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Shelter policy for feral cats is neuter and release

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If Kanawha/Charleston Animal Shelter Director Chelsea Staley sometimes feels like she's herding cats, it's probably because she is.

On Monday, the animal shelter was home to 65 cats, which for Staley is something of a record low. Two weeks ago, there were 122.

The good news is, animal shelter staff are no longer automatically euthanizing any cat that comes through the door.

"We're euthanizing sick cats only at this point," said Staley, who took over as animal shelter director over the summer. "We have not euthanized a single feral cat since Sept. 1."

Instead, shelter staff are concentrating on a program to trap and sterilize wild and semi-wild cats and release them back out into the environment to live out their lives.

Shelter staff held a workshop Monday evening to talk about ways to humanely trap cats and ways to reduce their effects on neighborhoods. The workshop was run by Alley Cat Allies, a national cat advocacy group.

Staley said cats live an average of only three years in the wild, where they die of natural causes or succumb to disease, predators or accidents. Although wild cat populations can never be completely eliminated, scientific studies have shown that neuter and release programs decrease feral cat populations by 36 percent over two years and by 66 percent over a period of 11 years, she said.

Staley said simply rounding up or killing all the wild cats in an area won't reduce the population, because new cats will just move in. Trap, neuter and release programs can help manage populations, she said.

Staley said the animal shelter gets three kinds of cats. Domestic cats usually can be adopted. Truly feral cats have no chance of adoption and are typically neutered and returned to the wild. And, Staley said, there are large numbers of semi-wild cats that live outside and aren't socialized, making them hard to adopt.

Staley tries to farm those cats out to rescue groups or, as a last resort, neuter them and return them to the wild.

Not everybody likes cats prowling around their homes, even sterile ones. So, Staley said, shelter staff also should be able to talk to the public about ways to keep cats away from houses and yards. Keeping cats away also was to be discussed at Monday's workshop.

"Cats hate orange peels," Staley said. "They hate coffee grounds, so if you put some in your mulch, it should keep the cats away."

Staley said inexpensive ultrasonic devices also are sold and put in place to discourage cats from entering yards. "If it hurts their ears every time they come in your yard, after a few times, they're not going to come in your yard," she said.

The Kanawha/Charleston Animal Shelter is one of five shelter organizations around the country to win a $5,000 grant from Alley Cat Allies and the help of consultants to help with trap, neuter and release programs. More workshops are planned in the future for shelter staff and the public.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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