checking cat populations and an approach that consultants with Team Shelter USA made in their assessment of the ARC last year.
“All we have to do is change our thinking paradigm from one that leads to high rates of euthanasia and increased cat population numbers, to one where we, as engaged members of our community, take the responsibility of preventing unnecessary euthanasia and cat population expansion,” Vondrell said.
Both the Humane Society and SICSA are inviting members of the community to become more engaged with their TNR initiatives, looking for volunteers to help with the efforts and donations to help purchase traps and defray the costs of neutering and vaccinations.
The Humane Society of Greater Dayton has a full-time Trap-Neuter-Return coordinator who works with volunteers to trap cats throughout Montgomery County. During 2018, the organization trapped, spayed or neutered, and returned 890 cats to the community.
SICSA will hold seminars on its new TNR program on May 21 and June 3.
Part of the program will be learning how to identify community cats, or those without a defined owner.
“They may have several what we call caregivers who look after them, may feed and provide shelter in inclement weather, but not an identified owner. They can be feral or friendly,” she said.
Vondrell said getting strays and community cats spayed or neutered will help with the nuisance behaviors that upset people about cats in their neighborhoods.
“The roaming, the spraying, the cat fighting, the mating which results in howling, those behaviors will diminish if not go away,” she said.
But for TNR programs to work county-wide, more communities will have to embrace the practice and provide more volunteers to help SICSA and the Humane Society succeed, or cats may have a fate worse than euthanasia at the ARC, Vondrell said.
“We’re concerned people are going to start taking matters into their own hands and start choosing inhumane ways to deal with cats,” she said.